I just finished re-reading Robert A. Heinlein's Time Enough For Love, my first revisit to Heinlein's writing since my teens (nearly 40 years ago).
As a kid, I first was hooked by RAH's juveniles, progressed to Stranger In A Strange Land, and had a dim memory of TEFL as a truly evolved work on that level.
Boy, was I disappointed. And disenchanted. And finally, disturbed.
TEFL was a fascinating premise -- 2000 years of the life of the virtually immortal Lazarus Long, through all sorts of space cowboy settings -- but fails as a novel for several reasons, most notably in structure. It is huge and gassy with extended, self-indulgent musings on any number of RAH's own interests, mostly voiced by Lazarus Long, clearly a RAH alter ego. It's as if he strung together a collection of Lazarus Long short stories and decided it would be more commercial if it was a novel. It's not. That was disappointing.
The sexual content -- which forms the majority of the discursions and is the prime motivator of what plot exists in the book -- was at best somewhat distasteful. Into that category I put his treatment of women in general. While the juveniles portrayed women as ethical and intelligent (often smarter and more accomplished in academics and their careers than the men), they still remain very much male fantasies. This does not change in his adult books. In TEFL, he champions a type of female sexuality that is essentially male, or what a male would hope female sexuality should be. Every woman wants to be a baby factory, is constantly begging for male servicing, and will behave in a coy, childish way to get it, even resorting to trickery and blackmail. While in the 50's and pre-sexual-revolution '60's, this was a rare view of the power of female sexuality, on current reading, it seems hopelessly anachronistic. I suppose it wouldn't bother me if RAH didn't dwell on it so much, and in such a self-congratulatory way. "Look, Ma, I'm being modern!"
Then there are the young, twin female clones of Lazarus. They are explicitly males in female bodies. When Lazarus is "seduced" by them (a pedophile's dream!) it is a queasy mix of incest, pedophilia, and narcissism. But it's all so good and healthy, RAH reminds us, again and again and again. Defensively, it seems to me.
The polyamory reflected in the books is equally fantasized. He simply posits that humans evolved past petty jealousies and that's all that holds back group marriages or free love as an ideal. If only human love and bonding and psychology were that simplistic! There's nothing immoral or disturbing about polyamory, it's just not explored with any insight or realism.
The most disturbing aspects of the book are the constant refrains of incest and adult-child sexuality. RAH fills the pages with a bombastic, drumbeat repetition of that theme, to the point that I felt I was reading a pedophile's apologia. What seemed so daring when I first read this and other of his later works, on re-reading felt sordid because of this emphasis.
Oh, and he had some really regressive ideas about homosexuality, too. As a bisexual woman, and one who has seen the incredible damage incest and pedophilia has done in the lives of friends and loved ones, I was, finally, offended.
I mean no disrespect to RAH's legacy as a brilliant fantasist, or how he brought science fiction out of the pulp ghetto. Yet the later works insist on portraying indefensible treatment of women and children -- while stating explicitly in TEFL that "women and children first" was the basis for all successful human enterprise. The time of RAH's writing of his so-called mature works, unfortunately, gave him license to reveal what was really an obsession with some very adolescent, geeky, psychologically immature and even disturbing themes.
To put it in a nutshell, he was a sick fuck. So much for adolescent heroes.