Post by Quadibloc Post by James Nicoll
Heinlein's Juveniles vs. Andre Norton's Young Adult Novels
Norton and Heinlein sound like opposites, rather than Norton influencing
Heinlein. Norton sought to entertain... and maybe enlighten a little along the
way, when she could get away with it. Heinlein, though, sought to educate, and
was often heavy-handed about it.
Comparing Norton to Heinlein on the one hand, or comparing Norton to Burroughs
on the other, makes one wonder why either Heinlein or Burroughs are remembered
as "greats", given their obvious flaws, brought into sharp relief by the
For some reason, however, I don't feel the slightest inclination to proclaim
that Andre Norton ought to be recognized as one of the greats on the strength of
her oeuvre. She wrote many very good books, but all ultimately forgettable, it
seems, compared to what Burroughs achieved. As for Heinlein, though, "If This
Goes On..." is the _only_ work by him I would feel inclined to recommend to
anyone else as worth reading: not that he doesn't deserve his reputation, but I
tend to see his potential as largely wasted.
RAH could do subtle characterization, when he wanted to do it. My favorite example of this last (and one of his finest stories) is _The Man Who Sold the Moon_. D.D. Harriman is different from most of RAH's protagonists, on several levels. I enjoyed the story when I read it as a teen, but when I went back to reread it in my 20s and again in my 30s I found new levels. The story is best looked at as the large first installment of a single story with _Requiem_, it's direct sequel.
I won't bother with spoilers warnings.
When I read it as a teen, I enjoyed watching Harriman outmaneuver everyone else to accomplish his life-long dream of reaching the Moon. At that level, he reads like a classic RAH 'smart hero' out-clevering the muggles around him. In a way, he is. BUT...there are deeper levels I missed as a teen.
Likewise, I was duly annoyed with his business partners for trapping him on the ground through various subterfuges until he was too old to go, medically speaking. My teenage self saw betrayal in Strong and effrontery and power abuse in Dixon.
The funny thing is that Harriman and his predicament reads a little differently when you're a little older. Harriman, after all, screwed over a bunch of people himself in the process of achieving his goal. He lied, he implied things that weren't true, he played fast and loose with the books. Further, Dixon and Strong and the others had some right on their side, after all, it was their fiduciary _duty_ to look after the interests of their investors.
I also passed to the realization that from their POV, keeping Delos trapped on Earth might even look like doing him a favor, keeping him from chasing after a pointless dream when he had obligations and duties on the ground. If the space business is going to be established solidly, he's the man who needs to do it, after all, and the best place to do that is on Earth.
And then I read it again a bit later, with yet more life perspective, and realized that Delos' business partners might very well have been _right_ about doing him a favor.
Delos has gotten super rich with his prescient hunches about 'the next big thing', yes, but he did that in partnership with boring George Strong, the detail man to Harriman's 'big idea' man. The big idea types pretty much invariably need someone to be that detail man, and to sometimes be the one who has to say 'no'. Occasionally someone can be both, but usually not.
At the end of the day, Harriman needs Strong more than Strong needs Harriman. Strong has the skills, personality, and mindset to be a successful businessman, even without Harriman. Absent Harriman, Strong might only be a multi-millionaire instead of a billionaire, he might only be the richest guy in the State rather than one of the richest men in the world...but still.
Without Strong, or someone like him...Delos D. Harriman is likely to be broke. Or if he's lucky, a middle-class employee with big, big dreams and ideas and no prospect whatever of making them happen. We've all known that guy.
So it's not like Harriman is did what he did all by himself, and it is like he owns some people some things.
But suppose, just suppose, D.D. Harriman had gotten to live his fantasy and be on that second Lunar mission, become the Mayor of Luna City, etc. Then what?
For a little while, he'd probably have been happy as a clam, and for a while after that, the challenges of setting up the Lunar base and the companies and so on would be fulfilling...but Harriman is a Big Dreamer, and they need a Dream. Once he was on the Moon for a while, it would be just another _place_, and the void left by his fulfilled former Dream would eat at him.
Since he didn't get to go, D.D. got to keep his Dream alive, and the funny thing is I suspect he was happier that way than he would have been if he'd fulfilled it.
RAH could write with considerable depth of characterization, quite subtly, when he wanted to do it.