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Thread: John Byrne - Our Robert Heinlein
01-16-2013, 10:00 AM #1
- Join Date
- May 2009
John Byrne - Our Robert Heinlein
John Byrne's The High Ways has its first issue published by IDW. A sci-fi procedural thriller, it's my favourite Byrne book for a long time. Principally because the voice is untempered by licence or audience or even nostalgia, and it is undeniably his.
But it also reminds me very much of Robert Heinlein. For two main reasons.
Firstly there is an attention to engineering detail in their work, and the practicalities of space travel. In books like Destination Moon, Heinlein set out just how a space race might work, or the practicalities of Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. Here, in High Ways, we get a lesson in the how space travel, gravity and extended periods of sleep would actually affect space opera. No faster-than-light drive, you want to get to Europa, it is taking you eight months, flying in a bolted together crate. There does seem an Alien and Aliens influence, but again, Heinlein was a central influence on those films as well.
And secondly, the politics. And I use that in a very wide sense.
Both authors emphasis the value of self reliance for pretty much everything in life, but also duty to society, to the species, as a whole. It's that classic mix of Ayn Rand and Karl Marx.
They stand as a strange breed of libertarian statist, valuing a strong moral government that takes tough decisions for everyone, especially when it comes to defending the country as a whole and one's duty to that cause. But also emphasising the importance of personal freedom - and taking responsibility for one's actions.
But accusations of being fascist are hard to splice with their use of gender and race, Byrne giving us the first gay Marvel superhero, transforming the Invisible Girl into the Invisible Woman, killing Guardian and replacing him with a woman in the role, and repeatedly giving black characters prominent, positive roles in his books. Heinlein did the same, often only revealing the race of a character later in his novels and repeatedly, even more notable at the time, creating strong female roles in his science fiction novels. But then both have received considerable criticism as well, whether that be Heinlein's future where all the lawyers and politicians are women because of their innate female nurturing qualities, or Byrne for his use of racial epithets when making intellectual points, or a famous observation about blonde latino women . Pinning either down to any one political viewpoint is hard and as a result, either author can be used as heroes or villains depending on your point of view, how selective you are, and the time of the day. Both also return to the concept of May-to-December relationships, both writing about a young girl who meets a grown man who will one day be her husband when she grows up. And, yes, this kind of thing happens a lot more than is comfortable. They also, depending on the expected age of the audience, like to get their characters naked, and into bed with each pretty sharpish.
Both recognised as extraordinary storytellers in their field, their work incredibly readable, even when explaining the most extraordinary of concepts. Both with a prodigious output, ahead of their peers. And, to some degree, both ostracised from the industry they spent their life in, considered mavericks and outsiders. I do wonder what would have happened if there had been a Robert Heinlein Forum in his day.
The High Ways appears from the first issue to be the most Heinleinish thing Byrne has created. But then, maybe he's always been heading in this direction. Enjoy.
Comics courtesy of Orbital Comics, London.
01-16-2013, 10:40 AM #2
- Join Date
- Nov 2009
- Connecticut, USA
Seems like the exact kind of book I've been looking for (I bleed Heinlein). Thanks for the article, Rich. I wouldn't have known about this/picked it up otherwise.
01-16-2013, 10:50 AM #3
I'll have to pick up this book. I love Heinlein and I usually love Byrne.
01-16-2013, 10:54 AM #4
01-16-2013, 10:56 AM #5
I did have a flick through it in my LCS this afternoon, but for someone reason put it back on the shelf. Looks okay, but I don't know if it's quite my thing.
01-16-2013, 02:36 PM #6
Not surprised that Byrne's doing this; he's always shown a penchant for SF in his work (putting things such as one of Niven's puppeteers in the background of an X-Men comic, for example), and the Negative Zone arc in his FF seemed to be his way of doing some SF stories that he'd been mulling around for a while. And, really, doing your own version of a Heinlein book is practically the training wheels for SF writers; both Charles Stross' Saturn's Children and John Scalzi's Old Man's War series are in their own way inspired by Heinlein, although they are both very different from RAH's work.
01-16-2013, 02:56 PM #7
...The main difference between RAH and Byrne? RAH was *never* a total spooge grenade to either his fans or his detractors. Granted, neither suffered unto fools, but when RAH had to be an asshole to someone being a jerk, he still graciously put proof to my decades-long claim that an asshole requires a bit of class in order to separate/elevate them from the jerks/trolls.
As for Scalzi...phhht. An obnoxious hack doing a bad lightbox swipe more than "being inspired by".-------
01-16-2013, 04:02 PM #8
I bought this!
It looks dense, maybe I'll have a chance to read it this afternoon. I thought the art looked great! Byrne is listed as the sole artist, his pencils are always fantastic and I thought the inks looked particularly good here.
01-16-2013, 04:09 PM #9
- Join Date
- Nov 2009
- Las Vegas, Nv
Can't wait to get and read this. Looks like some of Byrne's best work to date.
01-16-2013, 07:20 PM #10
I thought it was a solid first issue. Definitely a harder science sci fi story, unlike something like Saga which is a fantasy in space. I liked the meticulously-drawn space stations and fleets of ships. All the characters have distinct looks and voices, and the debut issue deftly introduces the reader to a half dozen or so characters and gets them off into space.