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A few weeks back, I was browsing Wikipedia for literary anniversaries, and came across this page of fiction set in 2015:
2015in fiction

My eye was caught by the presence of Heinlein's notorious 1971 novel, I Will Fear No Evil, which I had read as a teenager. Its protagonist is the aged billionaire Johann Sebastian Bach Smith, whose brain is transplanted from his own aging body into that of his beautiful secretary; her soul remains in place, cohabitating with her former boss, and they go on to have sex with everyone in sight. Why not, I thought, do a blog post comparing Heinlein's view of the world in 2015 with two other stories on that list, Arthur C. Clarke's "Earthlight" (the original 1951 story, not the 1955 novel which is set several centuries later) and Isaac Asimov's 1941 "Runaround" (the story in which the Three Laws of Robotics were first stated)?

Well, there are a couple of good reasons why not. The first is that "Runaround" has almost no background colour for the year 2015, except that there are two blokes and a bunch of robots stuck together on Mercury harvesting liquid metal from the pools on the perpetually sunward-facing side of the planet (Mercury's rotation period was not discovered until 1965). Apart from that it's not really very interesting.

The second is that the Heinlein novel is not actually set in 2015 at all, despite what Wikipedia says.

The evidence for this is pretty clear. Johann Sebastian Bach Smith is "nearly nintey-five" (up to p, 367) and then "ninety five years old" (from p. 398 onwards). If the book were set in 2015, that would mean that he had been born in 1920. But his grand-daughter - by his second marriage, no less - celebrated her eighth birthday in May 1960 (p. 188). Even by Heinlein's standards, that is improbably quick work. More concretely, Smith's elderly sidekick, Jake Solomon, finds that "Seventy-two is staring me in the face" (p.99) and also admits that "In nineteen-thirty-four I was barely out of diapers" (p. 363). By a process of simple addition, it seems likely that Heinlein thought of the book as being set in the first few years of this century rather than this year; someone who turns 72 in 2015 would have been born in 1943, with no memory of 1934.

Over on the Heinlein Society's site, David M. Silver has an essay on the book, pointing out the numerous resonances between the life of Johann Sebastian Bach Smith and that of his creator, who was born on 7 July 1907. I think that Silver is right and I hope I have added another resonance to his list: had Heinlein lived, he would have turned 95 in 2002. The intended setting of I Will Fear No Evil is not 2015, but thirteen years earlier. (This also fits Jake Solomon's statements, allowing for some poetic licence - he would have been born in 1930, and turned 4 in 1934.) I won't amend the Wikipedia page, because that would be Original Research, which is apparently Naughty. (Any Wikipedia user reading this should feel free to make the change, citing this blog post.)

I must add that I simply couldn't finish the book. It is too dreadfully bad. Just before the half-way point, I realised that I couldn't take any more, and used the Kindle search function to track down all the references to years and dates after page 250; and then I went on to read something else. (Clarke's "Earthlight" does have a bit more on the world of 2015, but you can't do a comparative article with only one point to compare.)

Comments

(Anonymous)
Jan. 3rd, 2015 08:25 am (UTC)
Yes. I had a conversation with a Wikipedia editor which nearly drove me mental where I tried to amend my own entry ( not written or proposed by me) to cute my own works - eg to prove I was an international expert in copyright. Oh no no. It had to be proven by my as my times tertiary sources anyone could have invented. This still utterly boggles me.
surliminal
Jan. 3rd, 2015 04:08 pm (UTC)
Sorry that was me.

I could also add that even when I was an enormous teen Heinlein fan - even read and re read Time Enough For Love - I couldn't get through IWFNE either.

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