Posted by: CJ | November 29, 2010

Feynman Story, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

I’m organizing some of my books and getting ready to read some and then ditch them. Or just ditch without reading. I want them out of my apartment so I feel like I have room for new books. I’m a bibliophile, but I don’t want them taking over my bedroom.

Two I’m ditching without really reading are Guns, Germs, and Steel and The Feynman Stories. The first has many good summaries online, and it basically says that over long time scales all that really matters is the diversity of materials you have to work with and the number of people you have working in communication with each other to come up with new innovations for living standards. The later just says that Feynman is a genius prankster. Or something. I’ve never bought into the cult of the productive, eccentric scientist, and have issues with those that have. Not what the project of science is about. And I’m heartened that Andrew Gelman agrees with me on that. Apparently Gelman uses “Feynman Story” to mean “any anecdote that someone tells that is structured so that the teller comes off as a genius and everyone else in the story comes off as an idiot”.

A book I decided to read before ditching is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Heinlein. Fun book, quicker read than I expected. Can’t recommend it, really. It’s a story of a revolution, feels vaguely like reading a more personalized history of the American Revolution in space. I mostly think it’s Randite in it’s sympathies, but Heinlein is a better writer and creates a world where Randite-ish anarchic libertarian beliefs make sense. Turn out it takes space colonization modeled after Australia for that to be true.

On the other hand, Heinlein is more sexist and more oafish in his non-monogamous relationships than I remembered. Sure, for the time he had plenty strong female characters. Were part of the upper-echelon of decision makers, had tons of responsibility, etc.. But, and this is true in basically every Heinlein I’ve read, by mid-way through the book the strong female characters had “their man” (or men) that they stood behind and more or less obeyed. Not mindless or strict obedience, but far more paternalistic than I could really be comfortable with. And his ideas of open-relationships contained a huge amount more stability than I’ve ever observed. In any sort of relationship. His characters never freaked out, (almost) never got moody, never realized they’d gotten all they wanted out of a relationship and moved on, etc.. No, he essentially took the idea of life-long loving marriages and welded it together with multiple relationships. I suspect an implication is that if I want to keep my fond memories of Stranger in a Strange Land and I Will Fear No Evil, then I shouldn’t go back and reread them.

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