Heinlein Was an Optimist

science-fiction-1545307 (2)

If there’s one thing everyone agrees on, particularly those who’ve never read him, is that Heinlein was an optimist.  The cup was damnright brimming full.  We’d go to the stars and stay there. Humans would survive everything, even puppet masters.  We’re rough, we’re tough, and by G-d we can make it.

It’s only when you read him and pay attention, particularly now, thirty years (has it really been that long?) after his death that you realize what a dark canvas he painted his individual streaks of light and individualism on.

No?

The world is overpopulated.  There is some kind of planetary authority (often specifically designated as belonging to or being an outgrowth of the United nations) and the US has lost all sovereignty (even if Jubal Harshaw thinks it’s indecent.  It would be.)  The universal government — so to put it — as depicted in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is exactly what you’d expect from an outgrowth of the UN.  It’s clear there’s a redistribution of food around the world and most of it is — natch — snatched up by kleptocrats.  Etc etc  etc.  In some worlds there’s references to students striking (?) for higher pay (???)  I Will Fear No Evil, which might not be the same world at all is even darker.  Your elementary school teachers decide what you get to do and even if you get to learn to read.  People live in compounds to protect themselves and outside them it’s like the worst parts of Chicago.  Cars are armored.  The normal people are either on welfare or criminals or both.

This is not a pie in the sky world.  It’s the world that you’d expect as a logical outgrowth of the world in the first half (and for IWFNE the second half of the twentieth century.)  And if you look at it, behind the giant shadow cast by Heinlein’s competent and self-sufficient characters, you find worlds that put 1984 and Brave New World to shame.  (Neither of those setups would resist a Heinlein character for more than 2 days.)

And yet Heinlein was an optimist.  He really was.  Recently, during a brief illness, I had the opportunity to re-read most of Clifford Simak.  What I’m going to say is not a disparagement of Simak.  As most of you know, I love his work and it is what pulled me into science fiction.

Simak was a realist.  For the mid-century, the time his books were written, he wasn’t even a depressive.  I spent a lot of time reading depressives, most of them on the left (possibly in the conviction they’d be eaten last.)  The USSR has won, the world is a grey grayness and no one can escape, and everything ends badly.  About as bad as what’s acclaimed now, but without as much preaching.  (Or different preaching.  I remember one going on and on about how the US had fallen through being as decadent as Rome.  That might have been an early example of left-puritanism.  Or maybe the author was a real communist.  They’re all suspicious of sex, because is competes with the rewards the government can give.  Never mind.  I don’t remember the title or the author’s name, which is merciful, I’m sure.)

Simak was a realist.  He was also a journalist.  He knew what crossed his desk every day.  He did a realistic extrapolation of the future.  And in most of his books, beyond the characters and their interests and love affairs there is a clear certainty that humanity is doomed.  Oh, his books aren’t downers.  They usually end well, but we’re saved by time travelers, or aliens, or we escape to the past, or…  The cold war and the bomb loom big in his backgrounds.

I used to like Simak better than Heinlein until I was about 17.  Reading them in the seventies, Simak was more grounded in reality.  Yes, reality was depressing as hell.  And it tells you something that I didn’t notice until re-reading him years later how dark his assumptions were, and how it would take a miracle to save Earth and humanity.

So, Heinlein was an optimist.  His assumptions for the world building were the best of all possible worlds, given what was going on at the time.  Individual liberties? Who was going to claw that back from the increasingly communitarian and international world of the 40s 50s 60s 70s?

Me, I’m not an optimist in my world building (yeah, my background is also quite dark) but Heinlein was an optimist.

Sure, all of us wish that he’d been right in his optimism about space science and how far we’d be by now.  It’s my belief that was deliberately killed.  You want to see a lefty froth at the mouth, talk about space colonies.  They don’t WANT us to escape.  They’re tormented every minute of their lives with the idea that a human being, somewhere, could be thinking, doing, or living in a way they disapprove.  Space would just magnify their worries.  It’s also my belief the lack of massive overpopulation — that he anticipated — made the urgency of taking all our eggs out of the Earth basket less urgent.

But even with space colonies, would you trade our world for his?  Would you really want a famished world, administered by kakistocracies through the UN for their purpose?  A world in which the only individualists were in space, and only till it became properly “civilized” (Did you catch what happened on the moon not long after TMIAHM?)

Heinlein was an optimist.  What he envisioned from the mid twentieth was the best world possible.  Simak was the more likely and all of civilization consumed in a nuclear fire.

Do we have space colonies?  No.  But we will.  We’re just a little behind schedule.  The rest?  For the rest we and the Earth are immensely, incomparably, amazingly better off than he could have envisioned.  If he’d written us, no editor wold have bought it.  No editor would have believed it.

Sure we have setbacks and problems.  Did you think that the other side didn’t get a say?  Sometimes they’ll win a battle or fifty.  This is a very long war.  Some would say it’s endless.  But we can at least hope that generations yet unborn will be free.

We’re building a future beyond even the dreams of the optimist.  Don’t waver now.  Steady as she goes.

The future is already better than Heinlein could imagine.  And it much better than anyone else could.

The future’s so bright I got to wear shades.  Go and build.

 

275 responses to “Heinlein Was an Optimist

  1. And yet Heinlein was an optimist.

    He knew that there is a great deal of nasty in the world, and it often prevailed, but he didn’t give up because the bastards may have won the last round. He still saw that as long as there is a future there is still reason to hope.

    • Yep.

      Ain’t over til it’s over.

      And don’t listen to the guy who won the last round insisting that it’s over.

      • And don’t listen to the guy who argues that it is all settled law.

        What is worth while needs to be constantly protected, think The Bill of Rights.

        What is not needs to be overturned, think Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857), Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 US 537 (1896), and Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005).

  2. Realistic optimist? Sure things were dark, and the backgrounds. Yet he painted with bright colours. Hope, change, escape, and eventually freedom. If you look at the majority of his works it speaks of that. You want freedom? Head to the frontier. Otherwise sit down, shut up, and enjoy your pablum. As he said a few times, give them gloom and doom yet show them the shining city on the hill as you play them out with music (paraphrasing sort of).
    Of course, to have a good story you can’t have things being perfect all the time for everyone.

    • A certain amount of it is chiaroscuro. Some heroes would live lives of peace and quietness if only they were permitted. Others would do great things but building a great city is not quite so impressive when you can freely plan and build it and buy all the supplies on the free market.

  3. BobtheRegisterredFool

    I grew up on Aiken, and it took rereading her as an adult to notice the fanciful qualities in her handling of her villainous adults.

  4. I’m unsure whether optimist, pessimist, realist, and cynic are useful terms any more. I can characterize most of the people I’ve known as all four, according to the topic and the breadth and depth of the inquiry.

    For example, I have a friend who frankly expects a cataclysmic breakdown of social order in these United States in his lifetime, and he’ll tell you so if you give him any opening at all. To give that an underline, he’s 71 years old. That would strike most people as a pessimistic view. Yet he’s optimistic about both his own prospects and what would eventually come from the upheaval he foresees. Does he think everyone will eventually be better off? Of course not! He’s a realist, and knows that most people are poorly prepared to face such an event. As for teaching people how to prepare and why it’s important, he waves it aside; he’s much too cynical about the reason-vs.-wishful thinking balance in the typical person’s “thinking.”

    I’d say most of us are like this, especially when it comes to sociopolitical conditions, trends, and probable long-term developments. I don’t think it demands a reshuffling of our terms, though it does suggest a broadening of outlook about the wide divergences in the social, economic, and political priorities of Americans.

    • FlyingMike

      expects a cataclysmic breakdown of social order in these United States in his lifetime

      That’s just math:

      View story at Medium.com

      Though being a bore about any subject is something to be avoided…

      • FlyingMike

        OK, that’s weird – WP makes the link in my comment above disappear for me. It points to:

        https: slash slash medium.com/s/story/the-surprisingly-solid-mathematical-case-of-the-tin-foil-hat-gun-prepper-15fce7d10437

        • I think you’re required by the mores of this blog to now declare “WordPress delenda est.”

          • FlyingMike

            To qoute Publius the Intermediate’s response to Cato the Elder, in a line that always got laughs in the Roman Senate, “Quod vadit sine dicens!”

        • Fascinating article.
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          Zobacz znaleziska i wpisy z tagiem #hnlive.
          ABS – Wykop
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          Witam, chcę samodzielnie pomalować zderzak, który kupiłem i z takim jeździłem od października, jest to goły plastik nie pomalowany wykonany z ABS + PP teraz już trochę przybrudzony. Mam sprężarkę i pistolet do malowania, malowałem już kiedyś motocykl ale to z prowizorycznym sprzętem. Jaka jest kolejność …
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    • There have been times when I have been confident that in the next 20 years, we’ll have a military invasion, or a civil war, or something else awful happen to the United States.

      The times I haven’t been confident about that, have been when I thought 20 years was way too optimistic….

      • I think that some goddamned fool will manage to seriously enrage the United States public; something long the lines of 9/11, but bigger. I keep thinking about Detroit; large sections are deserted and all public services (including Police) are in the crapper. Somebody could build a really nasty bomb in place without much chance of interference.

        I don’t think it will be a nuclear bomb. I doubt that, screwed up as airport security is, they could smuggle one in and it seems likely that building one in place would be beyond the capacity of the kind of fools I envision…at least before they all succumbed to radiation poisoning. I suppose a regular bomb coated in radioactive material (radiological? Is that the term?) is a possibility. But a large feel-air bomb would be both fairly simple and quite spectacular. And might kill as many as a hundred thousand people.

        What concerns me, though, is what might follow. The loss of Detroit (or New Orleans, or some similar city undergoing societal breakdown) isn’t going to cripple the United States…or even hurt us seriously. The Islamofools have absolutely no idea how BIG the US is. But it might well enrage the popular, and then Hell would go for a walk with the sleeves rolled up (thank you, Sir Terry!).

        Dissidents would get slung into jail so hard they would bounce, and demands to see their ACLU lawyers would be answered with “He’s in the next cell”. The Establishment Left has spent entirely too much time playing Radical Chic games with Radicals and Revolutionaries, and in the aftermath all those chickens would come home to roost.

        And we would go tearing across the Middle East like so many honey-badgers on crack.

        When the dust cleared we would be a true Imperium, and that wouldn’t be good for us or the rest of the world.

        I’m 50, male, and caucasian. It won’t bother me, much, on a practical level. But it will be the end of the rule of the Constitution, the end of our great experiment. And that saddens me.

        • Detroit has natural gas, doesn’t it? “Sealing” an empty office building, tapping a pipe and setting a timer to generate a spark doesn’t strike me as rocket science.

          Now leave us not pursue this topic as I’ve already said too much.

          • Today’s local news-Idaho State University has lost some weapons grade plutonium.

            Feeling optimistic yet?

            • My first question is, “what’s a state university doing with ‘weapons-grade’ plutonium?” And the second question is, “and how much of it are we talking about?”

            • As I said, I think that the level of technical skill possessed by the Islamotwits is such that if they tried to make an atomic bomb they would die of radiation poisoning before they were done.

              But so what? Say they manage to nuke a city. They won’t get into Washington, or New York with the thing. They might take out Los Angeles. Horrible? Yes. Crippling to the country? I kinda doubt it, and the aftermath would be the death of Islam as a culture.

              Iran may nuke Israel, and that WOULD accomplish what was intended. It would also end Iran as a country. But nuke one city in the US? All you accomplish is the implacable hatred of a nation with vast resources.

              • All you accomplish is the implacable hatred of a nation with vast resources.

                Ask Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto where that leads.

                • Really. The Islamopests desperately need to have a long talk with the Japanese about what happens when you get the United States pissed at you.

                  • The ones trying to bring about Mohammad’s return would consider that a good thing.

                    In their story, they’ve got to be all but defeated.

              • But nuke one city in the US?

                From what I have seen about the blast radius of a modern nuke, dropping one in the center of Manhattan would leave most of the city intact — which might serve to forever eliminate fear of nuclear warheads.

              • Thing is, there isn’t a single city in the US whose loss would cripple the country–not for long, anyway. Even if someone managed to wipe New York or DC off the map, we’d be up and running again within weeks.

                And the results will make Toby Keith’s “The Angry American” look like an antiwar anthem by comparison.

                • DC – I’d miss the Smithsonian and the National Gallery. The cherry trees are pretty, too. But some other parts of it? Um, well, er, ah,

                • > single city

                  That’s the problem with the various “What if the Nazis got the atomic bomb first” scenarios. There was no single Allied city they could have hit with a Hiroshima- or Nagasaki-sized bomb that would have hurt the war effort much. No half a dozen cities would have hurt the USA much. A full dozen… it might cripple the USA enough to drag things out another year or two, but that would be all.

                  Most European countries were highly centralized around their capitals. The USA was even less centralized in the 1940s than it is now. A lot of Europeans never quite seemed to get a handle on the fact that the USA doesn’t revolve around one or two cities.

              • > technical skill

                The Islamic Republic of Pakistan set off their first atomic bomb 1998, twenty years ago. They’ve been building bombs and SRBMs ever since.

                Iran may not have run a test, but almost certainly has some ready to go. Iraq came pretty close, but between the Israelis bombing their separation plant and having America tune them up twice, they couldn’t quite finish it.

                We’re talking ancient technology here. *Small* bombs, economical of fissiles, are hard to make. Simple bombs, all you need is money. And if you’re willing to spread the development out over time like Pakistan did, you don’t need a tremendous amount of money, as military budgets go.

        • both my kids look middle eastern. BUT I agree with you, which is the reason that against the occasion I’ve bought HONKING BIG chains and bigger crosses for them to wear.
          IMO the WORST they could do to loose hell on earth is try a Beslan here. Even just try it.

        • “I think that some goddamned fool will manage to seriously enrage the United States public”
          Korea was hinting at doing some such – and look what happened without a Clinton in the WH.
          Someone needs to seriously convince the Islamic Jihadis that they really do not want to play Cowboys and Muslims.
          Bombing Syrian assets and exfiltrating Iran’s nuclear secrets is a good start.

          • Amsel, Matthew

            The problem is that there *are* smart people on the other side, and they *will* eventually find a way to hit the US hard enough to provoke the “screw it, let’s just kill them all” reaction, and they will do so because they don’t really believe it will happen.

        • Absolutely not giving you a hard time over a natural typo, but now I’m fascinated by the prospect of a “feel-air” bomb. Maybe thats why educational and media institutions have been indoctrinating people into feelz over rationality. They’re engaging in weapons material production! If a California university town hosts a major outrage protest and they reach critical feelz (hysteria horizon?) we could lose the entire west coast from initial detonation and chain fire propagation. We need make sure Utah and Nevada remain calm as reliable feelz breaks or we’re all doomed.

          • If a California university town hosts a major outrage protest

            My scanning eye read that as “a major nutrage protest” and it made perfect sense …

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          If Trump can’t do something about Iran, and if Iran doesn’t revolt first, the Guardian council will build warheads. Those can be driven up over the border from Mexico. They don’t have the discipline to hold off long enough to do more than enrage,

          • Thing is, that would be the worst idea for delivery.
            Why? Because they’d almost have to go through the cartels in order to smuggle something like that over the border, and the cartels aren’t stupid–they know that something like that happened, the border would become well-nigh impenetrable, which would do lousy things to their revenue stream.
            So they’d probably agree to move it, take the money, then quietly tip us off to what was going on.
            (If you don’t believe me, find out what happens to cartel guys who take out Border Patrol Agents on their own hook. They don’t tend to last long.)

            • They might be smart enough to find some of the enforcers who start up their own gangs– some of those guys are crazy enough to think the whole “take back California” thing is an option.

            • What they might find is the border moves significantly south. And that would mess up their entire operations.

  5. FlyingMike

    Hey, we’re almost to flying cars. And Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos and the rest of the practical new space crowd are trying to jump past the “only carefully vetted government employees go to space” thing.

    And there are hints we might actually get stage-one-rejuv, or at least anti-agathetics, going relatively soon.

    While I was a pessimist by choice back in my misspent yout during the cold war (in college I used to say “A pessimist can always be pleasantly surprised” a lot, so maybe I was an optimist in the closet), I’m openly an optimist these days.

    • Actually, we’re nowhere near flying cars, and it’s a good thing. It’s not that the hardware would be difficult to come up with, but the logistical and managerial infrastructure that would be needed for wide-scale adoption of flying cars isn’t close to existing. Also, the potential for really bad accidents would be much greater with flying cars than with the cars we already have. Would you really want some of the yahoos you see on the streets flying about overhead in multi-ton vehicles?

      • FlyingMike

        The thing is, flying cars have one more dimension to dodge in, and with the stuff already in place for systems like TCAS enabling two cars on a collision course negotiate which way each will dodge each other means the autopilots in each could be better at avoiding interposed course incidents than surface cars.

        The biggest challenges to roadbound autonomous vehicles – following confusing and un-maintained low contrast street markings, dealing with unpredictable vehicle moves, and dealing with pop-out hazards like pedestrians and bicyclists and such – would be minimized in the air.

        If they are never being hand-flown, a flying car system could actually support my optimism.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          “Nothing can go wrong go wrong go wrong…” 😉

          Of course, part of the enjoyment of cars is “go anywhere you want to” and “being in control”.

          IMO that would double for flying cars so your “perfect auto-pilots” would be over-ridden by smart (or not so smart) drivers.

          By the way, in one of Chris Nuttall’s books a future Britain had automatically driven ground cars so one of his characters didn’t need to know how to manually drive his own car.

          Great until an alien attack disrupted power/computer systems in Britain and thus the “auto-pilot” of the car couldn’t operate (it required input from the “internet”).

          The owner of the car couldn’t operate his own car. 😈

        • Umm..With all that sky to move around in, you’d think airplanes would never collide. But they do, on occasion, with multiple vehicles in a limited pace, aircraft speeds and human reaction times being what they are.
          And people will be Flying While Intoxicated, you can count on it, because as long as Artificial Stupidity can be legally bottled and sold, Artificial Intelligence will lagging behind in that race.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            Look at the current discussion involving shortages in air traffic controllers.

          • Not to mention “flights of peace”. Look out below!!

          • Ships collide. Sometimes with fixed objects. They move slower. Never underestimate carelessness and/or stupidity, along with a liberal application of Murphy’s Law.

          • I met somebody that I’d only interacted with online and she mentioned a story she’d written in which someone looked out their window and saw the faces of the pilots as the plane drilled into someone’s house, and how people told her how unrealistic it was. I told her I remembered that incident, a small aircraft midair collision over NW Denver in 2004. On my husband’s birthday, as it happened; we’d planned to meet friends at a coffeeshop a couple of blocks from the incident and had to circle way around to get there with all the streets blocked off. (That coffeehouse was happy to have actual customers instead of looky-lous.)

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          I think you are missing one of the issues with self-driving cars. Security.

          Tesla’s design decisions probably mean that all self-driving Tesla vehicles will be inherently hackable. Hacked cars can be used for murder. Ergo, it is probably a good thing that Tesla’s failures to deliver to customers may see it going out of business.

          If a self flying airplane is entirely self contained, the sensors can be spoofed, if it relies on outside systems, those systems can be compromised or imitating using man in the middle. If every consumer uses a self-flying airplane, there will be a lot of knowledge available about the architectures, and a lot of hardware available to research attacks against.

          If you are writing sci-fi, you could sell a scenario involving open source security hardening with educated consumers competent in engineering, mechanics and piloting.

          Assuming our current regulators and consumers, we are talking about a lot of unsecured self flying aircraft available for use as kinetic weapons.

          With self driving cars, you can get some measure of protection by staying off the roads, with self flying airplanes, you would dig deep underground.

          • Heck, several varieties of non-self-driving non-Teslas are remotely hackable.

            • BobtheRegisterredFool

              Yeah, but without the self driving, can you use a available hackable car to assassinate the driver of a car you merely have telemetry info for? Without the self driving, you have to rely on tricking people or impersonating a police vehicle when you want to make someone pull over so that you can murder or kidnap them.

              • In some cases, at least to some extent, yes. Too much of a modern car’s systems are tied into the same bus. I don’t think the steering is, but engines and brakes often are. I can’t seem to find it now, but I recall an article from about a year back of a demonstration of remotely hacking an SUV in motion and making it brake.

              • At least one variety you can lock the steering wheel and kill the engine.

                Without stopping the car, first.

            • My daily driver still has a carburetor. In in case of an EMP, I still have a point-type distributor for it…

            • but all the other cars are becoming so too, so bah.

        • Autonomous vehicles are a rage I completely fail to understand. Seriously; how many times a year doesn’t your computer hang or freeze or otherwise do something inexplicable?

          Autonomous cars will last right up til the day that 10,000 copies of the same vehicle suddenly decide to turn left for no apparent reason in the middle of rush hour traffic.

          Thereafter they will be banned.

          • I would like to see autonomous cars on the small scale for those who would otherwise be shut in—the senior citizens who can no longer drive, those folk who are disabled (Paratransit is horribly unreliable, no good for keeping jobs), anyone who has a condition that keeps them from driving. I’d hate to see it on a large scale.

      • My mantra is that I’m willing to give up my flying car so that the @$%@! going 50mph in the school zone never gets his.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        I just read on Redstate about the safety review from that difficult landing incident. Metal fatigue on one turbine blade.

        Two interesting difficult problems. One being better ways to inspect aircraft for the flaws. The other being the organization of a fleet maintenance program.

        So with every consumer having a self flying airplane, how do they work mechanically, how are they being inspected, and who is responsible for maintenance and record keeping?

        Being a Luddite, I can just say we shouldn’t try to do such a thing. Completely different situation from being employed to make it work, or employed to make people reading the story think it can work.

        • FlyingMike

          Part of the issue here is the jet engine manufacturers are pushing the materials science envelope right to the bleeding edge chasing efficiency. If you can squeeze out a couple percent, over all the air miles these planes fly, that adds up to a lot of gallons of fuel saved.

          But making a fan blade that spins that fast for that long, and being up at the front of the engine, exposed to all kinds of gust loads and weather and such, and if your materials gurus get their weird voodoo metal crystallization chemistry just slightly not right, you get fatigue issues as they are finding in the inspections.

          The thing is, if the engines had better built-in full-time monitoring, they could probably have autonomously told the maintenance folks that something funky was developing on that particular fan disk, just by watching trends in vibration modes and such. And they do have some monitoring in place. But if you don’t collect and on-board-analyze the data all the time, all you have is a recorder that helps the post-incident investigators.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            I’ve the vague impression that we don’t yet understand enough to put together such a system and get it working usefully, even if the airlines would spring for it. I think we might have to design the monitoring into the engine, and figure out how well it works over time. I wonder if the Air Force would be interested?

      • Drloss, I must differ. You are correct that the challenges for widespread flying cars is the traffic control issue. You are incorrect that such is far from solution. What broke it open was not really a technological change, but a business model one. When Uber and Lyft and their ilk became runaway business successes, a *lot* of smart people realized that you could make a business in air-mobile vehicles that work on the same business model. Because those are new build fleets, they can incorporate *decentralized* cooperative navigation and route planning. In many ways, the problem of air mobility with a high degree of vehicle autonomy is much easier than that for ground mobility (no roads under construction, no pedestrians, and all the vehicles have or will very shortly have broadcast information telling you where they are). The decentralized intelligence in the vehicles gets over Heinlein’s “Billion Dollar Brain” Air Traffic Control problem and it wasn’t possible twenty years back.

        There are many, many companies working this problem, some very well funded, and they’re getting close. Pushing through the regulatory changes for them will take some time, and there are many ideas for how to incorporate the owner-operated vehicles in the system, but we’ll get there.

        And yes, the vehicle problem, while also challenging, is eminently solvable.

        You’ll see that after years of forbidding it, FAA is now reconsidering ride-sharing services for aircraft. We’d have had a huge upsurge in general aviation aircraft already if that had been permitted when it first came in (general aviation aircraft have on average MUCH more idle time than cars). And now that there is Serious Money pushing for it, we’ll likely get there.

        • There are many, many companies working this problem, some very well funded, and they’re getting close.

          I seriously doubt that. They may THINK they’re getting close, but when you start finding out what constitutes “close” to the people who work on systems of similar complexity, you almost invariably find that they are “close” only in a narrow definition of the term. Look at the problems that have been found with computer-assisted flying in some modern airliners, after they had been deployed, then think of how many orders of magnitude are the problems inherent in controlling the number of flying vehicles that would eventually be in the air.

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            Head of programming team “We’re 90% done”.

            6 months later

            Head of programming team “We’re 90% done, we almost got it beat.” 😈

            • Yes, but let me point out to you two that if anyone understands both the complications and regulations of engineering it is Jeff. I tend to believe him when he says things like this. Kind of like when Dan was working for MCI and told me “In six years long distance service will be worthless. All the cells will have it for free.” And he was right.

            • /*”Head of programming team “We’re 90% done”.
              6 months later
              Head of programming team “We’re 90% done, we almost got it beat.” 😈*/

              No. Never, ever, happened 😉 (rolls eyes)

              OR/AND

              Team puts together basic screen shots & reports with fake data with simple prototyping development tool, but lousy distribution platform, lays out timeline, a year or two down the road (note this is for non-new-technology).

              Management/Client: “Looks great. With just a little tweaking we can release it in 6 months …” <– notice they have ignored engineering's timeline.

              Marketing: "Sure. Yes, 'we' can do this."

              Engineering/Development Team: (after mentally going to nearest wall & pounding head on it) "No, not happening."

              6 months latter. Not ready. Rinse & repeat until near Engineering's projected release date: "Ready."

              😈 😈 😈

      • I have ZERO confidence in the Silicon Valley magnates building a safe self-driving car, much less a flying machine. “Blue Screen of Death” means REAL death in the sky.

        And FWIW, I’ve been in the unmanned aviation business nearly 25 years. Including the big stuff, not the “RC airplane with a camera.”

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          Oddly enough, I just finished some reading that left me with a question about large UAV R&D. Would there be a budget in UAVs for getting better data on product of inertia?

    • > flying cars

      Sure. You have wings or rotors, or you brute-force it with jets or ducted fans.

      No matter how you choose to do it, you’re under the jackboot of the FAA, which doesn’t like light aviation one little bit. And then you’d be able to operate your flying car in certain rigidly-defined traffic lanes, and not at all near various airports and “secure areas.” And helicopters and jet engines are just a tad noisy, which is something most municipalities have issues with.

      Either you’re going to have to stretch your definition of “car” to include something like a Hawker Harrier or a small helicopter, or you’re going to need unicorn farts and antigravity. And then there are the regulatory and insurance issues…

      Me, I’ll just wait for my flying carpet. Then I can just roll it up and put it in the umbrella stand instead of paying for a parking deck…

    • Mike Houst

      There’s a startup company here in New Hampshire that’s planning on marketing bio-printed organs. Reminds me of Niven’s, “A Gift from Earth”.

    • For us to succeed in space, we will need self-flying spacecraft. Orbital mechanics is hard – and counter-intuitive [what do you mean slow down to go up?!?]. If we’re going to have small groups of people gallivanting about the solar system, not to mention docking at spinning space stations, there will be a LOT of computer support. There may be pilots, but not very many of them. There just aren’t enough people who can do it to support the number needed.

      • Or as John Brunner said in “The Shockwave Rider”, “See you later, accelerator!”

      • Joe in PNG

        Spacecraft have been pretty much self flying from the days of Mercury. the only thing the shuttle astronauts really did was change control tapes and lower the landing gear.

    • I take the probability of near-term flying cars about the same as near-term controlled fusion. When a flying Delorean is powered by a Mr. Fusion, I’d be a) happy, and b) surprised. (not least that it’s a Delorean.)

    • Robin Munn

      I’m a bit late to the flying car discussion, but Steve Saint’s flying car design is an interesting one. He has spent decades in the Amazon, and his design goal was a car that can get you to the place you need to go (e.g., the hospital) when there are no roads where you live. So instead of building what amounts to a plane that can go on roads (as most flying-car designs seem to be), his design was a car that can also fly, rather slowly. The “wing” is a parachute at the end of a twenty-foot mast, so its airspeed is just 40 mph. But it can take off in a football field and clear the goalposts at the other end. More info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I-TEC_Maverick

  6. MadRocketSci

    Funny statement about Heinlein and his editors. Apparently Heinlein spent most of his writing career at war with some fairly asinine flanderizing editors. I’m amazed that people put up with the snake-pit that the publishing industry was.

    • It was the only game in town.

    • Heinlein had brilliant editors, particularly on his earlier works.

      For a clear example, look at The Puppet Masters, where we can see what he originally submitted, and what got originally published. He sent in almost 100K words; what got published in 1951 was about 60K. But, starting in 1990, with the Del Rey edition, Heinlein’s widow (per his instructions) only allowed his initial version to be published, so any edition since then (including all the ebook versions) is his unedited version.

      And the edited version is ( in my opinion, clearly — others may differ) superior in every way. Plot elements that served no purpose were cut out. Spoilers in the first page for something that has a plot-essential big reveal later were eliminated. Characters that cluttered up the story without telling us anything, or being interesting in their own right — gone.

      Find a pre-1990 edition. Compare it with a current version. Come to your own conclusions — but mine is with the editors.

  7. Heinlein dropped the ball pretty badly on his apparent acceptance of the Malthusian “population bomb”. Fortunately, I happened to discover Pournelle and, in particular, his non-fiction essays collected in “A Step Farther Out” which showed a different possibility than every growing population ending up leaving the Earth the used-up husk described in passing in Time Enough for Love.

    As for Simak, the only thing of his I remember reading is a short collected in “The Space Magicians”: Pluto’s Moon, which I may want to look up again because I remember it as being delightfully dark.

    • The Pill was as disruptive a technology as the integrated circuit (and photolithography), so perhaps we should forgive Heinlein for forecasting a future of ever-growing population, as we forgive him forecasting a future of giant mainframes using punched cards (or in one of his earliest works, hand-milled gears).

      • Dan Hamilton

        He used computers with hand-milled gears (Navy) and Giant Mainframes were the norm. Small computers until towards the end of his life were next to useless. I still like his idea for redundancy with the tell-me-three-times computers.

        • On the other hand, he had a pretty good description of the Internet in Friday–not just that the network would exist but some remarkably prescient implications.

          • The Internet had existed for quite a while when Friday was written, and BBS / Fidonet networks foreshadowed a lot of today’s Internet.

            • Internet existed, as did some BBS’s and online services like Compuserve. But the World Wide Web (first created in 1989–seven years after Friday was published) and high speed Internet access at the individual level, giving people not plugged into a major university or government facility access to the wealth of data out there were things of the future. When I started college (1992) if I wanted to watch a performance of the London Philharmonic, I had to trot down to the library and hope they had one on tape. Today, I pull it up on Youtube (still eight years in the future when I graduated)–one of the very things (not, Youtube specifically, but watching and listening to live concerts on her console–even though recorded just as “live” as when first played). Indeed, when I first read Friday I wanted that capability, something fierce.

              Yes, there were some early hints, but at that point that’s all they really were, hints. The sheer amount of information (some of it even true) and even entertainment that’s almost literally at one’s fingertips was without precedent.
              It’s like someone looking at the Benz Patent Motor Car and predicting the Interstate Highway system.

          • yes. Heaven I wanted it.

          • And cell phones in Space Cadet, even though only mentioned in passing.

    • Simak’s stuff was all over the place as far as quality and entertainment value, at least for me. “They Walked Like Men” and “Way Station” are probably his best efforts.

      Too many of his later books dragged on without much happening, then abruptly ended. Which is a style, I suppose, but not one that I care for.

      • And I just remembered the other Simak story I read and enjoyed. It just took me a while to connect the dots (by way of Pournelle et al in “Fallen Angels”). The Big Front Yard.

    • Yeah, but everyone AT THAT TIME did.

  8. It occurs to me that the difference in Simak’s and Heinlein’s worldbuilding is “the frontier.” In, for example, Simak’s WAY STATION there is really nowhere to go. Enoch could escape, alone. For humanity, for the “competent man,” you’re trapped.

    For Heinlein freedom lived in the frontier. The competent man is expected to hold it together until he can’t. Then move on. In TMiaHM Luna is a frontier. By THE ROLLING STONES it’s becoming “civilized,” and it’s time to move out.

  9. Paul Koning

    One oft-repeated theme in Heinlein, which is why he is so revered by many libertarians (and credited with contributing to that movement in a big way) is the free individual capable of successfully resisting the dark forces. In many cases, that involves effective weapons. Also, in many cases it involves people well under the age of 18 (never mind 21), another reason why progressives tend to freak out.

    • Mike Houst

      Under the age of 18 usually escapes legal consequences that would throw the rest of us behind bars for a long time.

      • William O. B'Livion

        Only when it’s neither a major felony, nor an act that spits in the King’s face.

        • Mike Houst

          Hmmm. Like a 12 year old kid stabbing President Trump in the leg with a ricin or Polonium tipped needle?

          • Our law enforcement apparatus would throw that case in a heartbeat. Oops. They forgot to read him Miranda and took his weapons illegally. Too bad.

            • I would imagine that the Secret Service would have jurisdiction. And something tells me that they’d treat it fairly seriously.

          • Why would you give them ideas like that?

  10. > It’s my belief that was deliberately killed.

    Welcome to the lunatic fringe!

    Yes, there was the Oil Crisis, and then Carter’s Depression, but all of the expensive work was done when the first Apollo went up; building the space stations and Moonbase was just a matter of issuing the contracts.

    The Wheel should be up there glittering in the night, and the Stars and Stripes should be flying over Moonbase. And maybe an L5 colony. Dammit, we *paid* for it, and it was snatched from our grasp at the last instant.

    Both the US and USSR dumping manned spaceflight outside of near orbit makes no sense at all.

    Like I said earlier, just the propaganda value would have been worth every penny. The whole thing reeks of smoky rooms and secret agreements.

    • Both the US and USSR dumping manned spaceflight outside of near orbit makes no sense at all.

      There’s a way it can be made to make sense, but if you’ll pardon the choice of phrase, the harmonization is rather dissonant.

      Political control of access to space ensures the maintenance of the “high ground” of 21st Century warfare. It also ensures the enclosure of Mankind: “No one here gets out alive.” These are properties political elites prize dearly. They find no value in wider-ranging exploration of the solar system, and certainly none in permitting space colonization as with an L5 colony.

      I recently saw a marvelous movie from a few years back: Interstate 60, starring James Marsden, Gary Oldman, Chris Cooper, Christopher Lloyd, and Amy Smart. Chris Cooper’s character Bill Cody, in a rambling conversation with James Marsden’s character Neil Oliver, notes that while there was a land frontier, there was a way to escape from the conditions, constraints, and pressures of “civilization.” That also served to keep the demands and exactions of the political class relatively tolerable; the pols knew that to ask too much would cause them to lose constituents at an unacceptable rate. But the frontier is gone, so now we have nowhere for the freedom lover to escape to. This, mind you, came from a character who wore a suicide belt of dynamite sticks and was quite willing to use it.

      The opening of the space frontier would restore that escape route. The political elite simply can’t have that. So it maintains a monopoly on access to space, but restricts its presence to LEO, which is where the military potential is greatest and police powers can be confidently exercised.

      I told you you wouldn’t like it, but it makes more sense than any other coherent explanation.

      • Mike Houst

        True. No frontier to escape to means the odds are stuck here. Also means there’s no way to relieve social tensions between the opposing groups. What you end up with is the social equivalent of a pressure cooker bomb. Which dovetails nicely with Francis’s old guy who thinks the U.S. is going to go off the rails in his lifetime.

    • William O. B'Livion

      > Both the US and USSR dumping manned spaceflight outside
      > of near orbit makes no sense at all.

      It totally does.

      Space is a *hard* unyielding environment. You don’t get one mistake, you–and everyone in your tool chain–has to do it right or you die.

      Remember the O ring that failed and blew up the space shuttle?

      And that was here in America where (a) quality control existed and (b) raising a fuss merely got you marked non-promotable at best, fired at worst–not shot or sent to Siberia.

      The Russians could not have made it past earth orbit without showing how little they cared about their people, and how bad their build quality was.

      For the US it was merely hard, but there just aren’t enough of us to want to go there. Building enough lift capacity to get any appreciable number of people out of the gravity well is pricey (until they can make carbon nanotubes that are kilometers long, AND several large corporations and governments can get together and build a space elevator).

      Making a space station that people (as opposed to NASA scientists) want to live in also would be INCREDIBLY expensive, and difficult. ROI would be…interesting.

      • 3D printers and modular space stations. Isaac Arthur has a good video [yes, worst way to learn something, ever] about the Gateway System

      • Joe in PNG

        The “Atomic Rockets” website pointed out that it was the transistor that killed manned spaceflight. Using 50’s tech, you would need manned satellites, because someone needed to change out vacuum tubes on a regular basis. Transistors meant you could send up a mini version which didn’t need the same amount of hands on maintenance- and it’s a lot cheaper.

      • As sad as it makes me to say it, there will not be a Space Elevator in the near future (within 50 years, certainly, probably within 100, and possibly never), no matter what materials science we come up with, because it will always be too tempting a target.

        As for cost and difficulty, there were several plans developed that would have been plausible, even in the 70s, that could have put people up there in comparatively large numbers. Abandoning research into Nuclear Rockets put a severe damper on that, but there were still other plans.

    • OR…. well, we’ll find out when we get there. (What? I’m a fiction writer.)

    • I think that the Iron Law had a lot to do with lack of progress at NASA. When you’ve got a huge organization dedicated to fitting the bits and pieces to do one particular program, it’s going to be hard to say “scrap this, we need to something rather different”. Especially when the huge staffing was strategically designed to reelect Congress critters.

      I’m not one to heap praise on Elon Musk, but SpaceX seems to have found a way, at least for now.

    • Mike Houst

  11. > a famished world

    “If we didn’t have a tribal taboo about the matter so strong that you honestly believed it was an instinct, I can think of a long list of people I wouldn’t trust with my back turned, not with the price of beef what it is today.”

    I guess that’s one of the many social constructs I missed. Or maybe I got it from Heinlein.

    “Co-workers: a convenient food source after the Apocalypse.”

  12. I haven’t found Simak depressing. Maybe when I get my books out of storage…

    • His later stuff was a lot darker than his early work.

      I can get depressing or ambiguous crap anywhere; that’s what the industry is geared to. Which is why most of Simak’s later books didn’t make the cut during the last few culls.

      On the other tentacle, that’s what editors were buying, at the time, and authors who didn’t maintain the Narrative seldom progressed to the “and then you get paid” part.

      Thankfully, the nihilist editorial thumb on the scale is becoming less of a writers increasingly treat tradpub as an obstruction to be routed around…

    • Honestly, I didn’t either till this last go-through.

  13. My Great Grandad fought in WW1. My Grandad helped with the Dunkirk evacuation. Both my Mom and Dad were in WW2. After the war my Dad worked in Albuquerque for USAF intelligence. I grew up in a neighborhood where about a quarter of the Dad’s had a Q clearance.

    About the time I hit High School, I fully expected that I would be dead in trench outside Leningrad before I hit 30.!

    Then one day, the Great Soviet Threat Peril and/or Menace just decided to take their ball and go home. That was it. Mom was calling, the street lights were coming on, game was over, time for everyone to go home. No global thermonuclear war, no genocide, no end of civilization. “On The Beach” and “The Day After” are no longer serious, prophetic, relevant, or even very good.

    Nobody would have believed that would happen.

    If, after that, you aren’t an optimist, you aren’t paying attention.

    • Don’t underestimate the influence of Reagan on the folding of the USSR. He stopped indulging them.

      • FlyingMike

        This. All the realists before him were invested in working out how to live with the Soviets, while they were busy trying to destroy the West. Reagan got in and said “Right-how do we defeat them? Whats our plan?” Which sent State into full leaking tizzy fits.

        Revisionist history has Reagan university loved- twasn’t so at the time.

        • William O. B'Livion

          “I have a theory about the cold war. We win. They lose”.

        • I know I campaigned for him… 😉

        • Revisionist history has Reagan university loved- twasn’t so at the time.

          Sigh. Has-been/Never-was B-movie star? Dumber than the co-star of Bed-Time For Bonzo? Ronald Ray-gun? The crazy war-monger who joked, joked about nuclear war?

          He sure as h-e-double-toothpicks wasn’t universally loved at the time.


          Funny the way they thought this was mockery of Reagan and believed it true of Clinton and Obama.

        • I got a call from a friend in England after Reagan announced SDI. When a short call cost more than a day’s pay. He was panicked that Reagan was going to start the Final War by annoying the Soviet Union…

          He found the call unsatisfactory; I was happy to see Uncle Ronnie give the Rooskies a swift kick in the yarbles.

          An unspoken but integral part of Star Wars was that to put it into place, the US would have to abrogate all of the various no-space-weapons treaties it was signatory to. Which could easily have resulted in something like the bomber satellites Heinlein proposed in “Space Cadet.” That was mid-1960s technology that could have been implemented immediately without the need for Smart Pebbles or orbital particle beam weapons.

          • I got a lot of good exercise rolling on the floor in laughter during the cruise missile deployment. When the Labour Party leader (was it Neil Pillock?) was wringing his hands over those missiles assuring Britain would be at Ground Zero in a nuclear war my reaction was the best Paul “Butch Cassidy” Newman imitation I could muster, “Why, you crazy! If that happens Ground Zero is the best place to be!”


            What kind of idiot prefers a long lingering death in Leibowitz’s world.

            • In the movie “War Games” the doctor (too lazy to look up his name) “comforted” the main character and his girlfriend that when the nuclear war they’d set in motion kicked off they were close to an important target and wouldn’t have time to feel a thing. That’s why he’d moved there.

          • The Outer Space Treaty says they cannot put weapons of mass destruction in space, it makes no mention of non-WMDs, except for not allowing military use of celestial bodies.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Democrats always “love” dead Republicans. 😈

        • “Revisionist history has Reagan universally loved- twasn’t so at the time.”

          Who have you been hanging out with? I swear, most of what I hear is that Reagan’s policies, expanded down the line, are responsible for all of the ills we suffer today.

      • William O. B'Livion

        > Don’t underestimate the influence of Reagan on the folding
        > of the USSR. He stopped indulging them.

        Kind of like Trump and N. Korea/Syria/Iran?

        • We shall see, but yes. Though I’d argue USSR was a tougher nut to crack.

          • Which only makes a person wonder why North Korea has been a problem for so long.

            • Because we haven’t had a worthy successor to Reagan in the Oval Office.

              • I would suggest that there is another factor; the Chinese weren’t quite ready to pull in the leash.

                Mind you, I don’t KNOW anything, but I observe that before he started getting blunt with the Norks, Trump went to China and had some confidential talks. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the subject of the Norks never came up. But MY bet is that at some point Trump said “Look, your attack dog is pissing on my shoes. Can I slap him around without you getting mad? And the Chinese said “Sure. Go ahead. He was staring to worry US too.”

                • That, too. I suspect Trump pointed out that he could no longer keep the South Koreans, Taiwanese, and Japanese from fielding nukes of their own.

                  • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                    Especially the Japanese! China remembers the last time Japan “visited” China. No way would China want Japan to get nukes. 😈

                    • C’mon, dude! That was what, seventy, eighty years ago? Surely they’ve forgotten al about that by now.

                      Besides, it ain’t nothing to what Mao did to them.

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      Well, it’s safer to remember & talk about the Japanese “Foreign Devils” than it’s to remember & talk about the “bad things” Mao did. 👿

                  • Here’s a handy reference guide from Kanye’s mentor:

                    Why President Trump Deserves Credit for Progress in North Korea
                    People keep asking me what President Trump did to deserve credit for progress in North Korea. As a public service, I put together a quick list. …

                • snelson134

                  There’s also the distinct possibility that he said “You’d hate to have me tweet that book on McConnell’s China ties was on my reading list.”

                  Not that it shouldn’t be anyway.

            • North Korea hasn’t been much of a problem, more like a minor injury which has been allowed to fester and rot until gangrene started to take hold. It has persisted only because of a lack of proper hygiene, and the famously germaphobic Trump isn’t willing to take chances with it.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              China has been protecting them.

              • And there’s always been more pressing concerns.

                North Korea was a non-issue when Reagan was in office, aside from the usual minor provocations. And the USSR was the threat at that time. When Bush the Elder came into office, the Cold War suddenly ended… and Iraq took the spotlight. Clinton tried to do stuff with Korea. You could argue about how effective any of that would have been. But Jimmy Carter butting in and engaging in unauthorized “personal diplomacy” while Clinton was trying to negotiate did NOT help matters.

                Clinton left, and we got Bush the younger. Any and all attempts by him to focus anywhere except the Middle East pretty much vanished on September 11. Note, however, that he did include North Korea in his “Axis of Evil”. And then after eight years, Bush the Younger left. And we got Obama.

                Now Trump’s in power. North Korea’s been growing more and more obnoxious lately, Trump wants to avoid getting further entangled in the Middle East, and Asia definitely needs some attention from the US. Pariah state and troublemaker North Korea is the obvious focal point for that attention. If Trump fails, well, then he hasn’t done any worse than anyone else. And if he succeeds…

                • With the something like 28K employees at State and who knows how many in DOD, you would think administrations could multi-task a bit more.

                  • Part of the problem is that bureaucracies tend to continue on the same track unless an outside force acts on them. If the President doesn’t focus on a particular issue, the bureaucrats will just keep doing what they’ve always done, whatever that may be.

                  • Yes, but how many of those employees are worth the oil that will be necessary to fry them in Hell?

                    • Exactly. It’s been made pretty clear that the vast majority of employees in the State Department hold a particular worldview, and that worldview encourages actions like the ones taken by the previous administrations. Without a President and Secretary of State who are willing to buckle down and force diplomatic moves like the ones that Trump has been performing, State will keep trying the stuff that hasn’t yet worked.

            • William O. B'Livion

              Because the problem isn’t N. Korea.

              The problem is China.

      • Oh dear. It does sound a wee bit like Trump and North Korea, doesn’t it.

        • Mike Houst

          OMG. Can you imagine in 20 years people talking about Trump the way they talk about Reagan? The mind boggles.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            It may well happen if Trump doesn’t act on the impulse to stab conservatives or Republicans in the back.

            • AND if the GOP doesn’t stab Trump in the back…which seems muuuuuuuuuuuuuuch more likely.

              • When has the GOP *stopped* trying to stab him in the back?

                The NeverTrumpers are still trying to burn it all down rather than support their party’s (and the nation’s!) chosen candidate…

                • When has the GOP ever listened to the party’s members? We succeed in spite of them, not because of them. They can’t get our money and votes without at least pretending to heed us, and unlike the Dems they aren’t quite willing to denounce us as deplorable.

                  They’re still the best burger joint in town … which damns with faint praise but they aren’t pushing tofu burgers on us, not quite yet.

                  • I suspect that if the Democratic Party implodes and is replaced, then the Republican Party won’t be far behind. Too much of the appeal of the Republican Party these days relies on basically saying, “We’re not the Democrats!” If the Democratic Party were to suddenly shatter into numerous tiny parties, then it might embolden some of the groups that currently maintain allegiance with the Republican Party to strike out on their own, as well.

              • Mike Houst

                et tu Brute’?

              • BobtheRegisterredFool

                Trump used to suck up to the Clintons. He ‘stabbed them in the back’ after he did the birther stuff for them against Obama, Obama used the White House Correspondents Dinner as platform to mock Trump, and all the sucking up to the Clintons bought him zero protection. Trump thus has a proven history.

                Large portions of the GOP are in the business of getting re-elected, and Trump’s MO rings all the alarms of experience for ‘this is how you lose’. They will suck up to him as he appears to have power, but will stab him in the back once he loses and they think that is the only way to profit enough to stay in business.

                I do not count, but I personally did not think Trump was serious about winning, and am still convinced that he was surprised by and not prepared for his victory.

                What reason is there to think that the ‘right’ can maintain enough of a peace agreement to avoid ticking Trump off as badly as Obama did? If they do so tick him off, what reason is there to think he won’t do something so crazy as to offset all the relative net good he was done up till now?

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            “Trump would have been a Democrat if he had been here today.”

            Herman Kahn’s On Escalation talks about the value of the appearance of irrationality in negotiations about arms. As opposed to the Carter/Obama theory of practice. I have no idea if Trump is rational or not, but as of now he is a welcome palliative to the damage the Obama administration has done to our diplomatic efforts. I personally have argued that we may as well abandon diplomacy and seek other resolutions.

            • Sigh. I remember the loud demands that Reagan establish a virtual menu of “proportionate responses” allowing the Russians to know just how far and how hard to push us. Instead he said, “Go ahead, try something and we’ll find out – but before you do, ask yourself punk, ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?”

              Obama, OTOH, advised them “Don’t call my bluff.”

              The Left hates, hates, HATES “strategic ambiguity.”

              • FlyingMike

                “Don’t call my bluff”

                “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

                “I didn’t set a red line.”

              • Perge, Scelus, Mihi Diem Perficias.

          • I bet you they will. How much do you want to bet?

            • Only if he’s dead. Nothing so endears a Republican to the Dems and MSM (BIRM) like dying so that they can be used as comparison to those yet living. They try to use William F Buckley like that — Limbaugh is coarse and vulgar and if Buckley were still alive he’d read Rush right out of the movement — except WFB was so prolific a writer that his own words disprove their claims.

              Look at how they praised Bush (either one) as being so much better than Trump.

              If Trump is successful they will complain about the 2032 (Republican) nominee lacking Trump’s statesmanship, count on it.

          • mebbe. A lot of people thought about Reagan back then similarly to how a lot of people think about Trump now. ie. “He’s going to cause a nuclear war!” etc.

            I hope not though. Trumps done some things I like, but I still think hes an ass hat. Good thing what I think of the man doesn’t really matter. Hope he gets another SC pick (or two) and does just as well with them as he did the first.

            • I was in the Midwest, and if anyone was cursing Reagan, it was because of the farm crash of the early 1980s. Nuclear war? Eh, possible, but it hasn’t happened yet. And then things improved and if the Coasts were against Reagan, then a lot of people would be for him.

              And Nebraska politics was Odd, into the 1990s. The unicameral legislature was just one symptom.

              • FlyingMike

                But as a note to How Things Have Changed: in 1980 Reagan got 53% vs Carter’s 36% of the California vote; in 1984 Reagan got 58% to Mondale’s 41%.

                Of course, that was the old Bear Republic. Before the dark times. Before the Empire.

                • And Reagan was from California. “Home Team” generally used to help a whole lot. Mondale took Minnesota, too.

              • Nebraska politics are still odd. It’s nominally a Republican state but has some of the highest taxes in the country.

              • Mike Houst

                IIRC the farm crash was due to an overinflated bubble too.

                • Yes. And the feds opted to prick the bubble and get it over with all at once. It was probably better in the long-long run, but between that and Nebraska’s inheritance taxes, a lot of farms folded and/or were sold to the Japanese and others.

      • Reagan…and Jerry Pournelle played a big part. Go read “The Strategy of Technology,” then look at weapons system development 1975-85. And what those systems did in January 1991.

        • Mike Houst

          Okay, but who do we have to play the part of Jerry with Trump, or actually Pence, in all this?

          • That’s the headache. I’m willing to take up the mantle, but don’t have the connections. Pournelle KNEW Reagan personally.

            • Mike Houst

              This group, and the Mad Geniuses, really are the Dreaming Fithip, aren’t they?

              • Robin Munn

                The Dreaming Fithip? That one went over my head.

                • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                  From Niven & Pournelle’s Footfall.

                  Earth was invaded by elephant-like (baby elephant sized) aliens that have “herds” called Fithip.

                  When the US government first spotted the alien (sub-light) spaceship, two groups of hard SF writers were gathered together. One was the threat team (aliens are hostile) and the other was the aliens-are-friendly team.

                  Well an alien POW gets taken to interact with the threat team. He doesn’t really understand what SF writers actually do but one of the writers (IIRC based on Pournelle) told him that they were the Dreaming Fithip. IE People who dream and tell other people their dreams. 😉

                  By the way, one of the threat team is an older writer named Robert Anson. 😀

                  • Robin Munn

                    Read Footfall a while ago, but had forgotten the term Fithip entirely. Thanks for the refresher.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            I’d like to be involved, but am still developing or entirely missing some of the necessary skills.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      In hindsight, the Democrats had mainstreamed defeatism at Soviet prompting. I only have hindsight, because I was too young to understand the Soviet Union when it was around.

      • It was plenty obvious at the time, especially after the defenestration of Richard Nixon. The Left and the MSM (wouldn’t want to try to draw the line distinguishing one from the other) were full of defeatist credulity for Soviet claims and equally dubious of American achievement. They not only accepted Soviet claims that they would bury us they were eager to grasp the shovel in hopes of being buried last.

        What they didn’t grasp was that what the USSR was burying us in was, in the famous words of Col. Potter, “Horse puckey!” Soft, malleable, stinking and easily dislodged if only you got up off your ass.

    • Took their ball and came here.

    • I didn’t believe it, and I had never in all my childhood really thought of the USSR as a menace. I knew it was evil, of course, but it didn’t seem a threat to ME.

  14. I don’t know that Heinlein was an optimist but I am confident he knew optimist sold better that its alternatives, at least during the years he was flogging books.

    I always keep in mind the adage about those who confuse the author with the authored.

  15. Christopher M. Chupik

    “They don’t WANT us to escape. They’re tormented every minute of their lives with the idea that a human being, somewhere, could be thinking, doing, or living in a way they disapprove. Space would just magnify their worries. ”

    Tell me about it. “There is no Planet B” and “we can’t go to other planets until we fix all our problems on Earth” grate on my ever-diminishing nerves.

    • I was reading a Facebook “Space Settlement Ventures” or something a bit like that. I finally had my fill of it. It seemed like the most amazing part of having a space settlement was the necessity to *finally* have an ordered and controlled, and therefore utopic, society because of the life support and living constraints.

      Finally, we’ll be able to tell everyone what to do and make it stick!

      • I’ve run into those critters. No.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Same here.

          I read a review of one of those “Utopian Space Habitats” and the reviewer (Pournelle?) was rather dismissive of the supporters’ ideas.

          IIRC the review may have commented on the “punishment” (ie exile) for violating the Utopian rules as saying “being told to leave is a punishment?” 😈

          • One of the reasons I like Cherryh’s Union-Alliance Universe is a more realistic back and forth on command economy vs free economy vs corporate economy. Her Union is very much a collectivist dystopia (while not being a monolithic cartoon). YMMV

      • Dan Hamilton

        If you have to PAY for AIR, they own your ass.

      • snelson134

        Somebody really needs to watch Babylon 5…..

        Which per JMS, NASA scientists (when they still had some not doing Muslim outreach, Gorebull Wormening, etc.) told him would be buildable with today’s tech if you replaced the fusion reactors with fission.

        • Patrick Chester

          Well, hopefully we can build one without losing the first three to sabotage and have the fourth drawn into a time portal. 😀

    • We can’t fix all the problems because there are SO MANY people inventing new problems.

  16. c4c

  17. Perhaps I have not read enough Simak. But GOBLIN RESERVATION shows a world I would like to live in. (If I could avoid the barroom brawls between the time and supernatural researchers and the humanities men.)

  18. “If he’d written us, no editor wold have bought it. No editor would have believed it.”

    Well that, and it would have been a boring read. Mankind has all but stagnated. Sure, science is being done, but it’s mostly baby-step kind of science being carefully done using rovers and unmanned probes. whoo.. exciting…

    Meanwhile people are running around college campuses crying about microaggressions and demanding safe spaces because “that horrible white guy was mean to me” because they felt like their life was in danger because some dude tunelessly whistled as he walked past a piece of string hanging from the branch of a tree… left over from decorations from some kind of wackadoodle pride celebration, held to celebrate how wonderful it is to be a member of a victim group (or more correctly a FORMER victim group because nobody gives a flying fork what people do in the privacy of their own home, or what race anyone is anymore).

    “Wait Mrs Author. We aren’t really interested in your manuscript for our SciFi department at this time, but we would like to send it over to our new dada-ist comedy novel department that your manuscript just created. This stuff is HILARIOUS!”

    • Mankind has NOT stagnated. The internet is a massive revolution. Instant communications and improvements in manufacturing are amazing and we might be crossing the threshold of what could be understood/how people lived before. (Note I don’t like the term “singularity.”
      You don’t see that because you’re looking at space. I am too, so it took me a long time to figure it out. But there’s a massive technological revolution going on.

      • YAY! LOL! 🙂

        Sci Fi about improvements in manufacturing and faster communications! That’ll really bring the readers in!

        Please note, this comment was meant tongue-in-cheek. You are, of course, right. Mankind hasn’t stagnated when it comes to technology, and my comment was mainly thinking about space exploration. I think what has really stagnated is our willingness to take the kind of risks that space exploration requires. I think that people from Heinlein’s time would see that aversion to risk as boring. Not to mention the nattering about sterilizing EVERYTHING we put into space so we don’t spread germs to other worlds. (Yes, this really is a thing… by international treaty!)

        • FlyingMike

          Science Fiction is not future documentary. It’s supposed to entertain while exploring “what happens if…”. So RAH not getting the exact shape of the Apple 11 exactly right does not bother me. As noted above, he’s the only one who called The Crazy Years. Plus he invented the waterbed. And his characters exercised concealed carry under their kilts. You can’t beat that.

          • The waterbed is a Good Thing. I miss mine.

          • Doesn’t bother me either. But he’d still look at what we have and go “The hell?” And then beat us with a broomstick if we said “we’re doomed.”

            • Jerry Boyd

              Yes, especially considering his prediction in Expanded Universe that w’ll be back to the moon next year.

          • Mike Houst

            No, Science Fiction is the ability to scan 14 million+ different possible futures, pasts, and presents. Who knew the Eye of Agamotto needed a keyboard, display, and internet connection?

        • Thing is, Heinlein and his contemporaries had lived thru the Depression and then WWII, They KNEW BAD, and saw better times ahead.

          • FlyingMike

            Even when he wrote a universe with both quick interstellar travel and chattel slavery, it was still an optimistic tale, even when the protagonist was himself a slave.

            It just proves that real human-wave doesn’t have to not be set in dark places and times.

        • “what has really stagnated is our willingness to take the kind of risks that space exploration requires.”

          Where would the West Coast be if the same risk aversion now applied to the Oregon or California Trails? Or the United States? Roanoke anyone? Heck just getting across the Atlantic was iffy.

        • I can Stuart. You have to consider what it’s doing to the world. The “refugee crisis” is part of the desperation of the Arab world in not being able to escape the west.
          If you don’t see SF in the changes we’re going through, you lack imagination.

      • Mike Houst

        All run on energy. Much more energy efficient, but still. I’d really like to see more modern nuke plants.

    • Dan Hamilton

      Well he got the “Crazy Years” right.
      I don’t remember anyone else doing THAT.

    • Your third paragraph was a Connie Willis story back a couple of decades, about a teacher wanting to teach Shakespeare.

  19. “They don’t WANT us to escape.  They’re tormented every minute of their lives with the idea that a human being, somewhere, could be thinking, doing, or living in a way they disapprove.  Space would just magnify their worries. ”

    Bingo. We would have colonies on the moon now if certain Presidents (*cough* Clinton/Obama *cough*) hadn’t undercut the space program, tied the economy in knots, and sold military secrets to our enemies.

    “It’s also my belief the lack of massive overpopulation — that he anticipated — made the urgency of taking all our eggs out of the Earth basket less urgent. ”

    Hence the screaming calls about why we HAVE to get to Mars like right now, because within 200 hundred years Earth will have been used up by the growing population (despite the fact that most countries are reproducing BELOW replacement levels). They want to reignite the overpopulation myth.

    And people wonder why Thanos’ goal in Infinity War and the sequel is population control via mass murder. *shakes head*

    • I once opined that the best evidence of the lack of a Secret Cabal directing human events was the incompetence and chaos of world affairs.

      My interlocutor replied, “You’re assuming the Cabal would want stability and prosperity.”

      Hmm. Those blind assumptions will get you every time…

      • see the Good Men, in my future history. Stability, sure…. conditional. Prosperity and innovation? Oh, hell no.

        • FlyingMike

          The primary diplomatic and military objective espoused by the Middle Kingdom in the present day is Stability. Chinese official and officially-controlled-press sources go on and on about “threats to stability” and how anything the U.S. does is destabilizing.

          But note the actions they are taking: If they really wanted things to stay exactly the same (“stability”, after all) they would not be building artificial islands in the South China Sea, or testing antisattelite weaponry, or building blue-water aircraft carriers, or pushing out into Asia and the Middle East with their “belt and road” initiatives, or buying their way into Africa. All of these change things by increasing Chinese influence and power around the world.

          “Stability” is one of those words that is self-justifying – after all, who could be against stability? But Silicon Valley was born as a challenge to the stability of IBM mainframes – and even now, when the Zuckerbook and Alphabet/Gurgle and iApple oligarchs are hard at work trying to enlist government regulation to suppress competition and gain stability, there are still new challengers coming up trying to destabilize things. If there’s one thing that’s a USAian trait, it’s embracing instability. And that sets us up as the diametrically opposed philosophy to stability.

          • I was thinking of “stability” in the sense of not having your economy collapse, losing wars, having revolutions, institutionalized corruption, and that sort of thing. [shrug]

        • You can have stability or you can have prosperity and innovation. Generally speaking the faction currently king on the mountain prefers stability with a patina of prosperity. Innovation is mostly kept for those who can be trusted to use it responsibly.

          For certain values of responsibility, of course.

          The Soviet Union was brought down with mimeograph machines and photocopiers. WE have an internet! With cat videos!

          • Someone pointed out that perhaps a bigger factor in the USSR falling apart, at least with regard to its impact on everyday people, was the independently-driven automobile. People like being able to go where and when they want, and discovering that you CAN do so… remember how freeing it felt when your younger self got your own first car??

            • Used to, your driver’s license was part of your rite of passage. At least from “child” to “teenager.” Having a car meant not having to ride the bus to school, being able to travel independent of your parents, being able to go places and do things.

              But even back when I was in school they were blattering about “teh environmentz” and “fossil fuel” and “unsustainable”, and doing everything but outright telling us that we would be evil dirtbags if we owned a car, and we’d probably get cooties if we rode in one.

              They’ll pry my keys from my cold, dead hand. The other one will have an upraised middle finger set in rigor mortis.

              Without a car you’re a dependent. Just the way they want it…

              • My other hand would have a knife in it, a pointy, sharrrrrrrrp knife. Might be shiny, might not.

              • I think that kind of concept has a harder time gaining traction where you don’t have alternatives if you want to go further than a couple of miles. I take the kids up to visit Grandma—500 miles each way, door to door. They ever come home spouting that sort of claptrap, I’d ask them how they were going to get to the airport (twenty miles away) or the railroad station (fifteen miles away.)

            • The biggest factor was communications and the PC. Even if you owned a car in the USSR, you couldn’t go anywhere else without your internal passport and permission. News of the world outside the USSR started filtering in. A centrally controlled economy can’t survive the people having knowledge of a freewheeling economy. People then start voting with their feet. Venezuela being only the newest example. China still being stable despite being a tyranny of sorts is because they’ve freed up their economy, but not their politics. They’re performing an experiment that hasn’t been done in exactly that way before. Free economy, tyrannical government. I don’t think the powers that be there are going to be able to stay in control to much longer.

              • I suspect China is a major (un)natural disaster away from Something Interesting Happening. If/when the Three Gorges Dam or something like that goes… The government will have lost the Mandate of Heaven.

            • yeah, but they didn’t have any. Not unless they were party members in good stand.

    • We would have colonies on the moon now if certain Presidents (*cough* Clinton/Obama *cough*) hadn’t undercut the space program, tied the economy in knots, and sold military secrets to our enemies./I>”

      Oh, it is soooooo nice to know I am not the only one who remembers Charlie Trie, Johnny Chung, Bernard Schwartz, Loral and the “technical advice” we gave the Chinese on how to stabilize their rockets.

      FLASHBACK: Bill Clinton Collected Donations, Then US Missile Tech Shipped To China

      I considered using a NY Times article under the principle of “admissions against interest having higher persuasive value” but screw ’em – I give the NYTwits as few linkages as possible.

    • Dan Hamilton

      Yes, but we have to go to MARs to escape Global Warming, oh wait Global Change. The earth will be uninhabitable when the temperature goes up 2 degrees.
      They will really be surprised when they get to Mars and find the same Climate Change. How they going to blame that on US.

      • They’ll find a way. “Teleconnections” would be the starting point. (Works great – on Earth as a semi-closed system. Not so great in space, btu that never stops and activist.)

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        They’d have fits when they learn that we’d have to raise the temperature of Mars to live there.

        • FlyingMike

          And that in spite of having an atmosphere that’s 95% CO2, it’s too cold.

          (I know, I know, Mars needs a lot more atmo. But still, CO2 is super warmening and stuff.)

          • ONLY man-made CO2 is super warmening. I don’t exactly follow the reasoning but it is sorta kinda like how organic food is much healthier for us.

            • Mike Houst

              I see. I’ll have to put an exhaust valve on the seat of all the Mars suits.

              • “I’ll have to put an exhaust valve on the seat of all the Mars suits.”

                First thought when I read this: Comedy movie “The Rocket Man” & the part when they are walking across Mars tethered with breathing buddies … 😉 😉 along with the growing reaction to the monitoring ground crew back on Earth 🙂 🙂

            • Be fair, RES, inorganic food can starve you. And those cars are pretty hard to chew.

      • FlyingMike

        Well, of course it’s happening there too: It’s all those SUVs on Mars.

        I mean, duh.

  20. Dan Hamilton

    I never forgave Reagan for stopping the shuttle program for years. That was STUPID. They KNEW what happened. They KNEW the cause. They should have sent up a Shuttle as soon as it was warm. Accept the RISK. People DIE exploring. They accepted 10% deaths of Test Pilots why was the Colombia any different. Are we that wimpy?

    BTW: NERVA Worked and should have been used.

    • 1. Not Reagan. NASA. Which has been obsessed with the Apollo model since 1970.

      2. Yes, they should have gone with a warm-weather launch restriction…then pressed with the composite SRB.

      3. Actually, test pilot losses are pretty low these days. I think the last time we lost someone at Pax River was about fifteen years ago. A Test Pilot School graduate is a scarce commodity, we don’t like to waste them.

      • The space program came up snake-eyes when the decision was made to compromise on the LEO shuttle program rather than aiming for the Lagrangian points. It was equivalent to settling for a twenty-five* mile range for electric cars’ batteries.

        *Semi-randomly selected figure, your mileage may vary.

      • And 4.) Columbia was lost in 2003. Challenger was the shuttle that was lost during Reagan’s presidency.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Yes, but NERVA was nuclear, and we humans simply must not contaminate the non-radioactive purity of space by importing dirty fission. The vacuum! Won’t anybody think of the vacuum?

      • Back in the late 1980s I got a message from Hank (G. Harry) Stine. We normally talked cars; he had a classic Barracuda. I think my modem smoked a bit when I downloaded me mail… Harry had freshened up one of his space books that had been through multiple reprints and sent it off to his editor. It was rejected.

        He called and found out his editor wasn’t there any more, and had been replaced with some newbie straight out of journalism school. She told him the company couldn’t possibly publish anything that promoted polluting space, and frankly, they weren’t interested in anything else he wrote, either, despite decades of reliable sales.

        Hank was fit to bust an artery. “Polluting SPACE! ARRRGH!”

        He gave them the middle finger and managed to swing a deal with Pyramid(?) for a couple of mil-SF series about robots and submarines. He got paid lots more for those than for science books and hard SF…

  21. OT
    Happy Brubeck Day, everyone.

  22. The real key to a frontier is faster-than-light. Let’s face it, a colony on the Moon or Mars will be more like McMurdo base, or maybe Midway Island, than St. Louis in 1820. Small, controlled, regimented…because of the supply issues.

    A terraformed Mars, maybe…but cracking the Light Barrier is the winner. That Original Star Trek episode had it right – do that, and they’ll name cities after you. Planets, even. You’ll be the greatest explorer in history.

    • Mike Houst

      The trick is playing with cutting edge physics in your garage or basement, and not irradiating yourself, or blowing up the entire block.

      • I think it’s going to be a conceptual breakthrough. I’m (slowly) working on a novel in which the person who developed FTL was a college professor…raising her four kids. She came at the problem from a pure mechanics standpoint.

        • Mike Houst

          Hmm. How she can be in 4 different places at the same time to take care of all those kids? I like it.

  23. I think there may be one aspect we haven’t discussed. Morally and ethically, the 20th Century was a Dark Age. The Crazy Years. But Heinlein knew there would be a Renaissance. And that while he might not live to see it, he could take the fire of the Old Civilization, keep it lit, give glowing coals to passers by.

    I don’t think he was alone. Doc Smith, Dr. Pournelle…in our own time, Sarah and John Wright. Laboring like monks in a medieval monastery to preserve the civilization of old.

    Because one day, the Torch of Civilization WILL be rekindled.

  24. Happy (belated) Star Wars Day!

  25. Does anyone know when The Muppets did the first
    PIGGGGGGS INNNNNNNNNN SPAAAAAAAAAAAACE?
    Ah–second season.

  26. Thanks for this. And the Pournellian advice.

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