Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Streets Is Watching | Rock Concert or Obama Rally? »

Friday, May 9, 2008

Book Club of the Damned

posted by on May 9 at 17:35 PM

So some time ago, Brad threw a copy of this book:


on my desk. He said that he and two other roommates tried…repeatedly…to read it, to no avail. He couldn’t express in words exactly what was so horrible about it, although his facial expression signified a very particular kind of distaste. It was like watching someone remember an atrocious shit smell. And then he bet me fifty dollars that I couldn’t read this book from cover to cover.

And so, welcome to Book Club of the Damned. For the rest of May, I will read I Will Fear No Evil by Robert A. Heinlein (“The Brilliantly Shocking Story of the Ultimate Transplant!”) in three segments. Starting next Wednesday, I will post a weekly book club update, complete with discussion questions, here on Slog. If any brave souls would like to read along at home, they are more than welcome to, although I’m not splitting the fifty bucks. It should be a singular reading experience.

Here’s what the Ace paperback edition’s back cover says about the book:

“As startling and provocative as his famous STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, here is Heinlein’s awesome masterpiece about a man supremely talented, immensely old and obscenely wealthy who discovers that money can buy everything. Even a new life in the body of a beautiful young woman.”

RSS icon Comments


Funny, I feel the same way about anything written by Stephen King. Can't get as far as page fifty.

Posted by Fnarf | May 9, 2008 5:41 PM

I think I've read some of Heinlein's books about that immortal guy. Lazarus Long. I might have even read I Will Fear No Evil. They are hard to tell apart: he makes a lot of long speeches about libertarianism and he fucks his mom or is sister or what have you. There's always a redhead woman who knows kung fu and who also fucks everyone. The end.

Posted by elenchos | May 9, 2008 5:46 PM

Awesome! You have won me over, sir.

Posted by Rotten666 | May 9, 2008 5:51 PM

I've actually read this book. It was the first of several books that Heinlein wrote beginning in the late 1960s that were...well, frankly, porn for adolescent geeks.

Since I fit that category at the time, I rather enjoyed them, but I realized even then what a total dirty-old-man chauvinist pig Heinlein was.

I suggest that the only way to get through the book is to pretend you're a 14-year-old sci-fi freak who's just discovered girls -- but whose idea of girls comes from 1950s sitcoms, girls who can be counted on to say "gosh" and "golly" and giggle a lot when you, Junior Geek-man, comes by.

May the force (or something) be with you on your quest.

Posted by skiffy | May 9, 2008 5:52 PM

Yeah I definitely read that in my misspent youth, when I was hmmm maybe 11? Heinlein may have warped my incipient sexuality. He definitely inspired an unhealthy admiration for billionaires.

Posted by daniel | May 9, 2008 5:52 PM

No grok Heinlein.

Posted by umvue | May 9, 2008 6:08 PM

Ah, you'll do fine. I read it when it came out, give or take; I was, um, fourteen, and it broke Heinlein's spell for me pretty thoroughly. It also, I have to say, taught me about 'late works' and first prompted thinking about themes over the course of an entire career's output.

It is pretty darn sludgy stuff, though. Can't say I've followed it up with a re-read. I think a case can be made that the book prepped me for a) reading Dhalgren (which led directly to Joyce) and b) having an open mind about, um, oh, let's say childhood gender assignment disorder.

Posted by mike | May 9, 2008 6:09 PM

I read it about 30 years ago. It's pretty much what everyone else has said: juvenile, massively sexist, and very, very dated. But it is readable, and you should win the $50 handily. (For fuck's sake, it ain't Proust.)

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | May 9, 2008 6:15 PM

Oh, and I just thought of another thing about this book that I'm grateful for: it acted as a total inoculant against dumbass neo-Randian claptrap. So much so that when I first encountered genuine dumbass Randian claptrap in the person of Ms. Rand's execrable output, my first thought was, "why, this is is weak-ass late Heinlein bullshit!"

Posted by mike | May 9, 2008 6:21 PM

I read it. When I was a ten- or twelve-year-old girl. I remember enjoying it at the time, and getting bored by the end. You'll be fine. Think of it as something that has interesting historo-cultural value.

Do you think you can read the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyers? Because I couldn't get past the first few chapters.

Posted by Thisbe | May 9, 2008 6:21 PM

Why the hell are you subjecting yourself to this? Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers are awesome, but everything else he wrote is basically bad. This is particular is extremely bad. I finished it, and I kept trying his books, but they were all pretty bad except for the two I mentioned.

Posted by Gitai | May 9, 2008 6:22 PM

Some of his early books aren't bad, if a bit dated. I'm fond of his short story collection, The Past Through Tomorrow. But his books went off in a weird sexual direction later in his career, and this is one of those, unfortunately.

Posted by Karen | May 9, 2008 6:41 PM

Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers are awesome, but everything else he wrote is basically bad.

I'd recommend The Moon Is A harsh Mistress, even with it's polygamy and libertarian speeches, and various early shorts on top of that.

Posted by art | May 9, 2008 7:11 PM

Yup, read it a long time ago when I was into sci-fi and could blow through a book in a two days. even in the 70's it was dated. and sexist. and not even much of a turn on (maybe Moorcock's "the final programme" would be more fun). At the time, I preferred Lord of light by Zelazy. Of course 1984 was probably the most influential book of my early adolescence. But I digress. Anyway, congratulations! You just won 50 dollars and you didn't even have to buy a ticket.

Posted by LMSW | May 9, 2008 7:26 PM

This is where the term "test monkey" which my friends and I used as an all-purpose insult and epithet in high school originated from.

Trust me that this book is so terrible, it will make you long for the wonderful clarity and feeling of shit making sense that suffuses his adolescent books, like Farmer in the Sky. Hell, Friday, Farnham's Freehold, and Sixth Column are all way better than this book. And Friday sucks.

Posted by Greg | May 9, 2008 7:49 PM

Heinlein isn't for everybody any more than any other author is. I have read all his stuff, most of it more than once.

For me, he's worth it for the science part, and for his examination of the possible socio-political ramifications of that science.

More than that, Heinlein's works are his ongoing conversation with himself about the relationships between the sexes, and between the individual and institutions.

Yeah, a lot of his stuff repeats itself, and a lot of the characters begin to run together after a while because, hell, they're all Heinlein himself.

But the scientific concepts he examines, like the Howard Families, the infinite number of universes in "The Number of the Beast," and others stamp him as one of the giants of sci-fi.

Most of all, I like Heinlein for the same reason I like Henry Miller and have read almost all of his stuff. Both of them reveal the essentially contradictory nature of the human experience. How they got it all down on paper is beyond me.

But I like Heinlein, a lot. And it doesn't bother me a bit that others don't.

Posted by ivan | May 9, 2008 8:10 PM

Heh. I just got rid of that book - I read it back in my adolescence and had never re-read it. So I tried... and FAILED. Good luck to you. I totally agree with what the previous folks said - some of Heinlein is quite entertaining; his later stuff is crap.

Posted by Zil | May 9, 2008 8:15 PM

Just adding to the "good Heinlein" list, "Have Spacesuit will Travel" was pretty sweet.

Posted by Mr. Joshua | May 9, 2008 8:33 PM

Heinlein's later stuff is full of self-insertion, in pretty much every single possible meaning of that phrase. A particularly high (or low!) point is when one of his characters has himself cloned as a woman -- twice -- and raises/fucks his clones, for the incest/pedophile/masturbation trifecta!

Posted by Horace Walpole | May 9, 2008 8:46 PM

i second harsh mistress. the cat who walks through walls is pretty good, too.

Posted by some dude | May 9, 2008 10:14 PM

$50 isn't nearly enough incentive to read this book. Yes, there are thousands of words devoted to breasts and (first-hand) female sexual experience, but they are buried in hundreds of thousands of words of non-pornographic drivel.

Not worth it. Give up, and pay the $50. You will be happier for it.

Posted by also | May 9, 2008 11:40 PM

The later-era Henlein, where he starts to write about fucking, is full of cringe-worthy shit, particularly this doorstop which I was also unable to finish even at the height of my read-a-book-a-day high school sci-fi stage. "Friday" is another one to put on the "avoid" list, although at least it's shorter than IWFNE.

RLH's polygamist/libertarian/redhead thing is pretty difficult to swallow...unless you're also a libertarian fantasizing about a harem of Mensa babes.

Posted by Tiktok | May 10, 2008 7:30 AM

Maybe it was the fact that I read all of his works when I was an adolescent horny bisexual female (and Im now a mathematician, so there you go) but I loved Heinlein's stuff. All of it. I just reread "I Will Fear No Evil" like a week ago, and I still find it enjoyable. Yes Heinlein is sexist, but its so obvious that hes doing his best to be progressive, that his sexism is just, well, cute. Quite frankly reading lots of Heinlein and Tom Robbins was probably the only reason I easily came to grips with my excessive sexuality in high school (I grew up in Georgia, nuff said.) Really, I just don't see why people would find the book unreadable. It is fun stuff.

Posted by Andy | May 10, 2008 8:19 AM

Stranger in a Stranger Land had a lot of fucking. It isn't the subject's fault.

Posted by elenchos | May 10, 2008 8:20 AM

@16 Characterizing Heinlein as "exploring the relationship between the sexes" is beyond charitable. A prominent sci-fi author recently described his view of the interior lives of women and "positively deranged," and I think that's terribly accurate. He viewed all women as whores, hysterical whores, constantly hungry for as much cock and pussy as they could get. Yes, women were as strong and tough as men in many of his books, but they also made fags look like the model of sexual prudence.

Posted by Gitai | May 10, 2008 8:56 AM

Wow, Demi Moore still looks good.

Posted by CP | May 10, 2008 10:33 AM

Ok. After this you have to read Life On the Refrigerator Door...... the singular WORST BOOK EVER. Serious. I blogged about it if you care to read..... serious suckage.

Posted by M | May 10, 2008 12:52 PM

I read this book in high school and it is really bad. But he had a lot of health problems and this was written when he was very sick.

Posted by mikeblanco | May 10, 2008 12:55 PM

I'll save you the trouble of reading this piece of garbage. The hero is a hugely wealthy old geazer with a rare blood-type and a gorgeous, married secretary that shares said super-rare blood-type. What do you know but the secretary is killed in a horriffic, but utterly non-mutilating, auto accident. The Geazer is heart-broken for five minutes [cause he no so secretly lust after her], then has his brain transfered into the ex-secretary's dead corpse. He becomes a ravishing young woman - who proptly looses all interest in the multibillion-dollar company he/she runs and sleeps with everything she can lay hands on - including the secretary's husband [which is just ghoulish]. The last three-quarters of the book is an old, ultra-right-wing codger's idea of 'liberated' sexuality and drug use - which means laying anything you can [man/ woman & woman/ woman, but NEVER man/ man] and taking all the drugs you can manage. The basic theme is that men are serious adults and women are biologically forced to be stupid sluts.
Now read the first chapter so you can get the names [which I've blanked out of my mind] and the last chapter [so you can wince at the cheesy-ending], claim to have read the whole book and win the stupid 50 dollars.

Posted by Schweighsr | May 10, 2008 2:14 PM

Gitai @ 25:

I don't see it your way. I rarely do. Heinlein certainly did not "view all women as hysterical whores." You are welcome to your opinion, but I consider it the rankest bullshit.

Posted by ivan | May 10, 2008 5:06 PM

M @27: Good post about the book, and I admit that you intrigued me. However, you totally spoiled the ending! How can I Book Club of the Damned it now?

Posted by Paul Constant | May 10, 2008 6:52 PM

I love Heinlein -- but that's one of the books I just can't stand. I pretty much agree with #15 here. "Even Friday is better".

Posted by Monty Ashley | May 10, 2008 10:58 PM

@16 and @23 - I was wondering how to express my love for Heinlein in general and this book in particular. You are both far more eloquent than I. So, what they said.

Paul - Please continue with the Book Club of the Damned. Almost every poster hear has already read the book so was not spoiled. I would love to see what discussion questions you come up with.

Posted by Winna | May 12, 2008 5:12 AM

I think about Heinlein when I read those letters in Dear Abby about how somebody's old husband suddenly starts acting nasty, making inappropriate comments to the neighbor and walking around with his clothes off and such .. he got old and suddenly decided to write for his own desire. I read it as a teen but it was too dense and unlikeable, and my gateway book turned out to be "Dhalgren" by Samuel Delaney.

Posted by --MC | May 12, 2008 7:30 AM

Yeah, I Will Fear No Evil is by far not Heinlein's best book.

And yeah, he's dated, but I don't fault him for the times he grew up in. There are other things about his books that I find entertaining. :)

Posted by Toby | May 12, 2008 8:02 AM

The Dirt, that Motley Crue book, is the worst book I ever read. Everyone I forced it on felt the same way... I eventually gave it to some homeless chick on Broadway. "Do you have any change?" "No, but hey: do you like Motley Crue?"

Posted by dook E del | May 12, 2008 11:21 AM

Schweighsr, if you're going to describe a book's plot, at least get the major details correct.

1. Joan Eunice didn't die in an auto accident, she was murdered during a mugging -- her skull was broken but she was otherwise uninjured, enabling her body to be used for the brain transplant.

2. Johann Smith wasn't aware that she was his body donor; in fact that was kept from him as he cared enough about her that the discovery that she had been killed was traumatizing to him.

3. The only recreational drug indulged by the characters in the book is alcohol, in the form of champaigne.

4. Two of the major characters, an attorney and a judge, are gay men. That there is no male/male sex is because the viewpoint character is both elderly and desperately ill, unable to sexually function in his original body, and in a female body afterward. By the nature of how the novel is constructed, there can't be that kind of sexual expression portrayed.

5. Advising Mr. Constant to win the bet by cheating his boss is just plain stupid.

There's no denying that as Heinlein novels go it's relatively weak compared to his other works, but that has to do with the fact that after finishing the draft as published he became severely ill with peritonitis, spending something like six months in a hospital -- he had to sign a power of attorney to his wife Virginia for the book to be published and for the two of them to have the income it represented to pay the hospital bill; he very nearly died. Even he agreed it could have used another draft -- but the book has gone through repeated editions, never out of print in the 38 years since it was first published, so there has been a continual stream of readers buying new copies. Obviously there are a lot of people who don't think that the book is so awful, willing to back up their opinion with hard cash.

Posted by Davidkevin | May 15, 2008 1:17 AM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).