The Innocent Eye: An Introduction by Henry Kuttner

“If This Goes On—”



Concerning. Stories Never Written: Postscript

For Stan and Sophia Mullen

The Innocent Eye: An Introduction

ROBERT A. HEINLEIN is probably the best story-teller in the science-fiction field today. If I were backed into a corner and forced to tell why in one sentence, I’d say, “Heinlein’s got a sense of proportion.” Well, how does one get a sense of proportion? By experience, I think. And there is only one kind of experience that counts as necessary to a competent writer: experience of mankind.

Literary and scientific techniques are very useful to a writer, but I don’t think the study of them is necessary. They are intellectual concepts. Man is also an emotional animal. And a good story must be about man—not man after a lobot­omy, but about the irrational part of him as well as the ra­tional. Sentimentality is no substitute; it degrades man instead of treating him with the respect that, God knows, he deserves. Unfortunately, too many science-fiction stories might have been written by robots or spirits.

Now Heinlein does something that is vitally necessary to good writing: he perceives people. He knows how they feel. He has felt that way himself. He has even bridged the difficult gap of realizing that people feel much the same way every­where, allowing for constitutional differences.

He has accepted membership in the human race.

I don’t think you can be a good writer unless you do that. I’m biased I know; I like good writing, and I have a great deal of respect for it. Good writing is well proportioned. Basically, it treats of man in his environment, and both of those elements must haw verisimilitude. That’s where Heinlein’s sense of proportion comes in. He’s eclectic. He follows the principles but not the rules. His stories have verisimilitude because they are about people, and he uses other materials only insofar as they affect those people. And here is the precise point where his sense of proportion appears. The story-elements he uses, technological, sociological, psychological, are chosen accord­ing to their natural relation to the center of interest: man. These elements are symbolic of man’s values. But it is man, realistically handled, who is the nucleus of each Heinlein story.

If I had to pin a label on Heinlein, I’d call him a romantic humanist.\ He deals with the relation of man to science. His attitude to\science is to my mind a rational one: neither idola­try nor panic, and this may be because he knows something of the social sciences, the link between man and machine.

Man as a dynamic part of a dynamic society is a concept rarely treated in science-fiction. Large faceless masses surge in the background, in an outrageously homogeneous fashion, and against this scene unqualified protagonists perform in­credible and unmotivated deeds, through logical processes slightly beyond the utmost bound of human thought. No so­ciety has ever been homogeneous, even in Sparta. There will always be Coventries. Heinlein knows this, and is perhaps the only science-fiction writer who has seen the real purpose of creating a temporal frame for stories which by definition deal with the movement of man and society through time. The use of this method of dynamic continuity is one of Heinlein’s ma­for contributions to the field of science-fiction.

Imaginative literature ideally reflects and interprets reality. Future “realities” have often been handled by means of what is actually symbolism. That is, of course, one way to do it. It is not the only way; an integrated mirror of a future reality which can be accepted as three-dimensional rather than as a background of “flats” may be aèhieved by Heinlein’s method of dynamic continuity. Once that is achieved, the writer is free to tell a story about the values of men and women which is significant to the men and women who read the story. Since the future societies which Heinlein postulates are workable so­cieties, he can concentrate upon the important problems of human beings in relation to their culture. Those problems may affect the society, but their importance rests in how they affect the individual. And Heinlein understands that the personality is as complex as the society. The same man who wrote Coventry wrote They.

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Categories: Heinlein, Robert