Stranger in a Strange Bed

I read STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND when I was young, and find, now that I am old and wary, I cannot enjoy Heinlein’s adult novels any longer, even though I still enjoy his juveniles. Why? Simple: the juveniles don’t have sex-lib sophistry in them.

The glorification of fornication which seemed so liberating and sensible to me when I was a girlfriendless teen geek, seems trite and vulgar to a happily married forty-something father of three.

In STRANGERS, the inner circle of the Church of All Worlds indulges in routine orgies, with maybe (it is only hinted at) a bit of sodomy thrown in for spice. Kids are raised communally.

Likewise, in MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, line-families practice polygamy and polyandry, with maybe a bit of mother-son incest (it is only hinted at) thrown in for spice.

In GLORY ROAD, the quaint customs of one dimension have lords of the manor welcome strange wanderers into the beds of their daughters for the express purpose of breeding; and it is gauche, if not a mortal crime, to refuse this hospitality. The Empress of the Twenty Universes requires fidelity from Her subjects, but, not, it seems, from her hubby.

In every case Heinlein’s tone comes across with a sneer of condescension for those of us old-fashioned enough to love just one wife, we who do not want to give away a daughter to a sex-team of husbands, and certainly do not want our grandchildren to be raise by committee.

Certainly it is part of the science fiction writer’s art to portray strange new worlds with strange customs. Call me narrowminded if you must, but the burden of proof is on the science fiction writer to make these novel customs of marriage sound like something someone from a civilized culture, respectful of women and serious about a man’s obligation to raise and protect his offspring, could or would tolerate. Heinlein does not pass that test with me: if I want the strangeness of a foreign culture, I read Jack Vance or Gene Wolfe.