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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Book Club of the Damned: I Will Fear No Evil, Part 2

posted by on May 21 at 15:28 PM


Last week, I started reading I Will Fear No Evil, by Robert A. Heinlein. I am reading this book because Brad bet me fifty bucks that I couldn’t do it. Last week, I was 122 pages in. Now, I am on page 283. I hate this book so motherfucking much.

So far, the inordinately wealthy male businessman Johann Sebastian Bach Smith has had his brain implanted into the nubile young female body of his secretary, Eunice. Somehow, Eunice’s thoughts have survived the loss of her brain, and so the two are communicating mentally via dueling parentheses, like so:

(Eunice, would you still be willing to have a baby by me?) (What? Boss, don’t joke about it. Don’t mock me.) (I’m not joking, beloved.)

Eunice has started referring to Johann, who now answers to Joan Eunice, as “Twin.” In the last hundred and sixty pages, they have made out with a lot of men. That’s just about all that they have done.

The thing that nobody told me was how goddamned slow this book is. It’s never-ending. Conversations between Joan and, say, her lawyer, go on for dozens of pages, in part because Johann and Eunice also have their parenthetical commentary going on during the boring science-fiction legal talk. There’s a big lawsuit for the Smith fortune, you see, and our…hero?…has to prove that he or she is who he or she says he or she is. There were two virtually identical passages where Joan convinces people that she is Johann and then they kiss. These passages, together, made up about sixty pages. This is atrocious writing. I have never wanted to quit a book more, but I’ll continue because I am going to win this stupid, stupid bet.

Study questions:

1. Did Heinlein have an editor at this point in his career?

2. Is this really as nasty as it’s going to get? Everyone warned me that this was a horny, horny book, but all that Joan has done is kiss and make out with people, and then wake up after heavily-hinted actions had gone on. I know that this was heady stuff for 1970, but are genitals going to be more than talked around, at least?

3. What’s the point of all this? Is the climax going to be Joan’s affirmation of his/her identity? Or is it going to be the birth of his/her own child? And, either way, what conclusions could possibly be drawn from any of it?

4. Seriously: Where the hell was Heinlein’s editor?

I’ll be done with this Bookclub of the Damned—one way or the other—next Wednesday.

RSS icon Comments


See? Hard to read, intercut narrative, oddbal punctuation convention, a light editorial hand, gender-bending... It's like Dhalgren's evil twin!

Posted by mike | May 21, 2008 3:40 PM

Heinlein has written some pretty interesting short stories, but I've never read any novel by him that didn't make me almost gag with the amount of puerile sexism contained within. He makes Piers Anthony look like a feminist.

Posted by JC | May 21, 2008 3:48 PM

For me the climax is every time Heinlein writes "mammary gland".

Posted by elenchos | May 21, 2008 3:50 PM

For hot and heavy 70s SciFi action what you want is Norman Spinrads Bug Jack Barron.

Posted by Art | May 21, 2008 3:53 PM

Heinlein is supposed to be read when you are 14. That is when I read this book and it seemed entertaining enough, although obviously it was conservative propaganda.

Posted by spock | May 21, 2008 4:02 PM

It may be tame by our current standards, but when I was 11 it was almost as good as National Geographic.

Posted by Greg | May 21, 2008 4:02 PM

Science Fiction books aren't edited, they're typeset.

That sample paragraph makes me want to unlearn language.

In real life, of course, the instant that woman realized what was happening to her, she would have blown her brains out.

Posted by Fnarf | May 21, 2008 4:09 PM


Perhaps I'd best retain my affection for Heinlein by never reading him again.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | May 21, 2008 4:23 PM

@2 - Bingo. Thank God I'm not the only one who can't stand stupid, sexist, sexist Heinlein.

Posted by merry | May 21, 2008 4:27 PM

I NEVER could stand Heinlein. Utterly overrated IMHO.

Posted by Sachi Wilson | May 21, 2008 4:42 PM

Well there was the door into summer ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 21, 2008 4:43 PM

I hated this book even when I was 14. The sex in The Harrad Experiment was way hotter. Dhalgren, on the other hand, just confused me. After 60 pages, I turned it into my eighth grade reading teacher and asked if she could explain what was going on. She never returned it.

Posted by Ramdu | May 21, 2008 4:44 PM

Paul, I think I might love you more than I love Adrian!

Posted by Soupytwist | May 21, 2008 5:04 PM

To answer the question about the editing, Heinlein was really sick in the period before it was published, and was unable to do his usual final edit. I'm not sure why he and Virginia chose to publish it at that time. In any case, yes, it was definitely not as good as his usual stuff. I find it pretty painful to reread.

Posted by Greg in Des Moines | May 21, 2008 5:14 PM

Years ago when I was a young purser on the s/s MARIPOSA, Robert Heinlein and his wife were aboard as passengers on a cruise to the South Seas. He asked me to do some typing for him which I did.

While I didn't expect to get paid, he could have at least given me a signed copy of "Stranger in a Strange Land". Neither. That book had just gained notoriety because it allegedly was an inspiration to Charles Manson though it was said Manson couldn't read.

Heinlein - not a very pleasant fellow - was red-headed, dour and cheap, and he takes no place in the diadem of other notables for whom I have typed.

Sci-fi (even with sexual content) terminally bored me, although I regularly got off to Frank Yerby's "The Foxes of Harrow".

Posted by RHETT ORACLE | May 21, 2008 5:29 PM

Editor? No editor. This was the point in Heinlein's career where people thought he could shit gold, when really, all he could do was write about acts his organs could no longer perform. I'll say it again. Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers. Don't touch anything else, or you might land in some incest.

Posted by Gitai | May 21, 2008 6:07 PM

Re: editing, I don't know what was going on in the publisher's mind, but I do know what was on Heinlein's: Medical bills.

Posted by JenK | May 21, 2008 7:39 PM

Dhalgren does start out slow and nigh incomprehensible but sticking it out is well worth it. It's been awhile since I read it, but I read it multiple times and would still rate it high amongst my favorites.

Posted by K X One | May 21, 2008 9:23 PM


Do you spend your days wandering around the internet to find new places to post lies? Do you expect anyone to believe you? Don't bother answering it will just be more ridiculous bullshit.

Posted by Dave M | May 21, 2008 10:33 PM

As an avowed Heinlein lover from the 4th grade forward, I think I got to this when I was 12 or 13. Even then, it was a steaming pile of crap.

Paul, you hang in there.
Also - never re-read Dune. Great when you are 13 - pure tripe now.

Finally, Cory Doctorow is the shit. He's totally corrupted my son with "Little Brother." And if you want to read Heinlein re-done, with less sexism and a fresh take, the 2 John Scalzi books (Old Man's War, Ghost Brigades) do a fine job - even with the one brain inside the other stuff.

Posted by rtm | May 21, 2008 11:10 PM

Better still I think you should host a book club of the damned and make us all ready crappy books and then drink and complain about them.

Posted by Nay | May 22, 2008 1:06 AM

@19, I know @15, and all of which he speaks/writes is truth. Apparently he's had a life and you don't.

Posted by Spoogie | May 22, 2008 7:36 AM

You're not done with it yet? Really, it's just for 50 bucks. Practice your speed reading.

Posted by LMSW | May 22, 2008 7:50 AM

Really, this is nothing compared to Norman Spinrad's _Child of Fortune_. I would bet you $75 you couldn't read it, but I was able to without promise of monetary gain so I bet you could, too. OMG was that difficult, though. Almost a thousand pages of a stupid stuck up bitch taking drugs and having sex in the most florid prose you could imagine, with about 400 pages of repetition. *gag*

Posted by NaFun | May 22, 2008 8:10 AM

@12 Dude, _The Harrad Experiment_ was awesome to read in high school. I re-read it a few years ago and boy did it NOT stand the test of time. Definitely helped form a lot of my opinions on sex and sexuality, though.

Posted by NaFun | May 22, 2008 8:13 AM

I had a Heinlein phase when I was in highschool- I read every one of his books I could get a hold of. Worse even than "I Will Fear No Evil" is "Job, A Comedy of Justice". I can remember the plot from the former, but the latter was absolutely, unequivocally horrible. I couldn't tell you what it was about, besides something akin to a modern day biblical Job tale. If your eyes aren't bleeding after "Evil" I'd suggest you read "Job" for the pure amusement... while at the dentist.
Alternatively, one of my favorite Heinlein books "Time Enough for Love" and it's companion "To Sail Beyond the Sunset" is every bit as sexist as one would expect. I always gave him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps it was the culture he grew up in (or the unfortunate grip of the my southern baptist upbringing) which, to him, probably was progressive, but to modern folk is rather horrifying.

Posted by Jys | May 22, 2008 9:24 AM

What Gitai@16 said, although honestly I'd substitute "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" for "Stranger". Certainly anything other than those three books should be approached with extreme caution or better yet not approached at all.

I will give Heinlein this: he left behind one of the most simple and accurate tests ever for whether a person you are corresponding with on the internets is an insufferable idiot. Just look for the Lazarus Long quotes.

Posted by Doctor Memory | May 22, 2008 10:27 AM

To answer Question #2 Paul; yeah, that is as steamy as it is going to get. Heinlien never mentions any sexual organs except "mammary glands". So sorry for your pain and suffering.

But if you really want to suffer, take up #26's suggestion, or read "Farnham's Freehold" [where blacks take over the world and all white women are sluts who like to have sex with them and gorillas - I'm not making this shit up].

Posted by Schweighsr | May 22, 2008 11:08 AM

Beginning with Stranger in a Strange Land his prose always included an old fart who was mysteriously sexually attractive to young women. I figured he was going through the male menopause.

I Will Fear No Evil, Time Enough for Love, etc. were all serials -- maybe that's why they seem choppy and repetitive.

Posted by John Thomas Stuart XI | May 22, 2008 3:30 PM

In 1974/75 (or was it 1973/74?). I was on a cruise (SS Mariposa) and Heinlein was a passenger. Pacific Far East Line had asked me to lead a creative writing workshop (better than washing dishes to pay for my passage). I was embarrassed when I learnt that he - a prominent, widely published author - was on board because I was not a promient, widely published author and, in leading the workshop in his presence, as it were, felt like an intruder or something. It was suggested that I invite him to speak to us; but I didn't, because the few times I encounteed him he struck me as a rather unpleasant individual who wanted nothing to do with a peasant like me.

Posted by David Brown | May 24, 2008 11:45 AM

@15: Rhett has also consorted with at least three Pulitzer Prize winners, viz: broken bread with cartoonist Berkeley Breathed at Palisade; hosted a bon voyage party for novelist Allen Drury ["Advise & Consent"] and his lover; spent a day with poet Gary Snyder and his family while helping construct an ashram - all of us in the nude. Not to mention Rhett dated Fritzi, the niece of New Yorker author Philip Hamburger, who was once hit on by brain cancer victim Ted Kennedy.

Why would anyone make up lies like this except to yank your chain, Dave? Are you there, Dave?


Posted by FIDDLE-FADDLE | May 24, 2008 4:21 PM

Thanks, JC. I had almost forgotten why I stopped reading Piers Anthony. I read a couple of his books, and then when I came to the end of one of them it was the most outrageous, sexist piece of crap ending to a book I otherwise liked.

Made me so cross, I threw the book across the room.

Posted by wench | May 28, 2008 8:11 PM

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