Last week Barack Obama went to Germany. He saw a bunch of German kids hanging around, jostling for lebensraum and he called out to them, “Hey, do you know what I am?”
“Wir wissen nicht,” replied the Deutschkinder. “Was sind Sie?”
“I am a citizen of the United States,” said Obama cheerfully.
The Deutschkinder shrugged and muttered, “Das ist nicht so speziell.”
“Oh, but that’s not all,” said Obama. “I am also a Citizen of the World!”
“Ach! Das ist wundervoll!” cried the German kids, now stirred to their very Blut und Boden. “Wir lieben das! Ja! Ja! Bürger der Welt! Bürger der Welt!”
Me, I was less impressed. “Citizen of the World?” How parochial. The Senator from Illinois should appropriate the title of Robert Heinlein’s 1957 science fiction classic, Citizen of the Galaxy. Now that’s audacity!
Not to nitpick, though. I’m grateful to the Junior Senator for reminding me of Citizen of the Galaxy. During a Heinlein kick many circuits of the sun ago, I devoured the entire vast output of the old hack. Enjoyed it all, too — the good, the bad and the cranky.
But the best of his novels, I always thought, were the “juveniles” he churned out in the fifties; satisfying space dramas like Podkayne of Mars, Red Planet, Space Cadet and Tunnel in the Sky. The corniness of the titles had put me off when I was a kid, so, unfortunately I missed reading them at the ideal age for Sci-Fi: twelve or so. I read them as an adult; a stupid adult, true, but adult nonetheless.
Fortunately, once past my snooty pre-teen years, I’ve always retained my ability to appreciate kid’s literature — from board books to “YA” novels, from Dr. Seuss to Zindel and Konigsburg, I enjoy them all; and not in spite of their being in the juvenile ghetto, but with admiration for the special discipline required for writing to a particular age group.
Science Fiction, especially — as evidenced by Heinlein’s best yarns — benefits from being consciously aimed at undeveloped minds. Sci-Fi is for kids. True, SF has achieved an almost universal acceptance as suitable adult fare, partly because of its perversion by the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises; by the endless Terminator and Alien retreads; but neither pretense to epic scope nor infusions of sex and violence will ever make it other than what it is fundamentally: a wide-eyed vision of Wonderful Other Worlds for people who haven’t yet seen much beyond their own living rooms. Which brings us back to Obama.