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Heinlein's Competent Man


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competent-man-quote_1.jpg

 

If you read much sci-fi, you'll run into the Competent Man theme.

 

Critics say the competent man is a stock character who can do anything perfectly, or at least exhibits a very wide range of abilities and knowledge, making him a jack of all trades.

 

Heinlein's major characters all seems to fit this mold.

 

The competent man differs from Mary Sue in that old Mary seems to go through the plot line with near magical good luck.

 

The competent man goes through the plot with smarts and cunning.

 

Is the competent man a variation on Mary Sue or is he simply a well rounded individual?

 

 

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Well, I can do all of that list except the last one (I can't fight efficiently). There's no requirement in that list that I be able to do all of them well...

 

I think the competent man becomes a Mary Sue if he's an expert at most or all of those things. Humans are not good at everything. We all have things we are good at and things we are bad at. As a group, we can generally find someone who is good at anything that's required, and others that are compentent, but not necessarily good, but we don't expect everyone to be good at any given task.

 

Having some knowledge of a broad range of things makes a person well rounded. Being an expert at all of them makes a person a freak...

Edited by Graeme
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Um... so the first thing that stood out to me about comparing the Competent Man to Mary Sue, is the naming of these two archetypes. Specifically that the "man" gets through life by cunning and skill, while the "woman" gets through life by luck. >.> I know that wasn't the goal of this particular discussion, but I thought it'd be an interesting point to bring up. 

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16 hours ago, Hudson Bartholomew said:

Um... so the first thing that stood out to me about comparing the Competent Man to Mary Sue, is the naming of these two archetypes. 

 

I didn't name either one. In fairness in most articles I've seen talking about the subject says: the competent man (or woman).

 

Lot's of competent women in sci-fi like Honor Harrington or Ripley from the Aliens franchise.

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4 hours ago, jamessavik said:

 

I didn't name either one. In fairness in most articles I've seen talking about the subject says: the competent man (or woman).

 

Lot's of competent women in sci-fi like Honor Harrington or Ripley from the Aliens franchise.

 

Oh, yes, I know you didn't name them. Wasn't trying to imply that at all :)

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Wow, James, I love the way you come up with iconic references to things from the past. 'Time Enough For Love' was the novel which made me think, more than any other Heinlin story, when I read it all those years ago.

 

I very much agree with Graeme's summation of the topic. With the huge growth in knowledge there are now just too many fields of expertise for anyone to be competent in them all. The days of the Renaissance Man are gone .

Edited by Palantir
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On 4/13/2017 at 4:22 PM, Palantir said:

I very much agree with Graeme's summation of the topic. With the huge growth in knowledge there are now just too many fields of expertise for anyone to be competent in them all. The days of the Renaissance Man are gone .

 

 

Au contraire! We need him now more than ever.

 

Maybe he can't paint like an old master but he can wire your house, fix your router, tune up your car, read its computer codes, write tight code and fix dinner.

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31 minutes ago, jamessavik said:

 

 

Au contraire! We need him now more than ever.

 

Maybe he can't paint like an old master but he can wire your house, fix your router, tune up your car, read its computer codes, write tight code and fix dinner.

My understanding of a Renaissance Man is someone who is expert in all the fields of knowledge.

 

I couldn't agree with you more that we need people with a broad range of skills and the knowledge to apply them diversely.

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On 4/10/2017 at 11:48 PM, Hudson Bartholomew said:

Um... so the first thing that stood out to me about comparing the Competent Man to Mary Sue, is the naming of these two archetypes. Specifically that the "man" gets through life by cunning and skill, while the "woman" gets through life by luck. >.> I know that wasn't the goal of this particular discussion, but I thought it'd be an interesting point to bring up. 

 

"Gary Sue" or "Marty Stu" are a few other options sometimes used for a male Mary Sue.

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