Red Planet

[Amazon Link]

As I've mentioned once before (oops, make that twice before) (well, actually, thrice before), Red Planet, by Robert A. Heinlein, was the first "big boy" book I read, checked out from the Oakland, Iowa public library at some point in the late 1950s, when I was seven or eight years old. It hooked me on science fiction generally, and Heinlein specifically. It could have easily appeared on my Ten Influential Books list back in 2010, but it already had two other Heinlein books on it, and I didn't want to look like a total fanboy. (I left that until now, I guess.)

So why reread it now, nearly sixty years later? Second childhood? Well, maybe, but my official reason was an intriguing factoid from the Heinlein biography written by William H. Patterson. The version of Red Planet that made it into my grubby little hands back in Iowa was the product of a contentious dispute between Heinlein and Alice Dalgliesh, the editor at Scribners for his "juvenile" novels. Among other things Ms. Dalgliesh was adamant about the plot's reliance on some of the characters carrying handy weapons at all times. Aieee, what do you think this is, Robert? America?

So, yes, this is Heinlein's restored, uncensored version of Red Planet. Cool!

The story has teenage hero Jim Marlowe, a Mars colonist from Earth. He has (sort of) adopted a native Martian pet, a "bouncer" he's named "Willis". Willis is usually a featureless beachball, but occasionally eyes pop out, and protuberances he uses for locomotion as necessary. Willis also has an uncanny ability to listen to sounds—conversations, music, what have you—and play them back flawlessly. This becomes an important plot point.

Jim is sent off to school, accompanied by his close buddy Frank. Things rapidly take a turn for the disastrous when the easygoing head of the school is replaced with a petty martinet, fond of imposing arbitrary rules on his charges. When he discovers Willis, dollar signs appear in his eyes, and the bouncer is confiscated for nefarious purposes.

But it tuns out that this school tyranny is only a shadow of worse things in store for the entire Martian colony. Jim and Frank set out to make things right, only to become wanted fugitives on the run, over hostile Martian wilderness.

So, yes, it's a lot of fun. There are the usual Heinlein character types that show up in a lot of his work: the cynical, wise-cracking mentor/sage, the officious, snooty, older female (think Margaret Dumont, except nastier, and no Groucho in sight).

I didn't notice any major differences in the "uncensored" version. But I probably wouldn't after (see above) nearly sixty intervening years. What I do fondly remember from the original was the Clifford Geary illustrations. You can find some of them with some Googling, but it would have been neat to have them here. Maybe some diligent publisher will put it all together someday. If that happens, I'll open my wallet one more time.

URLs du Jour


■ Proverbs 28:23 has reassuring words for Pun Salad:

Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favor rather than one who has a flattering tongue.

Excellent! I'd say rebuking people is, like, 90% of our content. I'll strive to do even better, with the Proverbialst's encouragement.

■ Well, it was only a couple days ago when Pun Salad predicted that New Hampshire's senators, Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, partisan hacks that they are, would oppose Neil Gorsuch's confirmation to the Supreme Court.

I'm nearly wrong in all predictions, but this one was pretty safe. Here's Senator Maggie's statement and here's Senator Jeanne's.

Both statements are (roughly) 52% pious crap and 47% tedious bullshit, cut-n-pasted from standard party talking points, not worth discussing in detail. Or at all.

The one bit of fact: both will support an attempted filibuster. Maggie euphemizes this as "maintaining the traditional 60-vote threshold for confirming Supreme Court nominees" and Jeanne describes it as "support[ing] a 60-vote threshold for approval, an appropriate high bar that has been met by seven of the eight current Supreme Court justices.”

It's amusing (but not surprising) that Democrats will try to paint their tactics as "traditional" and setting an "appropriate high bar". In fact, it's just the latest step in the battle Jonathan H. Adler observed back in 2013:

What this history shows is that there are no clean hands. [F]or over twenty-five years, Senators have engaged in an escalating game of tit-for-tat, in which each side seeks to out do the other, has now gone on for over twenty-five years. Should this trend continue, things will only get worse.

And now they have. Congratulations to Maggie and Jeanne for their contributions.

■ Jacob Sullum at Reason notices: Gun-Owning Expert on Logical Fallacies Deploys Them Against Gun Ownership. The expert is Daniel J. Levitin, author of Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era. Sullum notes Levitin's op-ed citation of a CDC "study" that "having a firearm in the home almost doubles the risk of a violent death there." He comments:

The CDC study cited by Levitin, which was published in 2004, found that "persons with guns in the home" were twice as likely as people living in gun-free residences to die "from a homicide in the home." Contrary to what Levitin says, that does not mean "having a firearm in the home almost doubles the risk of a violent death there," because correlation does not prove causation. It could be that owning a gun increases the risk of being killed, but it also could be that other factors increase the risk of being killed as well as the likelihood of owning guns. If people who anticipate violent confrontations, such as residents of high-crime neighborhoods or women with angry ex-husbands, are especially likely to arm themselves, for example, that tendency could partly or completely explain the association found in this study.

This is not encouraging me to read Levitin's book, although we'll see.

■ As all Decent People Know, there's a general War on Science, perpetrated by today's Know-Nothings. And, as George Will observed back in 2014, when "victimhood [is] a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate."

And (by inexorable logic) when you are a Victim, what you must do is March. And so we have (ta-da) the March for Science scheduled for April 22.

But all is not well in Victimhood Land, as reported by HeatStreet: Massive March for Science Planned for Washington Plagued by Infighting

At the core of the dispute are divergent opinions about the march’s core message. While some argue the march should promote science itself, pushing for better funding, objectivity and recognition of scientific achievement, others say it should champion intersectionality and use the platform to highlight racial and gender-based discrimination faced by scientists in their respective fields.

A couple months back, Steven Pinker tweeted on the issue:

This won't end well, but it could be massively entertaining.

■ I am amazed at the seeming ease certain writers show in tossing off massive amounts of insightful, funny, clear prose. One of those is James Lileks, and his Bleat for today dissects an example of "futurism" that's (in actuality) a "smug variety that uses futurism as a criticism of the present".

Now, of course, RTWT. Here's an example, though: the "futurist" writes that "our great-grandchildren will be amazed that we could function without direct brain-computer interfaces." Lileks responds:

As for great-grandchildren being AMAZED that we couldn’t control computers with our brains, that’s like being AMAZED that people in the 18th century couldn’t project their voice over wires.

These future people sound like idiots.

Alas, if trends continue, they probably will be.