Monday, December 26, 2011

Heinlein, Haldeman, ERB & Mars

by Bill Doughty
Robert A. Heinlein, whose Starship Troopers is a surprising fiction title on the mostly nonfiction Navy Professional Reading Program list, owes much to Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB).  But, unlike most of the fantasy and science fiction that preceded him, Heinlein’s literary fiction opened doors to a future history through human eyes, concentrating more on the heart and hands heading to Mars than on the tools those hands operated.
If former Lt. Cmdr. Heinlein represented the WWII and Korean War period SF of his generation, then Joe Haldeman is a Vietnam-era and Post-Vietnam counterpoint starting in the early-mid 70s, especially with his masterpiece The Forever WarBoth writers established powerful characters of both genders and moved away from earlier genre fantasy and SF that tended to objectify women or stereotype people of other backgrounds or cultures.
Sir Ridley Scott
Haldeman, praised by Heinlein and vice versa, served as a combat engineer in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Purple Heart.  His combat experience shapes his writing and gives credibility to his military SF.  The Forever War concepts show up in the films Avatar  and Aliens. It will be fascinating to see how Ridley Scott brings Haldeman to the big screen if/when it happens. Scott, who created Blade Runner, Alien and now Prometheus, has the rights to make The Forever War.

Haldeman’s skill in writing about war, space and time led Stephen King to endorse him: “If there was a Fort Knox for the science fiction writers who really matter, we’d have to lock Haldeman up there.”
Haldeman’s latest work is a trilogy beginning with 2008’s Marsbound, which shows a Heinlein-like commitment to characters and heart but with a warped look into what can happen after first contact with a “Martian” race and “Others.”  Interestingly, Haldeman writes in the first person as a female protagonist.
Marsbound gives a distinct nod to Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Barsoom series -- A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars, John Carter of Mars, etc.  The spaceship that carries characters to and from Mars is named the John Carter.  The aliens are red, green and yellow, like the characters created by ERB, but unlike ERB’s swashbuckling swordplay, Haldeman employs psychology, sex and Sun-Tzu.
Mars, named after the Roman god of war, has long been a destination for science fiction writers.
Giovanni Schiaparelli, Italian scientist, discovered what he thought were continents, seas and “channels” on Mars. American astronomer Percival Lowell hypothesized that the channels, interpreted as “canals,” showed signs of water and vegetation.  His views were part of a worldwide meme imagining life on Mars.
In the final years of the 19th Century, H.G. Wells captivated human imagination with the The Crystal Egg and War of the Worlds, where Martians who had depleted the resources on their planet came as predators to stake their claim on Earth.
Discoveries and conjecture about Mars inspired the young Edgar Rice Burroughs, who was educated at Michigan Military Academy and then served in the Army with the 7th U.S. Cavalry before devoting most of the rest of his life to writing.
Like Heinlein, ERB and Haldeman, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Lester del Rey, Philip José Farmer, Philip K. Dick and Frederik Pohl all had great works revolving around the red planet.
Heinlein created a mindbending look at Mars and spirituality with his Stranger in a Strange LandIn The Number of the Beast Heinlein pays tribute to ERB with characters named Zebedia John Carter and Jacob Burroughs traveling to Barsoom and Oz.
As we’ve seen in earlier posts, ERB as a staple reading choice of Sailors who fought in World War II.  Pearl Harbor Survivors enjoyed SF, westerns and other adventure books.  Like the Greatest Generation service members who inspire Sailors today, Golden Age SF writers and imagineers like Haldeman inspire the writers and filmmakers of today.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What Pearl Harbor Survivors Read

by Bill Doughty
What did Pearl Harbor Survivors read before and after Dec. 7, 1941?
Clark J. Simmons
Clark J. Simmons of USS Utah told me last week, immediately after the 70th Commemoration of Pearl Harbor Day, “My mother was a librarian.  We did quite a bit of reading.  She inundated us with books.  I had three sisters and all of us were readers.  I would read anything I could get my hands on.”
Marshall LaFavor, son of Chief Warrant Officer Machinist Franklyn LeFavor, grew up in a Navy family.  “One of the first things we did when we went to a new base was check in at the library and get our library cards,” Marshall said.  “My dad was a big Zane Grey fan.  Being at sea for so long he said he wanted to read something with sand in his boots.”  LeFavor also enjoyed reading C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower books, and after the war he read Day of Infamy.
Ray Emory of USS Honolulu told me earlier in the year, on his way to a Sacred Tea Ceremony aboard USS Arizona Memorial, that he only had time for his ship’s manual during the war.  He distinctly remembered its oil-stained and sea-sprayed pages and mentioned losing it during action in the western Pacific.  Today, Emory helps write the books of what happened at Pearl Harbor; he is a champion of the unidentified casualties of WWII.
Delton "Wally" Walling
Delton “Wally” Walling, who happened to be with Watchstanders in the Shipyard water tower during the attack, even though he wasn’t on duty, also read only the manuals he needed be an effective signalman during the war.  “We were young kids coming in.  We had nothing, no supplies, no libraries,” he told me.  “After the war I wanted to try to forget.”
George Bennett, National Secretary of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, which is to disband at the end of this month, said he enjoyed reading books of short stories and, after the war, about the history of what went on behind the scenes leading up to and during WWII -- especially about intelligence and cryptanalysts and code breakers who did so much to help Nimitz and Spruance win at the Battle of Midway and across the Pacific throughout the war.
WIlliam F. Howell of USS Phoenix, was a fan of Adm. Halsey during and after the war.  “Read Sea of Thunder,” he told me.  “Read about Halsey.”
Simmons, whose librarian mother instilled a love for reading, said, “I recommend history books -- all history.  And don’t forget to study math and science!