Heinlein, fictional universes, and fan fiction

By , April 1, 2010 9:02 am

Excuse me while I’m a giant sci-fi and lit geek in this meandering post. If you’re not interested in any of the subjects in the title of this post, you may as well skip ’till tomorrow. Or, add some titles to this list of books you like to read and reread as a fun escape: now that I’m done with Heinlein (for the time being) I’ll need something else to get started on.

I’m a big fan of Robert Heinlein. I readily admit he had problems creating really nuanced female characters, and many of his male characters – particularly in his later books – are huge Marty Stus. Yet, for all that, I love the stories he created. He had an expert sense of dramatic timing, created worlds and universes that were exciting and dynamic, and (most importantly) wrote books that are fun to read. And reread.

On top of that, as a teenager first reading Heinlein, I loved the ideas he put forth about personal autonomy and individual freedom. As I’ve grown older, I think his vision of capitalism, of hard work equaling success, is a bit naive, but he does an excellent job of making it attractive. Of making the reader believe that, sure, if everyone tried their hardest and respected their fellow man (and in Heinlein, it usually is their fellow man) the world would turn out alright. And I still feel very shaped by Heinlein when it comes to my own optimism about the possibilities open to humanity: space travel, medical technology, and more.

More than that, though, Heinlein created a universe to which I love to return, again and again.

I’m referring to the ‘World as a Myth’ crossover of a number of his final books, where a character developed a technology allowing travel between fictional universes. This basically allowed Heinlein to hand pick some of his favorite characters, from his books and elsewhere, and send them on adventures. I just reread Time Enough for Love, Number of the Beast, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, and To Sail Beyond the Sunset, which (along with a number of other short stories from earlier in Heinlein’s career) compose the bulk of this multi-universe fan wank, culminating with the main character from Time Enough for Love going back in time to sleep with his mother, who then goes back in time in To Sail Beyond the Sunset to rescue her father, so she can sleep with him. Only it’s not fan wank because it’s written by the creator of the characters.

Yeah, this is why people give Heinlein a hard time, and rightly so.

But dammit all if, as a teenager and now as a woman in her mid-twenties, I don’t want to live in that universe. Where science solves everything. Where witty banter is the norm. Where the women are all attractive, brilliant, and horny, and the men are handsome, brave, and horny. Say what you will about Heinlein, but it’s nice reading books where the women want sex just as much as the men, not because they’re ‘sluts’ but because Heinlein is operating from the assumption that a healthy human is a horny human.  (Having just reread those four books in sequence, it’s amusing to see Heinlein’s language become more straightforward and less euphemistic between the early 1970s – when Time Enough for Love was published – and the late 1980s – when To Sail Beyond the Sunset was published.)

And you’d better believe I picked up I Will Fear No Evil because it was a Heinlein, but I sat down and read it cover to cover in one go because it was the first fiction book I’d ever seen about a man becoming a woman. Through in slightly more graphic sex scenes, a bit more description about the protagonist’s clothing, and it’d rival anything on Fictionmania.

Looking beyond Heinlein for a moment, the next book on my list of escapism was Clan of the Cave Bear. As I think about why that universe also calls to me to be reread, I think it ends up sharing a lot of commonalities with Heinlein’s “World as a Myth” books. (With apologies to both authors for that comparison…) Specifically, both books have strong, intelligent, unreasonably attractive female characters who nevertheless find stronger male characters, and they end up having lots of sex. Euphemistic sex, in the case of Heinlein, hilariously euphemistic sex, in the case of Auel.

That is, they not only have worlds that are interesting, they have characters I desperately want(ed) to be. Well, maybe not the heterosexual sex part, but both Heinlein and Auel make the 16-year-old in me feel like there’s something romantic about being swept up in someone’s arms, even if it’s done in either vaguely misogynistic ways (Heinlein) or ridiculously romantic in the worst way (Auel).

And, of course, I miss the universes when I finish reading them. Which led me to fanfiction.net, and an attempt to find Heinlein fan fic. I love the idea of fan fiction – I think expanding upon a fictional universe is part of the joy of having a cannon of literature from which to work. As a teacher and a performer, I enjoy working with adaptations for the stage, which inevitably involve imagining and reimagining fictional characters and locales. I see fan fiction – ideally – as operating within the same vein: What would this character do in this situation? How would these characters interact? And so on.

(My largest exposure to fan fiction thus far has been Harry Potter and the Key of Dagon, a well-written crossover between the Harry Potter and Buffy universes.)

Alas, Heinlein fan fic doesn’t seem to be well-traveled domain, with only 12 stories on fanfiction.net, most of which seem to be set in the Starship Troopers ‘verse. Meanwhile, the Clean of the Cave Bear series has 74, a proportion which sort of disapoints me.

Any fan fiction recommendations? Likewise, any good recommendations for a series or an individual book? I need to go to the book store (or, heaven forbid, the library) to start working through previous suggestions, but can always add more to my list.

7 Responses to “Heinlein, fictional universes, and fan fiction”

  1. Avendya says:

    If you’re looking for fanfiction for an obscure source, try Yuletide 2009 and previous Yuletides. In general, the Archive of Our Own has much higher quality fic than fanfiction.net, as do some parts of Livejournal. If you’re looking for Harry Potter fic, I’d start here.

  2. John says:

    No books to offer.
    But I did want to wish you and yours a safe passover

  3. Molly says:

    If you’re looking for something Heileinish but more modern and better witten (IMHO), look at John Scalzi’s An Old Man’s War series. I picked up the last book of the series, Zoe’s Tale (because I have a daughter named Zoe and wanted to read it), and liked it so much I read the first three books in the series. Very much written in Heilien-vein, but when Scalzi’s women are horny, there’s a damn good reason for it. Enjoy the Clan series.

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