Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

‘It’s Great To Be Back’ by Robert A. Heinlein

with 8 comments

The introduction begins: “Robert A. Heinlein was generally regarded as the best science fiction writer working in the field between 1939 and his death in 1988.” H&C should perhaps have added the caveat “in America”. Heinlein’s influence and popularity can’t be denied but both are markedly higher in the US and by the time I started reading SF all his books were out of print in the UK. A consequence of this is that I have only read two of his novels. The first was Stranger In A Strange Land which I read whilst staying with a family friend. Perhaps it was unfortunate that on the same trip I also read JG Ballard’s Crash but Heinlein’s novel made absolutely no impression. Years later, after countless paeans to him on r.a.sf.w and other online fora, I bought an imported copy of The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, allegedly his single finest work. It is utter garbage.

‘It’s Great To Be Back’ is a skin-crawlingly horrible Libertarian fantasy. A pair of highly privileged bellends are fed up with life in the Moon and emigrate back to Earth. Lo and behold, the grass is greener on the other side. They are soon desperate to return to the Moon where no one is stupid or poor because the corporations have rigourously screened out such undesirables:

The fact that Luna City is the most comfortable environment that man ever built for himself is unimportant; it’s people who count.

The introduction ends by describing it as: “a story that confirms what all superior intelligencies (such as the reader) already know, that the future in space is better for you, unless you are an ignorant, lazy, evolutionary reject. Hard science fiction is a literature of, and for, survivors.” Funny, for a minute I thought that last word was going to be “fascists”.

Quality: *
Hardness: ****

Written by Martin

3 March 2010 at 08:52

8 Responses

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  1. When I started reading sf, most of Heinlein’s novels were in print in the UK. As result, I read a lot of them. And I think that up to about the age of fourteen, they’re mostly quite enjoyable books. It’s only as you get older than you realise Heinlein was full of crap, and a lot of his beliefs are really quite offensive.

    Starship Troopers is a dreadful near-fascist creed – and I was definitely unimpressed when I read it a couple of years ago. Stranger in a Stranger Land I reread last December, and it’s quite readable… but it’s really just a soapbox for Heinlein’s 1940s pervy obsessions.


    3 March 2010 at 10:19

  2. For me, as a Romanian (who spent his childhood behind the Iron Curtain), the fascination with this author is a complete mystery.

    I had a friend who stalked me with a copy of Starship Troopers and bugged (heh) me about it. Really. Guys who kill bugs. OH WOW AMAZING. Really, give that to a kid for whom the speculative literature until then was Lem, Strugatski, Bulgakov and Borges/Marquez…


    3 March 2010 at 11:07

  3. I think you mean “paeans,” not “peons.”

    I think The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and the rest of his work after about 1960, is pretty bad. And his politics are ludicrous, not much short of Ayn Rand. But you can’t understand Heinlein’s impact and importance unless you see him in his historical context, what he brought to the genre in 1940, not 1965. We live in a different world, and genre, now.

    John Kessel

    3 March 2010 at 14:42

  4. I think you mean “paeans,” not “peons.”

    I do, I do.

    We live in a different world, and genre, now.

    Thank God.


    3 March 2010 at 14:59

  5. I think you’ve seen me rant about RAH on the mailing list at least once, if not more often. “Facist” is probably the nicest thing you can say about him.

    josh brandt

    3 March 2010 at 16:55

  6. […] is a straight line from Heinlein to Ing and nothing much has changed in the thirty years between ‘It’s Great To Be Back’ and ‘Down And Out On Ellfive’. The concerns are the same – that resourceful men […]

  7. […] describe Turner as a Campbellian and compare the story to Heinlein’s ‘It’s Great To Be Back’ (1947) and Asimov’s ‘Waterclap’ (1970) and and, for once, the comparison is apt. […]

  8. […] Nathaniel Hawthorne ‘The Star’ by Arthur C. Clarke ‘Proof’ by Hal Clement ‘It’s Great To Be Back’ by Robert A. Heinlein ‘Mimsy Were The Borogoves’ by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore ‘Davy Jones’ […]

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