I Will Fear No Evil

Spoilers Ahead

The premise is much more intriguing than its execution. The brain of a dying rich old man is transplanted into the body of a young woman who has been murdered. The whole book could delve into the meaning of identity and gender but all it does is talk about sex. I don’t think it ever actually describes anyone having sex (current romance fiction is more explicit). But everyone has sex with everyone and spends a great deal of time saying how jealousy is petty and sex is just good fun. They are so self-conscious about acting unselfconscious that I get the impression they aren’t all that sure of themselves. They seem more juvenile than adult about sex.

The rich old man (Johann) is so rich that he can buy anything he wants and so has no conflict or worries. The young woman (Eunice) is so beautiful, and kind, and sweet, and spunky that no one can deny her anything either. Their amalgam (Joan Eunice) just wants to enjoy her new body and what better way than to share it with everyone from her lawyer, to her nurse, to her bodyguards. And that’s pretty much the last 4/5ths of the book. I kept waiting for something else, anything else, to happen.
Like The Mote in God’s Eye and Alexi Panshin’s Rite of Passage, the big problem of the future as seen from the 1970s is overpopulation.

“It isn’t the threat of war, or crime in the streets, or corruption in high places, or pesticides, or smog, or ‘education’ that doesn’t teach: those things are just the symptoms of the underlying cancer…It’s too many people…too many. Seven billion people….” — p. 460

We’ll, we’re almost there. As of this moment, the world population is 6,902,295,274. How does our present compare to the book? Fictional Earth in the early 21st Century (according to Wikipedia the year is 2015) is filled with Abandoned Areas and no one dares go outside for fear of being murdered by roaming gangs. Children are tracked and if they don’t pass early tests, they aren’t taught to read. A large portion of the population is illiterate. People must be licensed to have children; however, in America the penalty is just a fine. And so what does Joan Eunice do the very first day she is up and around after brain surgery. She goes and gets artificially inseminated. Because that’s what women want. To be pregnant. That’s what they’re built for. And to be protected by men. And to obey them.

What are the most glaring misses in predicting 2010 from 1970? Heinlein didn’t foresee AIDS and the backlash of religious fundamentalism on his free love ideal. Nor did he understand the women’s movement. For Heinlein, a woman really is just a body and inserting a man’s mind (or Heinlein’s imagination) into it doesn’t make any difference. She remains simply a sexual plaything. Imagined technology is very mechanical (tool-based) and specialized rather than our actual personal, pervasive technology that’s used for entertainment, social connection, and commerce. There is a moon colony but no Internet. There’s the hint of a computer network to come…the idea that everything is in a computer somewhere and can be retrieved with enough money and know-how. In one scene, I couldn’t resist the temptation to reply, “Just Google it!” In Heinlein’s future, people do cook food in microwaves, although they aren’t called that.

I don’t fault old Science Fiction for not being able to predict the future. I’m just fascinated at what wasn’t even on the radar of the writers in the 1970s. It gives me hope. Maybe 2050 will take a sharp turn into a better future than we seem to be heading toward.

Lastly, I must say that I do find Robert Heinlein’s writing very readable. I read that he advised Niven-Pournelle on The Mote in God’s Eye and I can see that. I found Heinlein’s writing to be a level up from Niven-Pournelle. I’m not sure why. I think they had the better story. But reading I Will Fear No Evil I didn’t care how silly the story was. I felt I was having a conversation with Robert Heinlein and a very interesting one at that. He does have a way of insinuating his voice into one’s brain.

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