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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Book Club of the Damned: I Will Fear No Evil, Part 3

posted by on May 28 at 12:31 PM


For those of you playing catch-up, Brad bet me fifty bucks I couldn’t read I Will Fear No Evil, a late Heinlein sci-fi novel, from cover to cover. Although I’d read Heinlein before, this book, about Johann Sebastian Bach Smith, a dying wealthy old man who has his brain transplanted into the nubile young body of his secretary, quickly proved to be atrocious. For reasons unexplained, the secretary still lives inside the brain of Johann—who now answers to Joan—and the remainder of the novel consists of Joan making out with old friends from his/her past life.

Here’s part one. Here’s part two.

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I made a solemn vow that I would finish reading I Will Fear No Evil that weekend—I’d taken too many breaks to read other books for, you know, the books section of the paper. So I sat down and read. And read. And read. And I kept falling asleep. I took four naps over Memorial Day weekend, and each of those naps is directly attributable to being bored by I Will Fear No Evil’s long passages about legal issues and stretches of the book where Joan sat quietly and posed for one painting after another. The parenthetical mental sparring of Johann and his secretary Eunice continued:

(…But, Boss, you’re a devious little slut—you can’t be truthful even to yourself.) (Wench, if I could get my hands on you, I’d spank you!) (And if you could, I’d let you. Kind o’ fun to be spanked, isn’t it, dear? Gets the action moving like a rocket.) (Oh, stuff it!) (Where, twin? What? And how big is it?)

The action continues exactly in the manner I described in Part 2. I can’t figure out one goddamned reason why this book is five hundred pages long, except that, as earlier commenters have pointed out, Heinlein was probably dying when he wrote it and didn’t have time nor inclination to edit. Finally, at the conclusion of the book—after a plot ‘twist’ which makes absolutely no sense—a child is born. This is the end. And I won the goddamned fifty bucks.

There were passages that I liked, but those passages, tellingly, had nothing to do with the actual story. After about halfway through, each chapter began with a few scattershot paragraphs explaining how the future was barreling forward into itself, maybe toward Armageddon:

The Postmaster General died from an overdose of barbiturates; the career Assistant Postmaster General declined an interim appointment and put in for retirement. A woman in Albany gave birth to a ‘faun’ which was baptized, dead, and cremated in eighty-seven minutes. No flowers. No photographs. No interviews—but the priest wrote a letter to his seminary roommate.

I can see teenagers plowing through this book for the illicit sex talk, or diehard Heinlein fans adoring it for its, um, full expression of his weird anti-feminism feminism. But to the layman, this is a completely useless book. It is not Heinlein’s Showgirls. It is not so bad it’s good. It is just a bad book that should be forgotten.

Study Questions:

Would an in-his-prime Heinlein actually want this book to be read?

Are there people who call themselves feminists in this day and age who would actually call this book feminist?

What the hell is the point of the title?

Will I spend all my fifty dollar winnings on gin drinks tonight in order to forget this book?

RSS icon Comments


So, did you actually finish it?

Posted by cracked | May 28, 2008 12:50 PM

Heinlein's morality is pretty situational, so in in his prime he probably would have approved of lying about finishing the book to win the bet.

Posted by elenchos | May 28, 2008 12:52 PM

@1: Sorry. Yes I did finish it.

Posted by Paul Constant | May 28, 2008 1:00 PM

...and I modified the post to reflect that. Apologies.

Posted by Paul Constant | May 28, 2008 1:04 PM

"Heinlein was probably dying when he wrote it "

.. but he was 18 years from death in 1970

Posted by muerto | May 28, 2008 1:09 PM

never mind.. peritonitis, got it.

Posted by muerto | May 28, 2008 1:11 PM

What's the twist?

Posted by Gloria | May 28, 2008 1:12 PM

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."

Seems fairly obvious.

Posted by King James | May 28, 2008 1:21 PM

Congratulations on completing a genuine slog, Paul. I thought this one sucked when I was a stupid teenager and I had already enjoyed STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, ETC. Luckily, I found Robert Silverberg's TOWER OF GLASS in the same school library and it at least delivered much more on the sex front.

Posted by Scott Faulkner | May 28, 2008 1:45 PM

Tower of Glass is a hoot. Have you read Silverberg's Dying Inside? That book should have won a fucking Pulitzer. In 50 years people will look back on Silverberg as genius of modern prose, sf or otherwise.

Posted by sf nerd | May 28, 2008 1:52 PM

1) No, he would probably want to shoot himself for writing it.

2)I doubt it.

3)Seems King James got it.

4) godwilling and godspeed my friend! I suggest Sun Liquor on Summit. They make the best Gin and Tonic.

PS. You are a stronger man then most. Purification by fire seems the only choice for a book like that.

Posted by Original Monique | May 28, 2008 1:53 PM

What's more horrible about this book is I think they actuall made a movie about it and Emilio Estavez starred as the 'nubile' young brain recipient. Ack!

Posted by yucca flower | May 28, 2008 2:14 PM

You should read Nightwatch, it's a way better read.

Heinlein ruled during the 70's ... seriously. Hard to believe now, but all the kids needed major escape around then.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 28, 2008 2:19 PM

That first writing sample is a crime against humanity. He should have had his pecker chopped off with hedge trimmers for writing that.

Posted by Fnarf | May 28, 2008 2:23 PM

Paul--While it isn't the best thing Heinlein has written, I think 'Evil' is at least interesting in theory, if flawed inexecution. Heinlein was trying to put a story to his theory that people have a possibility of 6 different genders that include all permutations of human sexuality and behavioral preferences. It's not really a science fiction book, but more of a metaphysical examination of gender identity, but in the most low brow way possible, because that's just Heinlein's style. Think of it as Heinlein's Gravity's Rainbow: a literary experiment that's not necessarily relevatory or fun to read. Also, keep in mind he had just written Time Enough For Love, which is so damn good it erases any bad taste you may have from Fear. All I'm saying is don't judge Heinlein too harshly for this one.

Posted by satan claus | May 28, 2008 2:24 PM

Hey sf nerd, I've not read DYING INSIDE but I'll put it on the list. Thanks for the recommendation.

Posted by Scott Faulkner | May 28, 2008 2:42 PM

A far better book would be The Door Into Summer ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 28, 2008 3:09 PM

At least he didn't start a religion...

Posted by xx | May 28, 2008 7:05 PM

Probably too late, but...

As I understand it, Heinlein was very ill when he wrote it (hence the 'Rare Blood Club' or whatever), and his wife, Virginia, did most all the cutting and editing for IWFNE.

@18 Heinlein was present when L. Ron Hubbard made the wager (in 1947, IIRC) that he could make $1,000,000 starting a religion.

Go figure.

Posted by drewl | May 28, 2008 10:04 PM

Congrats on finishing! That was fun. I hope you do another book club of the damned sometime again. You know, after you recover & all.

Posted by winna | May 29, 2008 4:50 AM

@20 Agreed. Good feature. Very cathartic, and pain is easier to handle when it's vicarious.

Posted by Ramdu | May 29, 2008 11:14 AM

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