Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Vonnegut, Heinlein...and other wondrous things!


player pianoLike countless members of my generation, I was strongly influenced by Kurt Vonnegut. I could praise all the same things that others do, but he lived for interest, not repetition. So, I'll merely comment that he always seemed torn between his root instincts as a thought-experimenting science fiction author - so clearly shown in PLAYER PIANO - and the "arty" side of writing, that beckons to us all, like a naked shaman, dancing in the rain, capering and shouting while lighting flashes about.

The best of us contain multitudes and authors like Vonnegut quickly learn to make use of the ecumenical contributions from many parts of the faceted brain.

Alas, there are sycophants and critics and professors and flatterers who must have their categories, and use every blandishment to fit complex pegs into simple holes. At times, Vonnegut seemed to accept their authority to limit him. To hem him into literary ghettos, using prods of praise.

BeyondHOrizonAnd another colleague came to mind, on the centennial of his birth. The thing that I think I liked best about Robert A. Heinlein (1907 - 1988) was something that went beyond plot or character or even the stories themselves. It was an attitude that pervaded his work - an ornery contrariness that seemed to run much deeper than any particular philosophy or dogma. Indeed, I believe that people completely miss the point, when they say "Heinlein was a libertarian" or Heinlein was this or that or the other.

"Whenever he heard oversimplifications like that, he tended to turn around and try for a surprise. For example by making actors and politicians the heroes of one novel. Or hippies in another. Or creating a prescriptive utopia that pushed both maximum individuality and a welfare state. When Heinlein spotted a cliche, he loved to torment it! Even cliches of his own.

"What Heinlein was - (I believe, with the tentative uncertainty that anyone should feel, when attempting to speak for another man) - boiled down to a unique personality type that was fostered by the mid-20th Century can-do spirit. A very American mix of skepticism and adolescent enthusiasm. Especially the unique notion that problems have solutions, but no one doctrine or voice will lead us to them.

"While Robert Heinlein gave us vivid tales of heroes, those men and women always lived within a context. They were always people who felt loyal to civilization.

But he was an unruly beast, impossible to geld. And he would chafe within the corral. breaking out, even in graying age, to seek the higher ground where untamed creatures stare across the cosmos, and into times to come.


See the recent issue of WIRED which touts the virtues of naked companies, who let the truth hang out, and benefit from increased customer trust.

Alas, though it’s the 10th anniversary of the “grand-daddy” of transparency tomes, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to choose between Privacy and Freedom?, and the book is very much still in print, I got no calls or questions from WIRED.

Where I did get some is from DISCOVER Magazine. See a coming issue.

Finally, thanks Nate, for posting this: “Over at TPMuckraker (http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/archives/002809.php) , they took the document dump about the US attorney scandal, and had hundreds if not thousands of readers go through portions and post their summaries or other little bits on a master thread." Transparency in action.

Turns out I have delayed these non-political matters way too long. I must do several more right-quick or choke on the backlog!

Anyway, enjoy these reminders that Enlightenment Civilization still lives.


In the news is something that anybody might expect a sci fi guy to get excited about... like the putative or purported discovery of a planet, just 20 light years from Earth, with a temperature and gravity range that might put it into the “Goldilocks” zone... capable of sustaining liquid water, and hence, possibly life.

Yes, well, maybe. Still, some cautions are in order. Note's one scientific skeptic:
Udry et al., make a good case for a planet being there, but the rest looks speculative at best. The planet has a MINIMUM mass of 5 Earths, the "1.5 Earth radius" is based on a density assumption with no data behind it, and the planet's insolation is about 2.44 times the Earth's (L/a^2 = 0.013/.073^2). The effective temperatures calculated didn't reference any atmosphere model. A similar calculation for Earth gets you about 256K, (-17C) depending on albedo. They used a Venus-like albedo to get down to 273K--actually not bad for the Venus upper atmosphere. Of course, we all know what the surface of Venus is like.

If an awful lot of things break the right way, well, maybe a terrestrial planet. But in my crystal ball, G 881c is a rather hot mini-Uranus.

The next planet out has an insolation of 20% Earths. If _it_ (big if!) were of similar density to the Earth, it would have a surface radius and gravity roughly twice as high as high as Earth's. And even if the top of the atmosphere were much colder, if it were a few bars deep, the lapse rate would produce a liquid water surface.

Nevertheless, even if neither planet proves suitable, it does remind us of a crucial fact, that 80% of our neighboring suns are small red dwarves. Their tidal locked, close orbiting planets would likely have a narrow sunrise band, with permanently light/hot and dark/cold heliopodes. Liquid water might be possible in the band, but it would drift toward the cold hemisphere and then fall out as snow. Hence lakes in the band would be sporadic, getting rain generally when volcanism or meteoroids melt some from the icy sink in back.

It would not be an easy life. Sorry Stephen Colbert! This "Earth II" won't let us dispose of our starter planet.

(Actually there is a theory. Human seem to hanker for lower gravity and a 25 hour day, as if we came from a place that had both traits. Um... Mars? Boy what a mess we made of that homeworld....)


And now...see these wondrous images from the Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft as it takes a boost swinging past Jupiter. Dang the little robot was busy during its rapid loop past the Big Guy! Wonderful stuff. How sad that events like this no longer transfix a great nation, which seems to be slipping from greatness.

Note, BTW a less noted milestone. for the first time, we have launched an object that travels faster than the Voyagers did, back in 1977. “Already the fastest spacecraft ever launched, New Horizons reached Jupiter 13 months after lifting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., in January 2006. The flyby added 9,000 miles per hour, pushing the velocity of New Horizons past 50,000 miles per hour and setting up a flight by Pluto in July 2015.”
May it portend a return to adventure.


Announcing Episode IV of my ambitious (and deliriously funny) serial novel “The Ancient Ones”!

You can only find it in one place, on Jim Baen’s UNIVERSE Magazine, one of the best online zines in the history of this planet! I really recommend subscribing, for the great stories and essays and news and articles and more for your money than anywhere else. And they match every paid subscriber with a free or steeply discounted one to a student or someone in a poor country!


Anonymous said...

It's funny . . . well, discouraging . . . to see how many people greeted the announcement of the "earthlike" planet with Let's send a probe! or I call shotgun on the colony ship!

Someone on Slashdot figured that, since we had ion drives, it would be a cinch to get there in a few decades, at .6 c.

I did a back of the envelope calculation; just speeding up to .6c with an ion drive would require a mass-ratio of . . . well, some number times ten to the 5015th power!

Without magic technology, interstellar travel is going to be terribly difficult.

I do hope we can build some big-ass telescope arrays so we can image those far-off worlds. This wiggle-measuring is such a tenuous method of sensing.

Anonymous said...

I feel uncomfortable saying this, but:

While Heinlein is a far better SF author, and even a better yarn-spinner, I trust Vonnegut's judgement in certain things more.

I think anyone who reads Starship Troopers should be required to read Slaughterhouse Five, which is about what a war is really like and what it does to people.

And don't forget what Vonnegut ultimately thought of SF:

"I love you sons of bitches. You’re all I read any more. You're the only ones who’ll talk all about the really terrific changes going on, the only ones crazy enough to know that life is a space voyage, and not a short one, either, but one that’ll last for billions of years. You’re the only ones with guts enough to really care about the future, who really notice what machines do to us, what wars do to us, what cities do to us, what big, simple ideas do to us, what tremendous misunderstanding, mistakes, accidents, catastrophes do to us. You're the only ones zany enough to agonize over time and distance without limit, over mysteries that will never die, over the fact that we are right now determining whether the space voyage for the next billion years or so is going to be Heaven or Hell."

David Brin said...

True enough, Stefan, though that's a quotation you'll not see included in any college English prof's syllabus.

Still, at his best, Heinlein did explore implications.

Yes, the 1st half of BEYOND THIS HORIZON was a pathetic Campbellian screed for everybody to brandish guns at each other... it was nevertheless based upon a true, gut-level understanding that reciprocal accountability is the underlying basis for individual freedom and progress. If you replace the guns with cameras...

But the SECOND half of that book is simply amazing. There are several elements of a gedankenexperiment toward a genuinely admirable and robust and resiliently progressive utopia there.

Oh, without a doubt, RAH would put pforward some real howlers. His hippie book - STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND - was almoist as full of crap as STARSHIP TROOPERS was, at the other end of the political spectrum. And mark you, I liked Verhoeven's movie precisely because it ARGUED with Heinlein, in some pretty thought provoking ways.

Still, RAH fizzed with ideas. For all of his wondrous insights and moving passages, Vonnegut never made any SUGGESTIONS.

Don't get me wrong. Citokate and all that. criticism is more important in many ways. And there is beauty in a literary sense of resignation.

Still, in the grand scale of this Big Conversation, I like a guy who's willing to step up and say "Hey gang! Why don't we try THIS!"

Damon said...

Heinlein and Vonnegut (and our esteemed host) fall into a category I like to call Offset Nets.

Imagine your mind as a net catching fish (ideas). If I lay my net on top of yours, we can catch more fish if my net doesn't directly overlay yours.

There are some friends I have who I'll have lunch with once every couple of months. I don't do it more often, because the idea fission that results from one lunch will generate more than enough to power my brain for quite a while. There are maybe twenty authors who have the same impact for me.

I agree with Stefan that "look, but don't touch" will (by necessity) have to be our modus operendi for the near future. This is a good thing in my mind because we've got plenty in this solar system to keep us busy for quite a while. Thanks also for the rare KV quote -- I hadn't read that before and it has already helped me catch several more fish.

One interesting thing I've been noticing is that a lot of SF is now focused not on what we find when we go to the stars, but what we've become by the time we get there. Accelerando by Charlie Stross is the clearest example I can think of.

chesh said...

David, thank you for that clarification on the distinction between Vonnegut and Heinlein -- I've read a few Vonnegut novels, and found them on the pleasant side of inoffensive, but he's never captured my interest the way he has for so many people, and I think you nailed the reason why.
I'm only 24, and my parents are generally liberal, and both (my father especially) read a lot of sf -- so much of what Vonnegut wrote about, that was amazing to the generation before me, are basic things that I learned growing up.

Anonymous said...

"Heinlein and Vonnegut (and our esteemed host) fall into a category I like to call Offset Nets."


I've actually read, and enjoyed, more Heinlein than Vonnegut. Much more.

I'd seriously question the taste and wisdom of anyone who considered KV "the" only respectable or worthwhile SF writer; like Bradbury, he came to be a kind of safe, tame SF writer than English teachers doted on.

But consider: Most Heinlein novels, particularly the later ones, had a know-it-all father figure who Told It Like It Was.

Vonnegut was a necessary external counterpoint to that creepy old patriarch. A bitter old uncle who'd seen wretched, terrible things and won't stand to have them swept under the rug for political expediency, or because thinking about the bad shit people do is a bummer.

You wouldn't want to spend all your time hanging out with that uncle, either.

Offset nets.

David Brin said...

Offset nets. Nice.

But note that this implies a lot about your personality... and the others who dwell here and in the clan of SF.

Zero sum personalities know that there are "other ideas" out there, but those other ideas are in opposition to the (theologically or traditionally or politically) correct set. Holding a lively give-and-take discussion with holder of "other ideas" or other nets? The zero sum answer to that is... "Why?"

Positive sum personalities not only seek feedback but even a little criticism because it is ALWAYS possible to be "even better."

Ever shopped for garden hoses? That's positive sum vocabulary. Even if you have "better" ideas than the other guy, he may have "good" ones. But the only way to get "best" is through negotiation, and greater-than-the-sum hybridization.

Look for this separation of personalities everywhere around you. On the left, as well as the right.

Anonymous said...


You nailed Vonnegut for me in that last post of yours, and Dr. Brin pretty much nailed RAH for me. Much of the Vonnegut I've read, I'm not sure "liked" or "enjoyed" would be good words to describe (some yes) the experience, but I found his stories to always be thought provoking (maybe should be all caps) and never boring.

It has been awhile since I have read any RAH, but in the past I've read most of his novels, most of them when I was much younger. Some of his stuff I thought was great, some good, some okay, and at least one felt like I was pushing my head through mush and not making any progress. For all that I enjoyed his more thought provoking, more mature stories, if I had to pick the RAH story that I "liked" the best it would be one of his juvenile novels such as "The Rolling Stones" or "Red Planet."

daveawayfromhome said...

I too have read a lot of both, though it's been a while. Neither of them ever tried to pretend that there werent a lot of bastards out there, or that the bastards werent often in control. But neither did they give up on humanity, they always left hope intact, which is the main thing I've always found attractive about SF.

RandomSequence said...


STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND a hippy novel? What kind of hippies did you hang out with? That novel attracted more people to libertarianism and randianism than anything produced by anyone who actually belonged to those cults.

Hippies ain't the only folks that like to get laid, ya'know.

Anywho, I always thought that Heinlein peaked with Lifeline. Arthur C. Clarke was always more clever, but never quite as sexy.

Anonymous said...

Not sure what hippies you hung out with...
But the ones I hung out, when they found out I read Science Fiction ALL asked if I'd read Stranger in a Strange Land... they'd all had read it.
I wouldn't call it a novel written for hippies, I'd call it a novel read by hippies. Commune disguised as a church, sharing everything, understanding things to the point where you and the thing you understand are one in the same (grok)... the hippies loved that book.

And the only person I ever met who liked Ayn Rand told me Heinlien was a fascist. Seems he had only read Starship Troopers and hadn't understood it.

JuhnDonn said...

A very American mix of skepticism and adolescent enthusiasm. Especially the unique notion that problems have solutions, but no one doctrine or voice will lead us to them.

I guess that's something I took with me from Heinlein, growing up; don't give up. And it's almost always a people problem. The universe really doesn't care, one way or another.

Where's someone to decry fear as motivation for stasis? When did we become a nation of ney sayers and fear driven fools?

David Brin said...

Random... Clever? You want clever? Heinlein's "All You Zombies" is THE time travel paradox story. All others are commentary.

OTOH, I forgot to mention that Vonnegut sometimes slipped into genuine sci fi... and was punished for it. For example, the LEAST favorite story of his - by the likes of Enlish Profs and literary salon mavens is "Harrison Bergeron" which can only be called a wondrous satire against enforced levelling equality and political correctness. It's what Rand would have written instean of Anthem, if she had any wit, charm, humor or perception.

David Brin said...

Oh, this latest from the Progressive Policy Institute:

Early experience shapes opinion, and often for life. The youngest voters in next year's presidential election were born a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall; turned three as the World Wide Web went public in 1993; entered elementary school as the dot-com bubble took off; watched the 9/11 attacks at age 11; and the opening of the war in Iraq at 13. A survey by the Harvard Institute for Politics, looking at the opinions and outlooks these experiences produce, finds America's 18-to-24-year-olds well-traveled and well-educated, enthusiastic technophiles, civic-minded, more liberal and more positive about the global economy than the public as a whole.

More specifically, three in five have traveled abroad, and 63 percent attend (or have graduated) college, community college, graduate or professional school. They are twice as likely to own a cell phone as a land line, and most have a profile on MySpace or FaceBook.

Thirty-one percent consider themselves liberal and 24 percent conservative (the most recent New York Times poll finds 21 percent of the general public liberal and 33 percent conservative); and they are fond of high-minded conversation, with more reporting recent talks with friends about U.S. politics and Iraq than about sports or celebrity gossip. On global-economy matters, the survey finds that:

37 percent of American young adults "favor" globalization, about twice the 20 percent who "oppose" it. Another 43 percent neither favor nor oppose the concept, perhaps finding the question pointless.

Pluralities of young people believe globalization has positive effects on American culture, education and economic life, but negative effects on environmental affairs and politics. Those with college educations are especially positive about culture and economics.

Asked about a goal far beyond anything current global-economy talks envision -- "our country's goal in trade policy should be to eliminate all barriers to trade and employment," which suggests fully open immigration as well as trade per se -- they split evenly between support and opposition. Slightly more than half would consider taking a long-term job abroad, and a third would consider raising a family overseas.

Anonymous said...

How anyone goes from Heinleinian faith in the basic decency of most of Humanity most of the time, to Ranydian sociopathy-as-economics has always been beyond me.

Never, in any Heinlein novel, does anything succeed without teamwork by ethical people who are willing to freely sacrafice for the good of others, betraying their own immediate self-interest.

"Utilitarianism" is based on the disgusting assumption of Sociopaths that everyone, deep down, is really just like them.

Well, genetically, we've already been infected with the The Giving Plague, and so have Bonobos. Pan Trogolodytes seems to have been immune.


(Yeah, not literally, I understand the underlying science)

KV saved my life twice. The first time was Timequake, "You've been sick, now you're well, and there's work to be done".

The second time was when he called smoking what it is - the only honorable way to commit suicide in our society.

Voltaire : Crush the horror, Tend your Garden.

Kurt : You know, I've seen horror crushing, and it's just more horror. Please don't bother me with that nonsense while I'm tending my garden and trying not to blow my brains out.

Rob Perkins said...

I have never read a single word of Vonnegut, that I can deliberately recall. Not one.

Heinlein, on the other hand, almost all his books, except perhaps _Job: A Comedy of Justice_ which came to my attention long after I... became bored by him and his schtick.

Is it acceptable in these circles, I wonder, to claim to have transcended Heinlein?

As to whether SiaSL is a Hippie book, I'd say "yeah!" to that. I've read it twice. Once as a callow 18 year old, where I discovered that my father was right to withhold it from me, since all I could notice at that age was the deviant sexual practices. SiaSL is rated NC-17 in my library not because it's particularly pornographic or violent (though it is both pornographic and violent) but because kids just won't *get it*.

But the second time, decades after acheiving majority and having a buncha kids, what I noticed was the deft use of plot and metaphors he employed to give visionaries as disparate as Jean d'Arc and Joseph Smith, Jr. a fair-ish hearing! And the Jubal lectures about the beautiful woman in the old body had resonance only later in my life.

But yeah, his preachy stuff got old, in the same way that Spielberg's preachy stuff has gotten old. Merits abound and remain, but it's possible to transcend them both for better tools.

And having said all that, I *hated hated hated* the Voerhoven cover of ST. Hated it. Pinned to the right edge of the meter hated. I didn't want to go see an argument with Heinlein when I went to that movie.

I wanted something faithful to that book. The movie was *not.* And so I didn't enjoy it. I thought it was a hack job and I'm sticking to that story.

Finally, having said all *that*, who can recommend a bit of Vonnegut for my reading list, now that I'm aware of how he has influenced a few of my Internet friends?

Anonymous said...

Not wanting to encourage copyright violation here, but let's just say that if you google "Harrison Bergeron" and click the first hit....

Anonymous said...

Which Vonnegut to read?

I haven't read anywhere near all of his stuff, including the most SFish novels, "Sirens of Titan" and "Player Piano." Most of it decades ago.

Short stories:

"Welcome to the Monkey House."

(Includes "Harrison Bergeron")

Mostly mainstreamish character study:

"God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater."

Vonnegut working through the horrors he witnessed as a POW who survived the firebombing of Dresden:

"Slaughterhouse V"

Anonymous said...


You can go with the way *he* graded his work.

Player Piano: B
The Sirens of Titan: A
Mother Night: A
Cat's Cradle: A-plus
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: A
Slaughterhouse-Five: A-plus
Welcome to the Monkey House: B-minus
Happy Birthday, Wanda June: D
Breakfast of Champions: C
Slapstick: D
Jailbird: A
Palm Sunday: C

Anonymous said...

The SF writer from the 20th century who is at the top of my list is:
Stanislaw Lem
Best short story: Golem XIV (story about AI)
Best Books:
Peace on Earth (the person telling the story has his corpus callosum cut split in the first paragraph, then things get weird.)
Fiasco - (Mankind's first contact with an alien civilization, the title says it all)

Anonymous said...

I wonder if I should go back and re-read Stranger in a Strange Land one of these days before too long, the last time I read it was as a callow youth myself. Not that I'm that far from callowness, or youth-hood now. I don't think I've read everything Heinlein wrote, and I don't think I've read any Vonnegut at all. I should remedy that.

My two favorite Heinlein books were Starship Troopers and the Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but it's been a while since I re-read either of them. I kinda want to go back and re-read some of his juvie stuff, like Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. 13 year old me ate that stuff up.

And Starship Troopers: The Movie, was just bad. The CG bugs were kind of cool, and it had the co-ed shower scene that was more redeeming when I was a teenager, and it had the weirdness of Doogie Howser as a psychic space Nazi. But the movie itself sucked, and the MI used tactics that proved nobody on the set had even played any wargames or anything, ever.

Francis said...

Anonymous, Rand's sociopathic philosophy is Objectivism not Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is simply the belief in the greatest good for the greatest number - an admirable principle that can easily be seriously misused.

And mark me down as someone else who has read Heinlein, enjoyed him, and outgrown him.

Anonymous said...

According to "The Making of Starship Troopers" movie magazine...

A couple of Hollywierd screen writers who liked science fiction were speculating about great science fiction novels they could make into movies. Robert Heinlien's "Starship Troopers" (ST) came up, and was dismissed since they were sure someone else had the rights to it. So they decided to rip it off, creating a 'army vs. scifi insects' story. Nobody would buy it. Then they realized they had never actually checked to see who (if anyone) had the rights to ST... and found that no one did. So, they took thier rip off, changed the names of characters, added some things, deleted others, and sold it as Starship Troopers.

The directer, Paul Verhoeven, didn't want to do Heinlien's story... he wanted to do a anti-Fascism screed, and had heard that Starship Troopers was fascistic (he hadn't read it), so agreed to do the movie.

So, how many Science Fiction books have been made into movies that had only a passing resemblance to the book?

OK, enough rant on that.

Hienlien was a lecturer who turned to science fiction because people don't like being lectured to. The library where I work now has a copy of his first work, "For us, the living"... seems RAH was a quite the free love socialist in the 1930's.

Tony Fisk said...

I find it fascinating to read of the techniques they use to detect planets like Gliese 881c as much as the planets themselves. Doppler shifts equivalent to walking pace at 20 light years....!

What will they deduce when they can observe planetary silhouettes against their suns? (feasible for ~1% of systems, would allow accurate radius assessment, *and* atmospheric composition)

Rob & Nate: I went to see ST 'cos I needed a punching bag at the time and didn't have anything else. Seeking a bit of the ole' ultra violence, I fully expected to find that the only piece of Heinlein remaining was the title. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was quite a bit of the old boy left. I guess it comes down to how you approach these things.

Yes, awful tactics (and no mech-armour!), but the quirky newsreels made up for it, and I suspect that the sight of troops milling en masse was meant to blur the distinction between bug and man.

Now, for a real spoof on ST (and, come to think of it, SiSL with a bit of Catch 22 thrown in for good measure) try Haldeman's 'Forever War'!

One final thing: Jamais Cascio has just put up Part 2 of his 'Lost Hegemon' essay

Rob Perkins said...

The Starship Troopers movie should have been entitled "Naked Teenage Heroes in Space (With Naked Teenage Bugs)"

I didn't even see any of Heinlein in the newsreel sequences. Nothing of the "personal as a punch in the nose" military doctrine survived to make it to the screen.

Anonymous said...

The newsreels were better done in the Starcraft cutscenes. Heh.

And in other, scarier news, the Wall Street Journal's published an op-ed arguing against the rule of law. Seriously. Hilzoy has more. And so does Unqualified Offerings

The Wall Street Journal. Publishing screeds against the rule of law. I knew the WSJ op-ed page was completely detached from reality, but!

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to chime in with a second recommendation for Joe Haldeman's 'Forever War'. Best answer to ST around.

Anonymous said...

"(Actually there is a theory. Human seem to hanker for lower gravity and a 25 hour day, as if we came from a place that had both traits. Um... Mars? Boy what a mess we made of that homeworld....)"

I don't know if it's possible to ask this without sounding like a complete nutjob, but please do tell where you've heard this theory.

Unknown said...

The 25-hour circadian rhythm thing is an old (pre-www, IIRC) meme. Google: "25-hour day" human

It's been contradicted in some research, though (e.g. here).

I don't know about the gravity thing; it sounds silly...

David Brin said...

ANdrew, let's see if you find "wanting lower gravity" silly when you get over 50 years old...


As for 25 hour days, you don't need circadian studies to know we need an extra hour. Just try being a parent. Mars, ah, our home...

Anonymous said...

Talk about feeling like an idiot on the Utilitarianism/Objectivism thing. Don't you hate it when you say one thing but meant your mother?

RandomSequence said...

Occam's Comic: Lem and Golem XIV: Yup, Imaginary Magnitudes is one of the best "writings" (What the hell is it?) ever.

On Heinlein: Heinlein's Predictions. There's somebody who's not a fan. I loved him as a kid - but in retrospect, he was kinda on the edge of nuttiness. I love that he was willing to let it all hang loose in his writing, but on the other hand, his libertarianism seems to reflect a man that wasn't quite as smart as he thought he was.

Actually I think I see where the hippy thing comes from. I'm from a younger generation than HH and David, so the hippies I knew came after the libertarian element was stripped off - they either became libertarians or neo-pagans, depending on whether they cared more about social freedom or economic freedom. I understand that this happened about '77, when I was yet a wee child.

Circadian rhythms: the evidence is pretty clear that we have a more than 24 hour clock. Same thing though with rats - if you leave them free running without external cues, they pretty quickly develop an internal cycle that is longer than 24 hours. Why? Nobody knows.

Are rats also aliens? Maybe we have evidence for a "Hitchhiker's Guide" universe?