Robert A. Heinlein and Philip K. Dick: Contrast and Compare

Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein

Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick

 

This essay by Gary Westfahl first appeared on Locus Online March 1, 2005.

Here are some excerpts:

Of course, one can readily epitomize the ways in which these authors are significantly different . . .  the characters that most interest them stand at opposite ends of the social spectrum . . . As Karl Marx would sum things up, Heinlein identifies with the aristocracy, Simak with the bourgeoisie, and Dick with the proletariat. More prosaically, the Heinlein Hero owns the office building; the Simak Hero runs a nice little shop on its ground level; and the Dick Hero sweeps his floors every night.

and

. . . it is not surprising that the polarizing changes in America during the 1960s moved Heinlein and Dick to opposite ends of the political spectrum. Heinlein, horrified by the counterculture and everything it represented, hardened into a bitter reactionary, eventually endorsing (in To Sail Beyond the Sunset) a longed-for President Patton’s policy of shooting drug dealers on sight. Dick embraced the counterculture, freely experimented with drugs, and announced a fervent admiration for young Americans and their liberal, liberating philosophies. For that reason, when commentators discuss the time when Heinlein happily purchased a new typewriter for a temporarily down-and-out Dick, this is presented as evidence of Heinlein’s amazingly generous spirit, his willingness to help individuals in need even if they were people he otherwise had reason to abhor.

I respectfully disagree. I think that Heinlein gave Dick a typewriter because he could recognize a soul brother when he saw one. And I would argue that, when one considers the qualities that made those writers great, the qualities that distinguish the wondrous novels and stories written in the first two decades of their careers, one must conclude that they are, in fundamental ways, exactly the same sort of writer.

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Her Body Electric

       Thelma_Moss_The_Body_Electric         Thelma_Moss_Myself_and_I

Thelma_Schnee_The_Colossus_of_New_York (500x387)

First up, here is Gary Westfahl to give us some background on actress, writer, and psychic researcher with a PhD from the University of California, Thelma Moss, also known as Thelma Schnee:

She wrote screenplays for two episodes of Science Fiction Theatre: “The Negative Man” (story by Ivan TORS) (1955), “The Throwback” (1956); and for the movie The Colossus of New York (story by Willis Goldbeck) (1958).

She acted in “The Devil in Glencairn” (1951), episode of Lights Out and co-produced, with Paul Finder Moss, Ant City (documentary short) (1950).

Schnee ingested LSD as a participant in experimental therapy and wrote a book about her experiences, My Self and I (1962), using the pseudonym Constance A. Newland. Then, she may have recalled the conclusion of “The Negative Man”: having lost his improved senses, the hero resolved to go back to college so he could further research the mysteries of the human mind. And Schnee, now calling herself Thelma Moss, did exactly the same thing, eventually earning a Ph.D. from the Psychology Department of the University of California, Los Angeles, where she also was given a position as a full-time professor. Further, while heading a facility dedicated to parapsychology, she chose to specialize in studying the very stuff of science fiction—psychic powers, ghosts, and astral projections recorded by Kirlian photography. Perhaps these investigations into occult matters represented her effort to reconnect with her late husband, though unlike the heroes of science fiction, she never achieved definitive proof of these phenomena, and while she was a well-respected researcher in the 1970s, her area of expertise is now relegated to the status of pseudoscience. Yet she still commands attention because she effectively gave up writing science fiction in order to prove that science fiction was true.

Read Mr. Westfahl’s complete article on Thelma Schnee here

Next, Wikipedia tells us:

Born Thelma Schnee, a native of Connecticut, she graduated from Carnegie Tech, and originally pursued a career in acting and in writing scripts for film and television. She was one of the earliest members of The Actors Studio; as a scriptwriter, her biggest success was the screenplay for the 1954 Alec Guinness film Father Brown.[2]

And finally, a link to her rare, hard-to-find book, Myself and I (1962) at Biblio.com.

Suit Up

           Right:  Gary Westfahl

 

At LOCUS OnlinePaul Di Filippo reviews the new bookThe Spacesuit Film: A History 1918 – 1969, by one of my favorite commentators, the  always erudite and entertaining Dr. Gary Westfahl. Filippo says:

As the subtitle to this volume indicates, Westfahl will venture back almost to the dawn of cinema to examine the presence of spacegear in films as the defining touchstone of a certain sensibility and focus. But before then, in an amusingly named preface, “Pre-Flight Briefing,” he outlines with great clarity the reasons why he feels the spacesuit is the defining motif of a certain serious-minded speculative vision. His insights, I find, represent a very clever and striking perception and distinction not previously noted or vocalized by critics within the field. Westfahl convinces the reader at once that his theme is valid.

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What Science Fiction Leaves Out

Gary Westfahl discusses four things that are seldom included in science fiction stories, either in print or on film.:

1. Journalism

2. People in the future speculating about their future

3. The pursuit of enjoyment

4. Normal pets, like dogs and cats

In looking for illustrations for the above collage, I came to realized just how right Westfahl is. It wasn’t easy to find examples of exceptions. One of my pictures shows a pet that is clearly not a cat or dog, and the picture of the kid reading a book is the closest thing I could find to someone in the future thinking about their future, and I admit that it’s a stretch.

Westfahl says, “For critics and commentators, it is generally easy to notice and discuss whatever there is to be found in a science fiction story or film. It can be harder, however, to notice and discuss what isnot there in science fiction—those features one might ordinarily expect to find in a story or film that are, for some reason, being left out. I discovered one of these strange omissions purely by accident while editing The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: because the assigned contributor never completed the entry, I was forced on short notice to write the entry on “Journalism.” And hurried research brought to light a curious situation: while journalists were reasonably common in science fiction stories set in the present—ranging from the novels of Clifford D. Simak to the adventures of Superman—they were extraordinarily rare in science fiction stories set in the future.”

Click here four the entire four-part essay

We Chose to Put a Man on the Moon

Gary Westfahl has written an intriguing essay on the science fiction of J. G. Ballard. Here are a couple of excerpts to whet your appetite:

“The question that should be haunting science fiction is: why did Ballard get it right, while all of the other science fiction writers were getting it wrong? Why did their apparently logical and well-grounded predictions about ongoing advances further and further into space prove to be so flawed?”

“Yes, I know, you undoubtedly think of Ballard as one of those “New Wave” writers who abhorred science and focused all their energies on literary craftsmanship and avant-garde experimentation—and there are works in the Ballard oeuvre that would match that stereotypical perception. But it is important to recall that Ballard spent years at medical school studying to become a psychiatrist, which means that he received a better and more thorough scientificeducation than the vast majority of science fiction writers.”

Read entire essay

Shedding More Light

Some time ago, I wrote about my wish to learn more about Ali Mirdrekvandi, whom I first heard about from Gary Westfahland several people got into the discussion. A few days ago, someone with a website called ShahreFarang dropped in to Bill Ectric’s Place to post this link about Mirdrekvandi from the Encyclopaedia Iranica.

The creators of ShahreFarang.com tell us, “Shahre Farang is the Iranian version of peep boxes, a form of entertainment provided by wandering showmen. Shahre Farang were made of metal in the shape of an oriental castle with several holes. ShahreFarang.com is hoping to bring you visual treats. It is the brain child of two Iranian designers & culture vultures, Mehrdad Aref-Adib & Surena Parham.”

I also read that ShahraFarang translates to “chequered-world” in the Farsi language. Reminds me of a quote from Omar Khayyam, which I seem to recall was ripped-off by William S. Burroughs in one of his cut-up books, “Tis all a checker-board of nights and days/ Where destiny with men for pieces plays / Hither and thither moves, and mates and slays / And one by one back in the closet lays.”

Deep.

Another Trip to the World of Westfahl

Over at World of Westfahl, Professor Gary has a relatively new entry in his Biographical Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Film. This one is on film director Erle C. Kenton, whose credits include A Haunted House (short) (1922), Island of Lost Souls (1932), The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945), and The Cat Creeps (1946).

Westfahl says, “It is strange that director Erle C. Kenton has so long evaded my scrutiny, since at least four of his films are obligatory viewing for any dedicated science fiction or horror fan. But there are interesting reasons for the oversight that merit some exploration, all of them related to the word obligatory.”

Read entire article here