I remember reading a book or story in the late 60s or early 70s in which information control to a leader is controlled by "flappers" who lift the ear flaps of the leader when they want to allow them to hear certain things, thus controlling information flow to the leader.

"Gulliver's Travels" described flappers, but in a slightly different role.

It could have been a novel, a story in Analog, a children's book, or what we now call YA fiction. It was definitely on paper.

Can anyone help identify the source?


1 Answer 1


Could you be remembering the reference to flappers in Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. The book explicitly references Swift's story, though it mentions that on Earth the flapper system has evolved differently. It says:

Gulliver's journal is usually regarded by Terrans as a pack of lies composed by a sour churchman.  As may be, there can be no doubt that, at this time, the "flapper" system was widely used on the planet Earth and had been extended, refined, and multiplied until a Laputian would not have recognized it other than in spirit.


But at the time the Federation Ship Champion returned to Terra from Mars, the "flapper system" had been expanding for more than a century and had reached a stage of great intricacy, with many persons employed solely in carrying out its rituals.  The importance of a public personage could be estimated by the number of layers of flappers cutting him off from ready congress with the plebian mob.  They were not called "flappers," but were known as executive assistants, private secretaries, secretaries to private secretaries, press secretaries, receptionists, appointment clerks, et cetera.  In fact the titles could be anything - or (with some of the most puissant) no title at all, but they could all be identified as "flappers" by function: each one held arbitrary and concatenative veto over any attempted communication from the outside world to the Great Man who was the nominal superior of the flapper.

This web of intermediary officials surrounding every V.I.P. naturally caused to grow up a class of unofficials whose function it was to flap the ear of the Great Man without permission from the official flappers, doing so (usually) on social or pseudo-social occasions or (with the most successful) via back-door privileged access or unlisted telephone number.

  • 2
    That's it! What a weird way for me to misremember it. But this is definitely it
    – AI4QR
    Commented May 22 at 18:48
  • 7
    Since this is the answer, @AI4QR, be sure to click the check mark. That'll let others know that this has been resolved.
    – FreeMan
    Commented May 22 at 18:52
  • 3
    @AI4QR please click the tick mark next to my answer to mark it as accepted. Thanks :-) Commented May 23 at 7:14
  • I think Heinlein used the same terminology in Double Star, though I don't have a copy to check at the moment.
    – fectin
    Commented May 23 at 12:06
  • I had forgotten this, and maybe I should read the book again. I like the way Heinlein extends Swift's satire to the modern world.
    – Wastrel
    Commented May 23 at 14:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.