Over on Facebook there’s a lively group devoted to Robert A. Heinlein. Sometimes the discussion gets a bit preachy from the right side of the spectrum (they seem to think they own RAH), but more often than not it’s a bunch of people who were deeply influenced by reading Heinlein and who are interested in sharing some of their favorite reads with like-minded individuals.
The group regularly schedules a book discussion with the subject chosen by poll. The most recent (scheduled for September 26th) focuses on RAH’s alien invasion masterpiece The Puppet Masters. Folks are posing various comments in the lead up and the other day I was prompted to offer a few humorous things the novel taught me, among which was “never let your cat visit with the hermit down the lane”.
If you are as familiar with the novel as I and the other members of the group are, this life lesson will not only make complete sense but ought to raise at least a mild chuckle as, in terms of real life lessons one can learn from Heinlein, this one is quite useless., Unless one happens to be A: a super secret agent employed by a non-governmental, non-existent agency; B; have a get-away cabin in the Appalachians; C. have a tom cat that hangs out with you at said cabin; D; your cabin is located near the home of a local hermit and E: the Earth happens to be under invasion by alien brain slugs.
It’s mildly humorous because those of us who are enamored of Heinlein like to believe that we have learned many useful things from his writings. Of course, it can’t be all that funny as the explanation took far more words than the actual joke, but then it’s Facebook so….
What this little episode did remind me of is the fact that, in many ways, Bob served as a surrogate grandfather for me. Both of mine passed before I’d been on this planet five years, and as anyone who has read Time Enough For Love can tell you, a rascally, unrepentant and self-assured grandfather is a must have in the proper development of the creatures we euphemistically call little boys.
And of course it then occurred to me that there were quite a few humorous (and not so humorous) lessons to be had from all of Heinlein’s books and, lacking the kind of social restraint that would undoubtedly have been passed on to me by a real-life grandfather, I have decided to share some of them with you.
Sitting on the bottom of a pool IS peaceful and quiet and would allow for some serious meditation time, but normal humans can’t hold their breath as long as Martian-raised humans. (Stranger in a Strange Land) (This “lesson” admittedly required a bit of personal experimentation.)
Never give your secret decoder ring to the first pretty girl you meet. She might be a spy. (Between Planets)
Always answer obscure want ads in obscure newspapers. Doing so could open the door to interstellar adventure. (Glory Road)
On the more practical life’s lessons side, how about:
When sleeping in a hobo camp, always use your guild books for a pillow. (Starman Jones)
and, from the same source, perhaps one of my most cherished lessons:
Cleaning out litter boxes is a small price to pay for getting into space.
I could go on. And I will.
A lesson that may only apply to those who had parental issues during childhood, although it may be appealing to a wider audience:
Join the military. You’ll get a chance to boss your father around. If you live long enough. (Starship Troopers)
Somewhat resonant with today’s discussions on diversity and acceptance comes this lesson from Tunnel in the Sky
Always be suspicious of that ‘guy’ in armor. It might not be a ‘guy’. (Probably only useful to those of a conservative bent….)
Delving a bit deeper into the question of societal norms comes this unintended Heinlein lesson:
Even if you have a time machine, sleeping with your mother is not a good idea. And if you do, for gossake’s don’t write about it! (To Sail Beyond the Sunset) (Of course, sleeping with yourself is an entirely different matter.)
(Most people think its icky, Bob. Just sayin)
At this point it’s probably a good idea to lighten things up a bit. So, how about this one:
Before you start keeping alien lifeforms as pets, find a partner who is a good jack-leg lawyer. (The Star Beast)
or this one:
Never look a gift spacesuit in the faceplate. (Have Spacesuit, Will Travel)
Drum roll, please.
On a more serious note:
Impassioned defiance in the face of a Galactic Tribunal is a good legal strategy. (Have Spacesuit, Will Travel)
If your wife and partner conspire against you in business, it’s best for that to happen after cold sleep and time travel have been invented. (The Door Into Summer)
Never, ever, ever teach a self-aware computer to have a sense of humor. There could be serious unintended consequences. (The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress)
If you have a twin, make sure they’re the one that stays on Earth. (Time for the Stars)
And on the slightly less practical but hey, if you need it, side come these final words:
If your last name is Howard (or you have red hair), get used to wearing kilts. (Which are great for concealed carry.)(Methuselah’s Children)
Do not let your alcoholic wife or your dead-beat son know you have a bomb shelter. (Farnham’s Freehold)
If you have a secret compartment behind your belly button, don’t let strangers put things in it. (Friday)
and, finally, a lesson that has become increasingly important for me, personally:
Don’t wait until you’re old to commandeer a flight to the Moon. (Requiem)