Comments on James Nicoll’s review of “Time Enough for Love” by Robert A. Heinlein

This work is in reference to a review by James Nicoll of Robert A. Heinlein’s novel “Time Enough for Love”. I did not start this blog originally with the intent of defending Mr Heinlein or his biographer Mr Patterson from nasty dishonest reviewers, but as it happens I am doing it another time. Whatever.

It seems to me this review is intentionally dishonest, and maliciously defamatory.

While Canadian defamation law is not collectible in the USA, it is in Canada. Mr Heinlein’s estate is owned by the Heinlein Prize Trust, and they can sue in Canada, as they do business (sell Heinlein’s books) in Canada. As in, they have legal standing under Canadian law to sue Mr. Nicoll for defamation of character due to them doing business in Canada. That would mean the trust would not directly collect, but rather their Canadian agent would. They probably will not, as I doubt Mr. Nicoll has assets worth the bother, and they may feel that suing might do more damage to book sales than not suing. I am uncertain about that either way. Also, they might feel, as Mr. Heinlein did, and I do, that such laws violate the principle of freedom of speech and are immoral. Though given Mr Nicoll’s prior support of immoral laws and policies, (at least in my opinion and that of other libertarians and classical liberals) I would argue this is hoisting him by his own petard. As in people who do not respect the rights of others should not expect theirs respected. However, I am not at all uncertain about the Heinlein Prize Trust having a case against Mr Nicoll for defamation.

Quoting Mr. Nicoll, “Large swathes of this book are abhorrent to me: it only takes Heinlein five pages to get to the first call for mass murder and eight to the first off-handed reference to genocide (of aliens not suitable for slavery; human may not own humans, but aliens are apparently fucked). Various tirades against democracy and in favor of autocracy are sprinkled through the text.” Note, that Mr. Nicoll does not state these as his opinions, he states Heinlein “called for mass murder” and so on, as matters of fact.

Point by point:

1 Heinlein does not “call for mass murder” at all in this book. Nor has he ever as any sort of good thing or positive thing in any other book other than as an obvious joke about reviewers. In that case it was in the science fiction convention at the end of “Number of the Beast…” where reviewers were all sent to a inescapable prison where they had nothing to eat but each other. Again, an obvious joke. The statement by Nicoll, in the context he gives, strongly implies that Heinlein favors or promotes mass murder, is flatly a malicious lie. I think Nicoll is telling this malicious lie with the intent of persuading people not to read Heinlein’s books.

2. “Off hand reference to genocide” – yes, as in reference to an existing or past event in context of the situation. Mr. Nicoll has numerous times in his writings both on newsgroups and in reviews made off-hand reference to various genocides. So what? Citations of James Nicoll making “off hand references to genocide”.!topic/rec.arts.sf.written/t8QYtW5TDyg

Nor are these the only citations one could present, I just felt the point is made.

I am reasonably sure the below is the passage Nicoll finds so offensive. “The proto-dominant race are quite fierce savages . . if any are still alive. We don’t know, we don’t even maintain a liaison office there. This native race is neither intelligent enough to be civilized nor tractable enough to be enslaved. Perhaps they would have evolved and made it on their own, but they had the misfortune to encounter H. sapiens before they were ready for him.”

That is quoted from “Time Enough for Love”. This is description of what a viewpoint character understood to be the situation in the story, not an endorsement of genocide or slavery, nor is the phrase “This native race is neither intelligent enough to be civilized nor tractable enough to be enslaved” an endorsement of slavery or genocide, it was made as a statement of the then current situation, and to an extent a prediction that the “native race” would soon become extinct if it was not already.

Why? because humans had already colonized the planet and it was not practically possible to stop the colonists from extermination of the natives. Or, at least not possible without resort to mass murder of humans on the planet, which seems to bother Mr Nicoll, and said mass murder might well spill over on the natives as well, as possibly it might require planetary bombardment.

Neither the author, nor the character making the statement in the book, endorsed genocide or slavery. The viewpoint character observes what the realistic probabilities are.

Mr Nicoll representing that as if it was any sort of endorsement of slavery or genocide, is in my opinion, being willfully and maliciously dishonest.

As an observation, solid scientific evidence shows that human variant species existed in various corners of the earth prior to Homo sapiens encountering them. Neanderthals, “hobbits” AKA Homo floresiensis, and others.

They are all now extinct, and all became extinct not very distant in time from when homo sapiens shows up in that area of the earth. The circumstantial evidence is overwhelming that our species did them in. I am not endorsing genocide, I observe that Homo sapiens seems to have a propensity to genocide/ extermination of intelligent (and non-intelligent) species we are in direct competition with, or from whom we want something.

I also observe that mass murder of humans by humans was at an all time high in the 20th century.

Per a mostly accepted academic study at the above link, governments in the 20th century murdered ~ 262 million human beings. When that is compared to a global homicide rate of private criminals, it was ~ 10 to 20 times more likely for a random individual on the earth in the 20th century to be murdered by a government than by any private party.

Heinlein’s like-minded observations, projected ~ 2000 years into the future do not seem even slightly unrealistic. Nor is it at all honest to claim he endorsed such behavior. Human beings will continue to be human beings, quite violent, and genocidal, especially governmental bodies made up of humans, who evade personal moral responsibility by various government quasi-religious rituals like voting, and hiding behind laws made by legislators they helped elect.

Humans have a propensity to enslave humans or other species given opportunity & motive.

Again, that is an observation, not an endorsement.

Observing that water runs downhill, does not mean endorsing people dying in a flood, or thinking that numerous people being drowned in a flood a good thing.

3. “Various tirades against democracy and in favour of autocracy are sprinkled through the text”

No. That is dishonest, inaccurate, and incorrect. What is a realistic assessment is that Heinlein made various observations of serious real life problems of “democracy”.

Especially the widespread irrational fantasies of a lot of people such as Mr Nicoll who labor under the delusion that the form current popular fashionable governmental organizations and policies are “the end of history” or are stable or workable into the indefinite future, and that no problems caused by these institutions exist, or do they do not violate anyone’s rights, or that they are not destructive.

Regardless of Mr Nicoll’s political opinions, democratic forms of government have implicit problems associated with them.

Nor is the quip that they are “the worst form of government but for all the rest” honestly valid. We don’t know that, we cannot know that, and significant evidence indicates otherwise.

It should be well within reasonable discussion for a writer to bring up and discuss problems with various types of government including “democracy”, especially about policy. It seems to me that Mr Nicoll is in real life far more the enemy of democracy, that he pretends to love, than Mr Heinlein.

Mr Heinlein, shows by parable the implicit problems of democracy and how they can be mitigated, and so is in reality a honest and real defender of democracy. Mr Nicoll ignores the fact that democracy has implicit problems, and exacerbates them by advocating policies that make the problems worse.

The introduction is describing history from the point of view of a historian living over 2000 years in the future describing then past events. A historian now discussing the mass murders of the 20th century would not be “calling for” mass murder, he would be being descriptive of historical events.

Numerous science fiction works have such a fictional historical narrative, many with quite frightful events in them, such as thermonuclear wars, biological plagues or nuclear poisoning that kill off the vast majority of human beans or even all human beings. Mr. Nicoll has reviewed them without even once as far as I can tell accusing an author other than Mr. Heinlein of “calling for mass murder”, including Shute’s “On the Beach”, where the human race is going extinct due to a nuclear war.

Then later in the comment section of this review in response to a poster pointing out correctly that in another science fiction work by Heinlein, that humans allied with an alien species, Mr Nicoll said, “You don’t think the humans would send the Skinnies to the ovens as soon as the Skinnies stopped being useful?”

Again this is: 1) defamation of Mr. Heinlein’s character; 2) ridiculous and not at all in keeping with Mr. Heinlein writing or actions in life, with no basis whatever in Heinlein’s work; 3) it seems likely to damage sales of his works.

No reasonable person is going to infer from such a fictional history narrative, or anything else Heinlein wrote, that those specific heroic or characters Heinlein intended to be seen sympathetically, were “calling for” such events to take place, either fictionally or in real life.

To state that Heinlein was doing so is deliberate, blatant and malicious defamation of character.

It seems quite apparent that James is letting his personal dislike of Robert Heinlein ruin any vague semblance of professional objectivity in his reviews of Heinlein’s work.   This is speaking of his other reviews of Heinlein’s work I have seen.

He is showing a completely over the top, childish total lack of professionalism in this review.


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