Friday, July 03, 2020


Image may contain: text that says 'Most people think that t-rexes can't clap because they have short arms, but really it's because they are dead'

Those who will not learn from history

I enjoy the good memes and when I first read the whole 'the Confederacy only lasted four years dude' thing, I nodded and thought 'yeah that's right, hit 'em'. And the underlying sentiment -- that nobody in 2020 really gives a shit about the Confederacy or the Confederate flag or Dixie, those who claim to just really dig on the whole white supremacy thing, they really like the idea of being at the top of the social ladder for no reason except the skin color they were born with -- that's both true and utterly odious.

But I don't like it when my fellow lefties and progressives twist shit the way the conservatards always do, so I feel constrained to point out that while the Confederacy only lasted four years or so, the culture that it represented, that for those four years it distilled and crystallized and gave a name and an emblem to, was around for centuries. Arguably, African chattel slavery started in North America as long ago as 1619, when the slave ship White Lion brought twenty African slaves ashore and sold them. That particularly vicious and toxic culture rooted in deep in the Southern part of the United States before there was even a United States.

So let's not try to hang a lot of weight on the 'four years' hook; the vile moral rot of African chattel slavery was around shaping the economy and sociology of the largely agricultural, plantation centered Southern regions of North America for a long, long time.

The Confederate flag as it exists and is revered today is not even historically accurate, and we all know that, and it doesn't matter. The Tea Party's use of the "Don't Tread On Me" banner is also perniciously historically subliterate. Symbols mean what people want them to mean; the Confederacy may have only been around four years, but it has come to represent certain things to people. Those things are ghastly and evil but like everything that represents deep emotional responses, it is something people will cling to unreasonably. Yes, it represents white supremacy and those who revere it should never be allowed to forget that. But the culture they pine for was around much longer, and those yearnings go much deeper, than the 'four year' meme allows for.

We do history a disservice when we forget that, and we let those who still wave the Confederate banner off much more easily than we should. The rot of white supremacy is deep in the history of the United States; the Second Amendment and the deeply shameful 3/5ths Compromise only exists to placate the Southern slave holding states into signing on. In heart and spirit, the Confederacy was around for much longer than four years, and in many hearts and spirits, it still lives on today.


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The Pursuit of the Pankera: A Parallel Novel About Parallel Universes by [Robert A. Heinlein, David Weber] 
Okay. Spoilers on PURSUIT OF THE PANKERA, for those who may want them:

When the winds first blew rumors of this 'new' book to me, I quickly became frustrated with the lack of detailed information I could get on its plot. THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST had been one of the major disappointments of my nerdly life and while I have enough of a completist impulse in me to want to read everything Heinlein has written, I also didn't really want to waste time and money on a variant edition of one of the worst Heinlein products ever if it was going to be just as bad, or even nearly as bad.

Try though I might I simply could not find anyone, anywhere, that would give me any kind of details. Reviews started coming out and some said it was worth reading and some said it was garbage but no one told me why. All I knew was that it was different, that the various universes visited by the annoying crew of Heinlein Human main characters was different in this book than in the original, and that a general consensus seemed to be that it was 'more like a traditional Heinlein novel' than BEAST had been.

Well, now I can tell anyone who wants to know – the universes are, and aren't, different. In BEAST, the first place the clown car goes is to a strangely mundane version of 'Barsoom' settled by Earthly nations. Towards the end of BEAST Lazarus Long says he thinks it really was Barsoom, just disguised by an illusion. Well, in PANKERA, it's actually Barsoom. Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom, full of tharks and banths and thoats and red men and all of your favorite characters (except John Carter himself, who is off somewhere on a diplomatic mission, I guess RAH didn't quite have the balls to try to write him).

If you like ERB and Barsoom you'll probably more or less enjoy Heinlein's treatment of them, although I myself have to roll my eyes as all of Mars gets absorbed into the typical Heinlein hive mind, where you can tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys easily because the Good Guys never fight or argue or have disagreements that aren't settled with a paragraph or two of dialogue of the dominant Heinlein man in the hive mansplaining to whoever is disagreeing The Way Things Ought To Be.

(This is because underneath a thin veneer of surface characteristics, all Heinlein Men and Women are basically the same character – they have the same moral beliefs, the same political beliefs, the same social beliefs, the same economic beliefs, the same emotional and intellectual responses to any and all possible stimuli. The men are all blood brothers, the women are all kissy kissy (and a great many of them are exact physical duplicates for each other besides fiddlin' little details like skin tone), and like all Heinlein protagonists, they all spout the most meretricious and pig ignorant garbage as if it was obvious and irrefutable and had been passed down from on high on golden tablets. “Lie to their face with a smile if that's what it takes to make them happy”, the older Heinlein Woman gravely tells the Younger Heinlein Woman after they've both gotten married on a whim to the Older and Younger Heinlein Men in the book, and the Younger Heinlein Woman just nods, because of course she already knows this wondrous wisdom; it is absorbed by osmosis through the skin of every Proper Decent Heinlein Woman while she is still in the womb – there's nothing wrong with being dishonest with your spouse, as long as you don't get caught.

This is pretty much the core of all Heinlein's childish libertarian beliefs, social, political, and economic – the law is for lesser beings, do whatever the hell you want as long as you don't get caught. Heinlein pretties it up considerably with pompous utterings like 'geniuses make their own rules', but really all he's saying is, I Can Do Whatever I Want And If You Don't Like It I'll Shoot You. I am so grateful Heinlein never got a chance to vote for Trump.)

The Younger Heinlein Woman later advises us, the reader, during one of the chapters she narrates first person, that she can tell a 'namby pamby' just from the way he dances. It's possible this isn't homophobic, although until extremely late in his career Heinlein's books that mentioned sex at all absolutely seethed with gay bashing. Younger Heinlein Woman may have simply been dismissing everyone who isn't reflexively violent wherever and whenever a Heinlein Human deems it necessary to be as less than fully 'manly'. Can't kill an evil alien (or a liberal chowderhead) with a nail file, your eyebrows, or your bare hands? Unwilling to assume that an entire alien civilization are 'vermin' simply because they offended you by trying to kill you (when Heinlein Heroes and Heroines casually deal death to anything and anyone they don't like, all the fucking time)? Wandering around unarmed and thus unable to SHOOT, SHOOT, FOR GOD'S SAKE SHOOT, when some broad shouldered Heinlein gomer bellows at you to do so? Well, you're a goddam namby pamby and Heinlein Women turn their delicate sniffers up at you, sir.

(Heinlein's xenophobia is perhaps only more obvious in rabidly racist tracts like FARNHAM'S FREEHOLD than it is here, in PURSUIT OF THE PANKERA. In FREEHOLD Heinlein shows us a far future where African blacks have come to dominate the world and despite having miraculously advanced technology that should render such socioeconomic systems obsolete, have apparently chosen to continue enslaving all non African black human beings, I guess just because they're evil black people and what else would you expect. To make certain you don't miss that they're evil black people, Heinlein tosses in an original flourish that, as far as I know, no other slave society in human history has ever incorporated – his futuristic evil POC with advanced technology not only enslave white people, they butcher and EAT them, too! Oh my Lord the evil evil black people!

In PANKERA, Heinlein's xenophobia is, as it more often is, directed towards alien surrogates for the human tribes – blacks, Communists, namby pambies, chuckleheads who believe in soft money and social safety nets -- he clearly fears and hates. The Pankera are an alien race that, we learn, has successfully infiltrated the human races on six different alternate worldlines, including the one Our Heroes were all born on. The aliens use a dimension shifting technology to do this, and because the Older Heinlein Man in this book has invented a similar device, they are trying to kill him. Their first effort, using a bomb, nearly kills all four of Our Heroes, and for that reason, from that point forward, Our Heroes viciously and violently hate the Pankera and spend a great deal of time trying to exterminate them.

No attempt is ever made to communicate with the Pankera, although late in the book Our Heroes do try to capture several so they can be dissected and studied. From the point where they survive the first attack, Our Heroes refer to the Pankera universally as 'vermin'. The Pankera are undoubtedly sentient, but this troubles Our Heroes in PURSUIT no more than the clear self awareness of the Skinnies in STARSHIP TROOPERS troubles our cheerful narrator there in the opening chapter, as he and his Space Marines use nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons on one of the Skinnies' cities simply to discourage them from entering the war on the side of the Bugs.

At various places in the book we, the reader, are told the Pankera are parasites. It is theorized that they did not invent the 'time space twister' they use, but stole it from someone else, who they killed. There's no proof of this offered and it doesn't matter; the Pankera are aliens, they've attacked Heinlein Humans, and THEY MUST DIE. Pointing out that Heinlein's genetic supermen in “Gulf” were perfectly happy to kill to keep the secret of “Nova technology” out of “unworthy hands” would doubtless simply draw an eyeroll from Heinlein, were he still alive. Heinlein Humans are Good and Noble; aliens who attack them are vermin who must die, and if I can't understand that, I must be a namby pamby, right?)

Ah, but let's get back to the plot spoilers.

They spend a lot of time in Barsoom, buddying around with Thuvia and Dejah Thoris and Carthoris and some green men and like that. They give the schematics for the 'time space twister' to Carthoris because they think he's cool, and then they go off to explore some more. They end up in Oz for a while, get their magic bathrooms installed in their flying car just like in BEAST, and then they bounce around a few more places, never staying very long, until they end up in the Lensman universe. Here they spend roughly the other third of the book, unlike in BEAST, where they simply passed through the Lensman universe, leaving quickly after encountering a random Lensman, because the place is so dangerous.

They end up in a parallel Earth where they settle down – advanced medicine for the pregnant women, coupled with social, economic, and political systems that are pretty much utopian to childishly libertarian Heinlein Humans, make this their new home.

The Younger Heinlein Man evinces horror the first time he encounters 'balancing' – the system of punishment on this Earth, where the punishment is made to fit the crime as much as possible – poisoners are poisoned, arsonists are burned alive, and in the specific case described in the book, a reckless driver is strapped down to a road with his leg sticking out and a police car is driven over his leg, after which they wait 17 minutes to render medical care because apparently that's how long it took EMTs to respond to this guy's victim. But, Younger Heinlein Man goes on to say, crime of all sorts is virtually unknown in this world, and, he adds grimly, 'children grow up safe'.

(Heinlein, like many hard line conservatives, seems to fervently believe that all criminal activity can be eliminated by vicious enough punishments. Well, the American prison system is pretty vicious and the cops have no trouble finding people to fill it. Most crimes of property are committed by the poor against the wealthy and perhaps a more equitable system of wealth distribution could alleviate this but Heinlein Humans all have the basic cosmic right to be rich, so that ain't gonna happen, Cap'n. Other crimes like, well, reckless driving, are committed by foolish, selfish people, and my experience is, there are way more foolish, selfish conservatives than progressives, but that may just be me. The crime Heinlein and other conservatives seem to summon up whenever they need an atrocity to justify more prisons, public flogging, and executions is child abuse, and yes, child abuse is a horrible thing, but punishing abusers won't eliminate it. Keeping unfit people from having kids WILL, but like all conservatives, Heinlein believes reproduction is a right, so that's a non starter too.

Still, the idea that vicious punishments will suddenly make irresponsible, foolish, selfish people suddenly behave themselves is, well, stupid. I strongly suspect that a real world society that implemented 'balancing' would find it didn't have much impact on their crime rates, but certainly, sadists who want to watch criminals creatively punished in public and on TV would enjoy themselves.)

Overall, I enjoyed PANKERA much more than BEAST for two reasons – it's one of the rare Heinlein 'adult' novels where he doesn't obsess over sex, and in this first draft for BEAST, Heinlein resists the temptation to go back and rewrite his own past work (basically, adding more sex). In BEAST, the last third of the book is spent with Our Heroes running into Lazarus Long's family from the far future libertarian utopia of Boondock, and everybody starts fucking everyone else. In PANKERA, Lafe Hubert (one of Lazarus Long's infinite number of alter egos) is mentioned a few times, so we know Our Heroes have encountered the Boondocks group, but we are mercifully spared the social and lubricious details.

(Heinlein's views on sex basically seem to combine “if there's grass on the field, play ball!” with “whatever consenting adults want to do is fine” – provided that the consenting adults don't impregnate themselves with substandard babies, which is a big no no in Heinlein Human society – civilizations must not divert resources to support 'defectives', for no reason except, according to perpetual Heinlein surrogate Lazarus Long, this will inevitably cause the civilization to fail. Yes, according to Heinlein, compassion is contrasurvival. Which is one reason I have so much trouble rereading his adult novels these days.)

The book ends with a big multidimensional crusade to completely exterminate the Pankera across all six or seven worldlines they have infiltrated. Of course, even with Lensmen, the Galactic Patrol, the hordes of Barsoom, and a never specifically named but fairly obvious legion of Dorsai pitching in, it's estimated that only perhaps forty percent of the Pankera will actually be killed. Native humans on the infiltrated Earths will be spared (where possible!) and their property will be preserved intact (maybe, in some cases 'the barn may have to be burned, but only after the horses have been removed to safety'). But the Pankera will hide, so afterwards, the various Earths will be bombarded with descriptions of the Pankera and instructions on how they can be killed. If those Earths allow themselves to be re-infested, well, then, they may have to be sterilized in a few years – all life wiped out, including the namby pamby native humans who did not take the necessary steps to prevent the Pankera from infesting more worlds. It's The Way Things Oughtta Be, because A Heinlein Human's Gotta Do What A Heinlein Human's Gotta Do, Pilgrim (and if they don't, the real Heinlein Humans will kill them all, as they are obviously namby pambies).

But this, odious as it is, is much better than the Transdimensional Science Fiction Convention that ended BEAST, where every Heinlein character who ever existed met up with every other Heinlein character that ever existed and discovered they all talk alike.

If you're a completist and a Heinlein fan, you'll probably want to read this. If you're not, I don't think you'll miss much giving it a miss.

One last note – the publishers of PANKERA seem to pride themselves on having not edited the original manuscripts at all. This is a mistake. There are several passages of the first person narratives that were obviously written in third person that should have been corrected, and worse, there are several places where the Young Heinlein Man is narrating that he refers to the Old Heinlein Man as simply 'Burroughs'. By this point they've been part of the same traveling family of blood thirsty alien haters for years; Young Heinlein Man would refer to Old Heinlein Man as 'pop' or 'Jake', not 'Burroughs'. And this all seems minor, but it's jarring, and should have been taken care of.