The Lieutenant Wouldn’t Like It
When I tell people I was raised in Heinlein’s books, they laugh a little.
I started reading Heinlein as a teenager as the world around me fell into dual madness, because more and more of my teachers were boomers full of the ideas of the late sixties early seventies, and the country itself was spiraling further and further into Marxist insanity.
Heinlein’s books were a refuge, where logic made sense, things worked, and I often found that he could explain things I couldn’t. Or not explain exactly, but get beneath the level of indoctrination and slogans, to make people understand the other point of view.
I spent years giving Starship Troopers to people who suddenly, out of nowhere, declared themselves pacifist. About fifty percent of them reconsidered their position, because Heinlein was persuasive about honor, about defending your tribe, and about unreasonable threats.
But there is more to it than that.
There are writers that amuse you; writers that entertain you. There is nothing wrong with this. It is in fact what I’m aspiring to. If you entertain people, people will come back, buy your books and give you money.
In fact, at varying times, Heinlein himself said he wanted to achieve that level. I can’t find the quotation anymore, but it went something like “first I write to entertain.”
But he did something else. Coming into my world of sixties/seventies platitudes and leftist indoctrination, he gave me … sanity, sense, something to aim for.
The things he said, such as that smart people decide what their relationships will be like, and that yes, monogamous is a valid option, gave me the ability to overcome the “everyone is sleeping with everyone else” “morality” pushed at me. Yeah, I know, he meant it as being okay to be promiscuous too, and a lot of his characters are, but the point is that he said YOU got to decide. And I got to decide. Wanting to have a one-and-only went from being considered bizarre and repressed to my being able to say “Heinlein says truly smart people pick what’s right for them.
His quaint nations that it’s all right to love humans because you are human, no other justification needed, were a breath of fresh air. And his even quainter nations of loyalty and self-sufficiency, that if you can take care of yourself, you should, and that if you’re human you should also look after friends, family, those people who are your tribe by choice or birth, but you shouldn’t do it by giving money to third-party strangers, formed me. The idea that it’s worth it to serve the country you love in war, if it is attacked, became part of me. As did other, dropped gems. You have no idea how strange, how bizarre, how revolutionary the idea that it’s all right to oppose taxes was to a little girl raised in Portugal. And all through it, the idea of TAANSTAFL (There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch) first made my mind explode, and then made sense of the world for me, for once and all.
When I was offered “free” goodies by leftist candidates; when people told me they were entitled to others’ money or time; when parasites of various kinds reared their ugly bloated heads, I thought TAANSTAFL, because that’s the ultimate truth of the universe. There is never something for nothing.
Of course, Heinlein might, at a remove, have somehow imbued me with a love for America, so that coming here, living here, being American felt right. (Acculturation still wasn’t easy, but it was what I had to do. Call me a Trans-American.)
And there’s yet something else. I can’t explain it. Not fully. It’s part skill and part writing, and part, real charisma and personality.
There are writers who, through their works, impress you with the force of their personality, their view of the world, the cogent, powerful image of the universes in their minds.
Do I aspire to be that kind of writer? Oh, sure. Everyone should aspire to it. It’s just possibly impossible.
Heinlein was that kind of writer. He has imprinted his personality on science fiction (and a good chunk of science) for generations. His words, his thoughts, his …. Ah…. Moral Philosophy took — as Paterson put it — “the neglected children of WWII” [neglected by their very busy parents] and, oh boy, their grandkids who were even more so and gave them something to believe in. Something to aim for. Something to try for.
Part of what we were supposed to try for was space expansion, taking mankind’s eggs out of the Earth’s one basket. Onward and upward. As long as we are here only, we’re vulnerable, and there’s nothing wrong with expanding. All successful species are colonists.
This was such a breath of fresh air in a time of “we’ve got to learn to care for this one, precious planet” that it’s hard to believe. It allowed us to dream.
In the seventies of “we’re running out of oil,” (that didn’t work out) and “we’re overpopulated” (that didn’t work out either), and “we’re all going to end up communist” (ooh, boy, glad that didn’t work out), he gave us the view of a limitless universe, just waiting for human mind, human work, human love, human children.
His “personal responsibility”, “caring for the helpless” and what I would call a battler spirit, of picking your guts off the floor, shoving them back in and continuing the charge even when you’ve been hit with something that should have stopped you permeates everyone who was … raised by Heinlein.
And because of his outsized personality, his charisma, that thing you can’t train for, or aim for, he gave us other things: a boundless love of America; a belief in America’s future. Because he had them.
Recently I was talking to a friend, a fellow “child of Heinlein” who has suffered a pretty significant setback, and I told him “you’re not giving up, are you? The Lieutenant wouldn’t like that.” No more need be said.
The phrase comes from Starship Troopers. The Lieutenant who gave the name to Rasczak's Roughnecks (and the reason my fans call themselves Hoyt’s Huns) dies in battle, rescuing two wounded soldiers.
For a good long while, Sergeant “Jelly” Jelal continues running the Roughnecks, treating the situation as though the Lieutenant has merely stepped away and will eventually be back. And the way he shoots down bad ideas is “The Lieutenant wouldn’t like that.” Nothing more need be said.
Heinlein’s final rank in the navy was Lieutenant.
And those of us whom he influenced, all also pretty much behave as though he just stepped away and will eventually come back. Impossible not to believe it of that outsized a personality.
When it seems like I’m even failing at achieving that “entertaining” level in my fiction; when I get tired and disgusted by the mess my field is; when I run up against “we have to take care of this planet, and why would we invade other worlds” or “we have to learn to live with less” it would be so easy to give up.
But the Lieutenant wouldn’t like that.
And so I pick myself up and try again.
Because somewhere, out there, in the future, is space travel, space colonies, new inventions, and limitless possibilities. Time and space enough for love for all of us. For me, for my children, for the human race.
And I want to make the Lieutenant proud.