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Big Damn Heroes


Raymond Coulombe

Heinlein received a lot of criticism about his heroes -they were too damn competent.  They had too many diverse skills.  There's a famous Heinlein quote about all the things a man should be able to do -everything from planning a war to changing a diaper.  It ends with "specialization is for insects."  One can't but help wonder if he had his critics in mind.  

Our current society has rewarded the specialist over the generalist.  Believe me, being a generalist myself, I know.  Darn few jobs out there require the skills of a generalist, and those that do, usually don't pay well.  Here's an  example:  Farmer -he has to know everything about plants, animals, equipment repair, business skills, weather forecasting, medical skills, and so on.  With all those skills, farmers still need city jobs to help pay the bills.

In your typical office building, who has the most diverse set of skills?  Often enough it's some guy in the basement with his name sewn on his shirt.  He can fix a leaky faucet, repair a sparking light fixture, paint, do carpentry, and maybe even weld.  The cubicle monkeys upstairs might as well be batteries plugged into the Matrix.  At one time, the janitor at my college had the highest IQ in the building.  The guy could do anything.  However, he hated college politics and liked having a job that he didn't have to take home with him.  Once in a while he'd leave math puzzles on the board to stump the professors.  It was his idea of fun.

It's not just guys in blue collar jobs that have problems with specialization.  There are plenty of white collar people who bounce from job to job, never climbing the corporate ladder.  They change fields all the time.  About the time they've acquired enough specialized knowledge to make some real money, they've gotten bored and are looking for something new.   

Maybe the generalist hero fell out of favor in fiction due to them being out of favor in real life.  Maybe it's because too many writers think writing is the only skill necessary to being a writer.  Trust me boys and girls, a writer needs to have a life -some knowledge on how things work.  If I have to read one more submission written by someone who doesn't know the first thing about how guns work . . .  anyway, I digress.  

Give me heroes.  Give me big damn heroes.  Heroes really should be skilled and highly competent.  That's why they are heroes.  I want the good guys to win and I want them to win by being darn clever.  Heinlein received a lot of grief about his clever talented heroes, but he didn't originate the idea.  No, it goes way back to the Greeks.  Just read  Homer's Odyssey.  Odysseus, or Ulysses as the Romans called him, was exactly that kind of super competent hero.  Heinlein didn't invent the skilled hero.  It's fundamental to the modern Western canon.   

I'd love to see more writers getting back to heroes we can look up to.  Heinlein's heroes influenced me growing up.  I wanted to be that guy who could do everything.  I'm still picking up diverse skills and knowledge. Nothing wrong with being the hero in your own life. Oh yeah, best part:  I did get the girl.

2009-08-24 11:41:44
Thank heavens someone finally said it's possible to be smart and yet not want to play all the stupid office games "sucessful" people play. People ask me, 'If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?' My response: 'If you're so rich, why aren't you smart?'

2009-08-19 05:27:06
Would you catergorize MacGyver as a generalist?? or a specialist??!!

2009-08-12 08:01:51
I don't write, but I have been a generalist all my 68 years. I survey, build, act, get involved in politics, cook, do child care, and "generally" enjoy life. No hero I, but truly enjoy like.

2009-08-05 19:18:58
Encouragement 101 Flash Gordon may not have been all that scientific but he was always the hero and even though he had set backs, he always won. S4

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