Over at John Scalzi’s blog they’re discussing whether contemporary teenagers are likely to enjoy Robert Heinlein and other members of the SF canon like Isaac Asimov. There are lots of people commenting about how much they enjoyed Heinlein in their youth and which novels they’d recommend, interspersed with a few people saying how ghastly his books are.
As I genre reader, I have a few Heinlein novels in my past, so I got to thinking about my response to him. His juveniles were my introduction to non-realistic fiction. I thought they were fabulous. Kids in space; what’s not to like. And in Podkayne of Mars at least, girls in space.
But his adult novels are another thing entirely. I remember very little of them, but what lingers is their ickiness. Even as a curious and hormonal teenager, I found the descriptions of sex and the discussions of how women were supposed to feel about it just weird. Not titillating, not evocative, and certainly not in any way attached to my own sense of what it meant to be a girl/woman. I was a small-town girl who’d yet to bump into feminism and didn’t have the conceptual or rhetorical tools to analyse or explain my reaction to his works, but I knew enough to know that his women were figures in some creepy fantasy that I wanted no part of. Because of this, I’d be very leery about offering them to a teenaged girl today. They were dated when I read them; they’re antediluvian now.
I read Asimov’s Foundation trilogy at around the same time, plowing my way through it, grimly determined to understand what it was on about. And I made it, but the lack of traditional plot or characterisation frustrated me no end. I tried various other writers including Brian Aldiss and David Brin and bounced off them (except for Aldiss’s Helliconia sequence, which I enjoyed). So few characters, so much chilly info-dumping, so little fun, such a lack of actual honest-to-god story. And most crushingly, so few women.
Between them then, these masters of science fiction were the absolute opposite of gateway authors. I was put off, not encouraged. Which is a sadness to me because I love a good spaceship yarn.