Water beds

Robert A. Heinlein

[hahyn-lahyn]

Robert Anson Heinlein (July 7, 1907 – May 8, 1988) was an American novelist and science fiction writer. Often called "the dean of science fiction writers", he is one of the most popular, influential, and controversial authors of "hard science fiction". He set a high standard for science and engineering plausibility and helped to raise the genre's standards of literary quality. He was the first writer to break into mainstream, general magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, in the late 1940s, with unvarnished science fiction. He was among the first authors of bestselling, novel-length science fiction in the modern, mass-market era. For many years, Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke were known as the "Big Three" of science fiction.

Heinlein was a remarkable writer of science-fiction short stories, and he was one of a group of writers who were groomed in their writing by John W. Campbell, Jr. the editor of Astounding magazine - along with the likes of Isaac Asimov.

Within the framework of his science fiction stories Heinlein repeatedly integrated recognizable social themes: The importance of individual liberty and self-reliance, the obligation individuals owe to their societies, the influence of organized religion on culture and government, and the tendency of society to repress non-conformist thought. He also examined the relationship between physical and emotional love, explored various unorthodox family structures, and speculated on the influence of space travel on human cultural practices. His iconoclastic approach to these themes led to wildly divergent perceptions of his works and attempts to place mutually contradictory labels on his work. For example, his 1959 novel Starship Troopers was regarded by some as advocating militarism and to some extent fascism, although many passages in the book disparage the inflexibility and stupidity of a purely militaristic mindset. By contrast, his 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land put him in the unexpected role of a pied piper of the sexual revolution, and of the counterculture, and through this book he was credited with popularizing the notion of polyamory, or responsible nonmonogamy.

Heinlein won Hugo Awards for four of his novels — Double Star, Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. In addition, fifty years after publication, three of his works were awarded "Retro Hugos" — awards given retrospectively for years in which Hugo Awards had not been awarded. He also won the first Grand Master Award given by the Science Fiction Writers of America for his lifetime achievement.

After his death, his wife Virginia Heinlein issued a compilation of Heinlein's correspondence and notes into a somewhat autobiographical examination of his career, published in 1989 under the title Grumbles from the Grave.

Heinlein's archive is housed by the Special Collections department of the University Library of the University of California at Santa Cruz. The collection includes manuscript drafts, correspondence, photographs and artifacts. A substantial portion of the archive has been digitized and is available online through the Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Archives

In his fiction, Heinlein coined words that have become part of the English language, including "grok" and "waldo", and popularized the word "TANSTAAFL".

Life

Heinlein (pronounced Hine-line) was born on July 7, 1907, to Rex Ivar and Bam Lyle Heinlein, in Butler, Missouri. His childhood was spent in Kansas City, Missouri. The outlook and values of this time and place (in his own words, "The Bible Belt") had a definite influence on his fiction, especially his later works, as experiences from his childhood were heavily drawn upon both for setting and for cultural atmosphere in Time Enough for Love and To Sail Beyond the Sunset, among others. However, he would later break with many of its values and mores — especially those concerning morality as it applies to issues such as religion and sexuality — both in his writing and in his personal life.

The military was the second great influence on Heinlein; throughout his life, he strongly believed in loyalty, leadership, and other ideals associated with the military. Heinlein graduated from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1929, and served as an officer in the United States Navy. He served on the new aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) in 1931. During that time, Heinlein worked on radio communications, then in its nascent phase, with the carrier's airplanes. The Captain of the warship was Ernest J. King who was later to serve as the Chief of Naval Operations during the Second World War. Heinlein was frequently interviewed during his later years by military historians on Capt. King and his services as the commander of the U.S. Navy's first modern aircraft carrier. Heinlein also served aboard the destroyer USS Roper (DD-147) in 1933–1934, reaching the rank of Lieutenant.

In 1929, he married Eleanor Curry of Kansas City in Los Angeles, Calif. but this marriage lasted only about about a year. He soon married his second wife, Leslyn Macdonald, in 1932. Leslyn was a political radical, and Isaac Asimov recalled that Heinlein later told him that during these years, he was, like her, "a flaming liberal".

In 1934, Heinlein was discharged from the Navy due to pulmonary tuberculosis. During a lengthy hospitalization, he developed the concept of the waterbed, and his detailed descriptions of it in three of his books constituted sufficient prior art to prevent a US patent on water beds when they became common in the 1960s. After his discharge, Heinlein attended a few weeks of graduate classes in mathematics and physics in the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), but he soon quit either because of his health or from a desire to enter politics.

Heinlein supported himself at several occupations, including real estate sales and silver mining, but for some years found money in short supply. Heinlein was active in Upton Sinclair's socialist End Poverty in California movement in the early 1930s. When Sinclair gained the Democratic nomination for Governor of California in 1934, Heinlein worked actively in the campaign. Heinlein himself ran for the California State Assembly in 1938, but he was unsuccessful. In later years, Heinlein kept his socialist past secret, writing about his political experiences coyly, and usually under the veil of fictionalization. In 1954, he wrote, "...many Americans ... were asserting loudly that McCarthy had created a 'reign of terror'. Are you terrified? I am not, and I have in my background much political activity well to the left of Senator McCarthy's position.

While not destitute after the campaign — he had a small disability pension from the Navy — Heinlein turned to writing in order to pay off his mortgage and in 1939, his first published story, "Life-Line", was printed in Astounding Science-Fiction magazine. He was quickly acknowledged as a leader of the new movement toward "social" science fiction. He was the guest of honor at Denvention, the 1941 Worldcon, held in Denver. During World War II, he did aeronautical engineering for the U.S. Navy, also recruiting Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp to work at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in Pennsylvania. As the war wound down in 1945, Heinlein began re-evaluating his career. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, along with the outbreak of the Cold War, galvanized him to write nonfiction on political topics. In addition, he wanted to break into better-paying markets. He published four influential short stories for The Saturday Evening Post magazine, leading off, in February 1947, with "The Green Hills of Earth". That made him the first science fiction writer to break out of the "pulp ghetto". In 1950, the movie Destination Moon — the documentary-like film for which he had written the story and scenario, co-written the script, and invented many of the effects — won an Academy Award for special effects. Also, he embarked on a series of juvenile S.F. novels for the Charles Scribner's Sons publishing company that was to last through the 1950s (at the rate of one book per year).

Heinlein and his second wife divorced in 1947, and the following year he married Virginia "Ginny" Gerstenfeld, to whom he would remain married until his death forty years later. Shortly thereafter, the Heinlein couple moved to Colorado, but in 1965 her health was affected by the altitude. They moved to Santa Cruz, California while constructing a new residence in the adjacent Bonny Doon, California.

Ginny undoubtedly served as a model for many of his intelligent, fiercely independent female characters. In 1953–1954, the Heinleins voyaged around the world (mostly via ocean liner and cargo liner), which Heinlein described in Tramp Royale, and which also provided background material for science fiction novels set aboard spaceships on long voyages, such as Podkayne of Mars and Farmer in the Sky. Ginny acted as the first reader of his manuscripts, and she was reputed to be a better engineer than Heinlein himself.

Isaac Asimov believed that Heinlein made a drastic swing to the right politically at the same time he married Ginny. The couple formed the small "Patrick Henry League" in 1958, and they worked in the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign, and Tramp Royale contains two lengthy apologias for the McCarthy hearings. Yet during this period Heinlein wrote Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), which is generally considered to advance very liberal themes, and in fact became the unofficial "bible of the hippie movement" in the late 1960s.

The Heinlein juveniles, S.F. novels for young adults, are also considered to be an important part of his output. He had used topical materials throughout his series, but in 1959, his Starship Troopers was considered by the Scribner's editorial staff to be too controversial for their prestige line, and they rejected it. Heinlein found a publisher for it elsewhere. He felt himself released from the constraints of writing novels for children, and he began to write "my own stuff, my own way", and he wrote a series of challenging books that redrew the boundaries of science fiction, including his best-known work, Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), and also The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966). Beginning in 1970, however, Heinlein had a series of health crises, broken by strenuous periods of activity in his hobby of stonemasonry. (In a private correspondence, he referred to that as his "usual and favorite occupation between books".) The decade began with a life-threatening attack of peritonitis, recovery from which required more than two years. As soon as he was well enough to write again, he began work on Time Enough for Love (1973), which introduced many of the themes found in his later fiction.

In the mid-1970s, Heinlein wrote two articles for the Britannica Compton Yearbook. He and Ginny crisscrossed the country helping to reorganize blood donation in the United States, and he was the guest of honor at the Worldcon for the third time at MidAmeriCon Kansas City, Missouri, in 1976. While vacationing in Tahiti in early 1978, he suffered a transient ischemic attack. Over the next few months, he became more and more exhausted, and his health again began to decline. The problem was determined to be a blocked carotid artery, and then he had one of the earliest known carotid bypass operations to correct it. Heinlein and Virginia had been smokers and smoking appears often in his fiction, as well as fictitious strikable self-lighting cigarettes.

Asked to appear before a Joint Committee of the U.S. House and Senate that year, he testified on his belief that spin-offs from space technology were benefiting the infirm and the elderly. His surgical treatment re-energized Heinlein, and he wrote five novels from 1980 until he died in his sleep from emphysema and heart failure on May 8, 1988.

At that time, he had been putting together the early notes for another "World as Myth" novel. Several of his other works have been published posthumously.

Works

Series

Over the course of his career Heinlein wrote three somewhat overlapping series.

Early work, 1939–1958

The first novel that Heinlein wrote, For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs (1939), did not see print during his lifetime, but Robert James later tracked down the manuscript and it was published in 2003. Widely regarded as a failure as a novel, being little more than a disguised lecture on Heinlein's social theories, it is intriguing as a window into the development of Heinlein's radical ideas about man as a social animal, including his interest in free love. The root of many themes found in his later stories can be found in this book. It also contained much material that could be considered background for his other novels, including a detailed description of the protagonist's treatment to avoid being forced to enter Coventry.

It appears that Heinlein at least attempted to live in a manner consistent with these ideals, even in the 1930s, and had an open relationship in his marriage to his second wife, Leslyn. He was also a nudist; nudism and body taboos are frequently discussed in his work. At the height of the cold war, he built a bomb shelter under his house, like the one featured in Farnham's Freehold.

After For Us, The Living, Heinlein began selling (to magazines) first short stories, then novels, set in a Future History, complete with a time line of significant political, cultural, and technological changes. A chart of the future history was published in the May 1941 issue of Astounding. Over time, Heinlein wrote many novels and short stories that deviated freely from the Future History on some points, while maintaining consistency in some other areas. The Future History was also eventually overtaken by actual events. These discrepancies were explained, after a fashion, in his later World as Myth stories.

Heinlein's first novel published as a book, Rocket Ship Galileo, was initially rejected because going to the moon was considered too far out, but he soon found a publisher, Scribner's, that began publishing a Heinlein juvenile once a year for the Christmas season. Eight of these books were illustrated by Clifford Geary in a distinctive white-on-black scratchboard style. Some representative novels of this type are Have Space Suit—Will Travel, Farmer in the Sky, and Starman Jones. Many of these were first published in serial form under other titles, e.g., Farmer in the Sky was published as "Satellite Scout" in the Boy Scout magazine Boys' Life. There has been speculation that Heinlein's intense obsession with his privacy was due at least in part to the apparent contradiction between his unconventional private life and his career as an author of books for children, but For Us, The Living also explicitly discusses the political importance Heinlein attached to privacy as a matter of principle.

The novels that Heinlein wrote for a young audience are commonly referred to as "the Heinlein juveniles", and they feature a mixture of adolescent and adult themes. Many of the issues that he takes on in these books have to do with the kinds of problems that adolescents experience. His protagonists are usually very intelligent teenagers who have to make their way in the adult society they see around them. On the surface, they are simple tales of adventure, achievement, and dealing with stupid teachers and jealous peers. However, Heinlein was a vocal proponent of the notion that juvenile readers were far more sophisticated and able to handle complex or difficult themes than most people realized. Thus even his juvenile stories often had a maturity to them that made them readable for adults. Red Planet, for example, portrays some very subversive themes, including a revolution in which young students are involved; his editor demanded substantial changes in this book's discussion of topics such as the use of weapons by children and the misidentified gender of the Martian character. Heinlein was always aware of the editorial limitations put in place by the editors of his novels and stories, and while he observed those restrictions on the surface, was often successful in introducing ideas not often seen in other authors' juvenile SF.

In 1957, James Blish wrote that one reason for Heinlein's success "has been the high grade of machinery which goes, today as always, into his story-telling. Heinlein seems to have known from the beginning, as if instinctively, technical lessons about fiction which other writers must learn the hard way (or often enough, never learn). He does not always operate the machinery to the best advantage, but he always seems to be aware of it.

1959–1960: the seminal years

Heinlein decisively ended his juvenile novels with Starship Troopers (1959) likely the most controversial work in science fiction and his personal riposte to leftists calling for President Dwight D. Eisenhower to stop nuclear testing in 1958. "[Heinlein] called for the formation of the Patrick Henry League and spent the next several weeks writing and publishing his own polemic that lambasted 'Communist-line goals concealed in idealistic-sounding nonsense' and urged Americans not to become 'soft-headed'. ... Critics labeled Heinlein everything from a Nazi to a racist."

"'The "Patrick Henry" ad shocked 'em,' he wrote many years later. "Starship Troopers outraged 'em."

A coming-of-age story about duty, citizenship, and the role of the military in a free society, Starship Troopers resonates with modern concerns. The book proposes that suffrage be given only to those who have earned it through military or other devoted social service, with no conscription. The choice for the form of the devoted service was up to the government, with military service being a strong possibility. The point was that you placed your wellbeing at the hands of the government in return for a voice in that government. Psychosocially, you were invested in the government, just as one invests in a business. Further, as long as you were actively in whatever service you found yourself in (career military, for example) your suffrage did not apply -- only after you were out of the service did you gain the franchise.

Middle period work, 1961–1973

From about 1961 (Stranger in a Strange Land) to 1973 (Time Enough for Love), Heinlein wrote some of his more libertarian novels (in terms of sexual mores). His work during this period explored his most important themes, such as individualism, libertarianism, and free expression of physical and emotional love. He did not publish Stranger in a Strange Land until some time after it was written, and the themes of free love and radical individualism are prominently featured in his long-unpublished first novel, For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress tells of a war of independence of Lunar colonies, with significant commentary regarding the threat posed by any government — including a republic — to individual freedom. Although Heinlein had previously written a few short stories in the fantasy genre, during this period he wrote his first fantasy novel, Glory Road, and in Stranger in a Strange Land and I Will Fear No Evil, he began to mix hard science with fantasy, mysticism, and satire of organized religion. Critics William H. Patterson, Jr., and Andrew Thornton believe that this is simply an expression of Heinlein's longstanding philosophical opposition to positivism. Heinlein stated that he was influenced by James Branch Cabell in taking this new literary direction. The next-to-last novel of this period, I Will Fear No Evil, is according to critic James Gifford "almost universally regarded as a literary failure", and he attributes its shortcomings to Heinlein's near-death from peritonitis.

Later work, 1980–1987

After a seven-year hiatus brought on by poor health, Heinlein produced five new novels in the period from 1980 (The Number of the Beast) to 1987 (To Sail Beyond the Sunset). These books have a thread of common characters and time and place. They most explicitly communicated Heinlein's philosophies and beliefs, and many long, didactic passages of dialog and exposition deal with government, sex, and religion. These novels are controversial among his readers, and some critics have written about them very negatively. Heinlein's four Hugo awards were all for books written before this period.

Some of these books, such as The Number of the Beast and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, start out as tightly constructed adventure stories, but transform into philosophical fantasias at the end. It is a matter of opinion whether this demonstrates a lack of attention to craftsmanship or a conscious effort to expand the boundaries of science fiction, either into a kind of magical realism, continuing the process of literary exploration that he had begun with Stranger in a Strange Land, or into a kind of literary metaphor of quantum science (The Number of the Beast dealing with the Observer problem, and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls being a direct reference to the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment). Most of the novels from this period are recognized by critics as forming an offshoot from the Future History series, and referred to by the term World as Myth.

The tendency toward authorial self-reference begun in Stranger in a Strange Land and Time Enough For Love becomes even more evident in novels such as The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, whose first-person protagonist is a disabled military veteran who becomes a writer, and finds love with a female character who, like all of Heinlein's strong female characters, appears to be based closely on his wife Ginny.

The 1982 novel Friday, a more conventional adventure story (borrowing a character and backstory from the earlier short story "Gulf", also containing suggestions of connection to The Puppet Masters) continued a Heinlein theme of expecting what he saw as the continued disintegration of Earth's society, to the point where the title character is strongly encouraged to seek a new life off-planet. It concludes with a traditional Heinlein note, as in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" or "Time Enough for Love" that freedom is to be found on the frontiers.

The 1984 novel Job: A Comedy of Justice is a sharp satire of organized religion.

Posthumous publications

Several Heinlein works have been published since his death, including the aforementioned For Us, The Living as well as 1989's Grumbles from the Grave, a collection of letters between Heinlein and his editors and agent, 1992's Tramp Royale, a travelogue of a southern hemisphere tour the Heinleins took in the 1950s, Take Back Your Government, a how-to book about participatory democracy written in 1946, and a tribute volume called Requiem: Collected Works and Tributes to the Grand Master, containing some additional short works previously unpublished in book form. Off the Main Sequence, published in 2005, includes three short stories never before collected in any Heinlein book (Heinlein called them "stinkeroos".)

Spider Robinson, a colleague, friend, and admirer of Heinlein, wrote Variable Star, based on an outline and notes for a juvenile novel that Heinlein prepared in 1955. The novel was published as a collaboration, with Heinlein's name above Robinson's on the cover, in 2006.

Ideas, themes, and influence

Politics

Heinlein's writing may appear to oscillate wildly across the political spectrum. His first novel, For Us, The Living, consists largely of speeches advocating the Social Credit system, and the early story "Misfit" deals with an organization that seems to be Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps translated into outer space. While Stranger in a Strange Land was embraced by the hippie counterculture, and Glory Road can be read as an antiwar piece, some have deemed Starship Troopers militaristic, and To Sail Beyond the Sunset, published during the Reagan administration, stridently right-wing. To contrast this, the presence of the "CCC" in Misfit does not constitute advocation, and the military of Starship Troopers does not control the government but the other way around -- Heinlein is most specific about that during the didactic pieces. Often critics take one aspect of a postulated society or commentary about some aspect of society, and ignore the full context in which it was presented.

Certain threads in Heinlein's political thought remain inarguably constant. A strong current of libertarianism runs through his work, as expressed most clearly in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. His early juvenile novels often contain a surprisingly strong anti-authority message, as in his first published novel Rocket Ship Galileo, which has a group of boys blasting off in a rocket ship in defiance of a court order. A similar defiance of a court order to take a moon trip takes place in the short story "Requiem". In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, the unjust Lunar Authority that controls the lunar colony is usually referred to simply as "Authority" which points to a clear interpretation of the book as a parable for the evils of authority in general, rather than the evils of one particular authority. The book's own theme echoing the American Revolution as a defiance of unrepresentational "authority-in-absentia" also highlights this.

Heinlein was opposed to any encroachment of religion into government; he pilloried organized religion in Job: A Comedy of Justice, and, with more subtlety and ambivalence, in Stranger in a Strange Land. His future history includes a period called the Interregnum, in which a backwoods revivalist becomes dictator of the United States; Revolt in 2100 depicts a revolutionary underground overthrowing that religious dictatorship. Positive descriptions of the military (Between Planets, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Red Planet, Starship Troopers) tend to emphasize the individual actions of volunteers in the spirit of the Minutemen of colonial America. Conscription and the military as an extension of the government are portrayed in Time Enough for Love, Glory Road, and Starship Troopers as being poor substitutes for the volunteers who, ideally, should be defending a free society.

To those on the right, Heinlein's ardent anti-communism during the Cold War era might appear to contradict his earlier efforts in the socialist EPIC and Social Credit movements; however, it should be noted that both the Socialist Party and the Communist Party were very active during the 1930s, and the distinction between socialism and Soviet communism was well understood by those on the left. Heinlein spelled out his strong concerns regarding communism in a number of non-fiction pieces, including "Who Are the Heirs of Patrick Henry?", an anti-communist polemic published as a newspaper advertisement in 1958; and articles such as "Pravda Means Truth" and "Inside Intourist", in which he recounted his visit to the USSR and advised Western readers on how to evade official supervision on such a trip.

Many of Heinlein's stories explicitly spell out a view of history that could be compared to Marx's: social structures are dictated by the materialistic environment. Heinlein would perhaps have been more comfortable with a comparison with Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis. In Red Planet, Doctor MacRae links attempts at gun control to the increase in population density on Mars. (This discussion was edited out of the original version of the book at the insistence of the publisher.) In Farmer in the Sky, overpopulation of Earth has led to hunger, and emigration to Ganymede provides a "life insurance policy" for the species as a whole; Heinlein puts a lecture in the mouth of one of his characters toward the end of the book in which it is explained that the mathematical logic of Malthusianism can lead only to disaster for the home planet. A subplot in Time Enough for Love involves demands by farmers upon Lazarus Long's bank, which Heinlein portrays as the inevitable tendency of a pioneer society evolving into a more dense (and, by implication, more decadent and less free) society. This episode is an interesting example of Heinlein's tendency (in opposition to Marx) to view history as cyclical rather than progressive.

Race

Heinlein grew up in the era of racial segregation in the United States and wrote some of his most influential fiction at the height of the US civil rights movement. His early juveniles were very much ahead of their time both in their explicit rejection of racism and in their inclusion of non-white protagonists — in the context of science fiction before the 1960s, the mere existence of dark-skinned characters was a remarkable novelty, with green occurring more often than brown. For example, his second juvenile, the 1948 Space Cadet, explicitly uses aliens as a metaphor for human racial minorities: "That's just race prejudice. A Venerian is easier to like than a man." "...that's not fair ... Matt hasn't got any race prejudice. .. Take Lieutenant Peters — did it make any difference to us that he's as black as the ace of spades?" In this example, as in books written throughout his career, Heinlein challenges his readers' possible racial stereotypes by introducing a strong, sympathetic character, only to reveal much later that he is of African descent. This also occurs in, e.g., The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, Tunnel in the Sky and Friday; in several cases, the covers of the books show characters as being light-skinned, when in fact the text states, or at least implies, that they are dark-skinned or of African descent. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and Podkayne of Mars both contain incidents of racial prejudice or injustice against their protagonists. Heinlein repeatedly denounced racism in his non-fiction works, including numerous examples in Expanded Universe.

Race was a central theme in some of Heinlein's fiction. The most prominent example is Farnham's Freehold, which casts a white family into a future in which white people are the slaves of black rulers. In the 1941 novel Sixth Column (also known as The Day After Tomorrow), a resistance movement defends itself against an invasion by an Asian fascist state (the "Pan-Asians") using a "super-science" technology that allows ray weapons to be tuned to specific races. The idea for the story was pushed on Heinlein by editor John W. Campbell, and Heinlein wrote later that he had "had to reslant it to remove racist aspects of the original story line" and that he did not "consider it to be an artistic success"; the reslanting may have been another instance of Heinlein’s subtle inclusion of non-white sympathetic characters. Sixth Column concentrates more on the Japanese, and was first serialized in 1941, the year of the Pearl Harbor attack, although it was not published in book form until 1949, the year of the revolution in China. Tunnel in the Sky and Farmer in the Sky were both written after the revolution. The protagonist in Starship Troopers is Filipino, and "Tiger" Kondo in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls is a cameo appearance by Yoji Kondo, a NASA scientist of Heinlein's acquaintance who also edited the tribute volume Requiem. The protagonist in Between Planets is assisted by a Chinese restaurant owner, a major character in the book. In The Star Beast, a harried African bureaucrat is sympathetically portrayed as the behind-the-scenes master of the world government's foreign policy, while several other (presumably white) officials are portrayed variously as misguided, foolish, or well-meaning but parochial and prejudiced.

Some of the alien species in Heinlein's fiction can be interpreted in terms of an allegorical representation of human ethnic groups. Double Star, Red Planet, and Stranger in a Strange Land all deal with tolerance and understanding between humans and Martians. Several of his stories, such as "Jerry Was a Man", The Star Beast, and Red Planet, involve the idea of non-humans who are incorrectly judged as being less than human. Although it has been suggested that the strongly hierarchical and anti-individualistic "bugs" in Starship Troopers were meant to represent the Chinese or Japanese, Heinlein wrote the book in response to calls for the unilateral ending of nuclear testing by the United States, so it is more likely that they were intended to represent communists. Indeed, Heinlein suggests in the book that the bugs are a good example of communism being something that humans cannot adhere successfully to, since humans are of individual minds, whereas the bugs, being a collective, can all contribute to the whole without consideration of individual desire. The slugs in The Puppet Masters are likewise explicitly and repeatedly identified as metaphors for communism. A problem with interpreting aliens as stand-ins for races of Homo sapiens is that Heinlein's aliens generally occupy an entirely different mental world than humans. For example, an alien race depicted in Methuselah's Children, the Jockaira, are sentient domesticated animals ruled by a second, godlike species. In his early juvenile fiction, the Martians and Venerians are usually depicted as ancient, wise races who seldom deign to interfere in human affairs.

Individualism and self-determination

Many of Heinlein's novels are stories of revolts against political oppression, for example:

  • Residents of a lunar penal colony, aided by a self-aware computer, rebel against the Warden and Lunar Authority (and eventually Earth) in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.
  • Colonists rebel against Earth in Between Planets and Red Planet, and in the back story to Podkayne of Mars
  • A break—implicitly of a revolutionary nature—between Earth and colonial Ganymede is predicted in Farmer in the Sky. The visiting Earth official who makes the prediction announces that he will be staying with the colony.
  • Secularists overthrow a religious dictatorship in "If This Goes On—".
  • A group of soldiers take on the mantle of power after the governments of the world break down as part of the back story in Starship Troopers.

But in keeping with his belief in individualism, his work for adults — and sometimes even his work for juveniles — often portrays both the oppressors and the oppressed with considerable ambiguity. In titles such as Double Star and Glory Road, a monarch is depicted positively, and in The Star Beast, a publicity-shy bureaucrat is sympathetically portrayed as the behind-the-scenes controller of the planetary government's foreign relations — while his boss, a career politician, is portrayed as a fool. In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, prerevolutionary life under the Lunar Authority is portrayed as a kind of anarchist or libertarian utopia; projections of economic disaster are the true (and secret) justification for the revolution, which brings with it the evils of republican government. Novels such as Stranger in a Strange Land and Friday revolve around individual rebellions against oppression by society rather than by government. The common thread, then, is the struggle for self-determination of individuals, rather than of nations. However, many of Heinlein's stories revolve around the protagonist's duty (which may be to a nation or to a stray kitten), and a common theme is the character's free choice as to whether to make a self-sacrificing decision.

Heinlein believed that individualism did not go hand-in-hand with ignorance. He believed that an appropriate level of adult competence was achieved through a wide-ranging education, whether this occurred in a classroom or not (as in Citizen of the Galaxy). In his juvenile novels, more than once a character looks with disdain at a student's choice of classwork, saying "Why didn't you study something useful?" In Time Enough For Love, Lazarus Long gives a long list of capabilities that anyone should have, concluding, "Specialization is for insects."

The ability of the individual to create himself is explored deeply in stories such as I Will Fear No Evil, "All You Zombies—", and "By His Bootstraps". We are invited to wonder, what would humanity be if we shaped customs to benefit us, and not the other way around? In Heinlein's view, as outlined in For Us, The Living, humanity would not only be happier, but perceptually, behaviorally, and morally aligned with reality.

Sexual liberation

For Heinlein, personal liberation included sexual liberation, and free love was a major subject of his writing starting from the 1939 For Us, The Living. Beyond This Horizon (1942) cleverly subverts traditional gender roles in a scene in which the protagonist demonstrates his archaic gunpowder gun for his friend and discusses how useful it would be in dueling — after which the discussion turns to the shade of his nail polish. "All You Zombies—" (1959) is the story of a person who undergoes sex reassignment therapy, goes back in time, has sex with herself, and gives birth to herself.

Sexual freedom and the elimination of sexual jealousy are a major theme of Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), in which the progressive minded yet culturally canalized reporter, Ben Caxton, acts as a dramatic foil for the less parochial characters, Jubal Harshaw and Mike. Paralleling Ben's gradual philosophical awakening, the nurse Gillian Boardman learns to embrace her innate tendency toward exhibitionism and to be more accepting of other people's sexuality (e.g., Duke's fondness for pornography). Stranger's treatment of homosexuality is ambiguous. As discussed in more detail in the book's Wikipedia article, two negative references to homosexuality have been interpreted by some readers as being homophobic, but both deal with Jill's hang-ups, and one is a discussion of Jill's thoughts. It is therefore unclear if they reflect Heinlein's own point of view. In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, homosexuality is ill-regarded, but accepted as necessary, in an overwhelmingly male society, by the book's point-of-view character. In contrast, homosexuality is regarded with approval — even gusto — in books such as 1970s I Will Fear No Evil, which posits the social recognition of six innate genders, consisting of all possible combinations of male and female, with straight, gay, and bisexual. In The Number of the Beast, a male character discusses unsuccessful homosexual experimentation as a teenager, eventually stating that, while his previous experimentation had failed, if his friend and son-in-law Zeb Carter was to display a sexual interest in him, he would do his best to enjoy the experience and make Zeb feel as if he had desired it all along.

In later books, Heinlein dealt with incest and the sexual nature of children. In Time Enough For Love, Lazarus Long uses genetic arguments to initially dissuade a brother and sister he has adopted from sexual experimentation with each other, but he later arranges for them to be married, having discovered that they (in an extremely rare but scientifically possible circumstance) are not brother and sister on a genetic level; he also consummates his strong sexual attraction to his own mother, whom he goes back in time to see again. In some of Heinlein's books, To Sail Beyond the Sunset, for instance, sexual urges between daughters and fathers are exemplified and briefly discussed on several occasions. Later in the same book, the protagonist/narrator (Maureen Johnson) discovers that her two youngest children are engaged in heterosexual incest. After failing to dissuade them from the relationship, she forcibly returns the two to their father, and never mentions them again. The protagonist of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls recalls a homosexual experience with a Boy Scouts leader, which he didn't find unpleasant. In Heinlein's treatment of the possibility of sex between adults and adolescents, some readers may feel that he dodges many of the valid reasons for the taboo by portraying the sexual attractions or actual sex as taking place only between Nietzschean supermen, who are so enlightened that they can avoid all the ethical and emotional pitfalls. Also, the individuals involved in almost all cases are fully mature (if not "overmature", as in centuries-old), with stable personalities. The question of incest at this point, in Heinlein's characterizations, is more one of genetic compatibility and progeny issues than morality.

Arguably, Heinlein's treatment of female characters provides an example of a sexually liberated attitude, working against generally accepted stereotypes. Beginning with For Us, the Living, Heinlein's female characters of all ages were generally competent, intelligent, courageous, powerful, and in control of their lives and situations to the extent circumstances permitted. Those few of his female characters who are weak or helpless are held in contempt by other characters (including other females). Yet even the strongest of these characters (Podkayne of Mars and Star in Glory Road are examples) nonetheless suggest that they are willing to submit to physical punishment or control from stronger male figures.

In other characters, Heinlein also incorporated elements of the mid-twentieth century female stereotype in certain characters. In Double Star, for example, the secretary, Penny, while smart and competent, allows her emotions to affect her work — and eventually fulfills the dream of many Fifties secretaries by marrying her boss. Elspeth, in Starman Jones, pretends to be less intelligent than she is and permits Max to "teach" her three-dimensional chess (of which she is a champion) in order to have a better chance to catch his romantic interest. A character in Citizen of the Galaxy similarly allows Thorby to "teach" her mathematics (despite the fact, unknown to Thorby, that she has taught advanced mathematics) for a similar purpose. However, many of the juveniles feature intelligent young women who help save the day (from The Star Beast to Between Planets) — although again most are stereotypically portrayed by being romantically inclined towards the protagonists.

Gary Westfahl points out that "Heinlein is a problematic case for feminists; on the one hand, his works often feature strong female characters and vigorous statements that women are equal to or even superior to men; but these characters and statements often reflect hopelessly stereotypical attitudes about typical female attributes. It is disconcerting, for example, that in Expanded Universe Heinlein calls for a society where all lawyers and politicians are women, essentially on the grounds that they possess a mysterious feminine practicality that men cannot duplicate."

Philosophy

In To Sail Beyond the Sunset, Heinlein has the main character, Maureen, state that the purpose of metaphysics is to ask questions: Why are we here? Where are we going after we die? (and so on), and that "you are not allowed to answer the questions". Asking the questions is the point for metaphysics, but answering them is not, because once you answer them, you cross the line into religion. Maureen does not state a reason for this; she simply remarks that such questions are "beautiful" but lack answers. Maureen's son/lover Lazarus Long makes a related remark in Time Enough For Love. In order for us to answer the "big questions" about the universe, Lazarus states at one point, it would be necessary to stand outside the universe.

During the 1930s and 1940s, Heinlein was deeply interested in Alfred Korzybski's General Semantics and attended a number of seminars on the subject. His views on epistemology seem to have flowed from that interest, and his fictional characters continue to express Korzybskian views to the very end of his writing career. Many of his stories, such as "Gulf", "If This Goes On—", and Stranger in a Strange Land, depend strongly on the premise, extrapolated from the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, that by using a correctly designed language, one can liberate oneself mentally, or even become a superman. He was also strongly affected by the religious philosopher P. D. Ouspensky. Freudianism and psychoanalysis were at the height of their influence during the peak of Heinlein's career, and stories such as Time for the Stars indulged in psychoanalysis. However, he was skeptical about Freudianism, especially after a struggle with an editor who insisted on reading Freudian sexual symbolism into his juvenile novels. Heinlein was fascinated by the social credit movement in the 1930s. This is shown in his 1938 novel For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs, which was finally published in 2003, long after his death. He was strongly committed to cultural relativism, and the sociologist Margaret Mader in his novel Citizen of the Galaxy is clearly a reference to Margaret Mead. In the World War II era, cultural relativism was the only intellectual framework that offered a clearly reasoned alternative to racism, which Heinlein was ahead of his time in opposing. Many of these sociological and psychological theories have been criticized, debunked, or heavily modified in the last fifty years, and Heinlein's use of them may now appear credulous and dated to many readers. The critic Patterson says "Korzybski is now widely regarded as a crank", although others disagree.

Influence

Heinlein is usually identified, along with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, as one of the three masters of science fiction to arise in the so-called Golden Age of science fiction, associated with John W. Campbell and his magazine Astounding. However, in the 1950s he was a leader in bringing science fiction out of the low-paying and less prestigious pulp ghetto. Most of his works, including short stories, have been continuously in print in many languages since their initial appearance and are still available as new paperbacks years after his death. Robert Heinlein was also influenced by the American writer, philosopher and humorist Charles Fort who is credited as a major influence on most of the leading science-fiction writers of the 20th-century. "Fort's writing was to have an immense influence on the field.... His wry sense of humor and refusal to take himself as seriously as did his followers excused many of his faults. I found his eccentric -- even explosive -- style stimulating and indeed mind-expanding." said Arthur C. Clark in Astounding Days (Gollancz 1989). Heinlein was a long-time member of the International Fortean Organization also known as INFO, the successor to the original Fortean Society until his death. Heinlein's letters were often displayed on the walls of the INFO offices and his active participation in the organization is mentioned in the INFO Journal.

He was at the top of his form during, and himself helped to initiate, the trend toward social science fiction, which went along with a general maturing of the genre away from space opera to a more literary approach touching on such adult issues as politics and human sexuality. In reaction to this trend, hard science fiction began to be distinguished as a separate subgenre, but paradoxically Heinlein is also considered a seminal figure in hard science fiction, due to his extensive knowledge of engineering, and the careful scientific research demonstrated in his stories. Heinlein himself stated — with obvious pride — that in the days before pocket calculators, he and his wife Virginia once worked for several days on a mathematical equation describing an Earth-Mars rocket orbit, which was then subsumed in a single sentence of the novel Space Cadet. Part of this may be tied to Heinlein's almost uniquely effective ability to see, as he defined it, not only the primary and secondary effects of technology (the automobile leads to the disappearance of the horse, primary, and to the fact that few Americans have any real experience of horses, secondary) but to the tertiary and deeper effects of technology (for example, the effect of the automobile on loosening social mores, by allowing people to "get away" from people that might gossip about them). In this, Heinlein was a master: He foresaw Interstate Highways (The Roads Must Roll), concern over nuclear power generation (Blowups Happen), international nuclear stalemate (Solution Unsatisfactory -- i.e., the Cold War) as well as numerous other lesser examples. Rarely was the technology he described the end solution, but almost always he saw the effect that "sort" of technology would have on society. He is also credited with describing two technologies (Waldoes and Waterbeds) that later came into widespread use. Heinlein can also be credited, post-Jules Verne and H.G.Wells, with writing the first modern variations of almost every hard SF archetype. Heinlein has had a nearly ubiquitous influence on other science fiction writers. In a 1953 poll of leading science fiction authors, he was cited more frequently as an influence than any other modern writer. In 1974, he won the first Grand Master Award given by the Science Fiction Writers of America for lifetime achievement. Critic James Gifford writes that "Although many other writers have exceeded Heinlein's output, few can claim to match his broad and seminal influence. Scores of science fiction writers from the pre-war Golden Age through the present day loudly and enthusiastically credit Heinlein for blazing the trails of their own careers, and shaping their styles and stories." Outside the science fiction community, several words and phrases coined or adopted by Heinlein have passed into common English usage: waldo, TANSTAAFL, moonbat, and grok. In 1962, Oberon Zell-Ravenheart (then still using his birth name, Tim Zell) founded the Church of All Worlds, a Neopagan religious organization modeled in many ways after the treatment of religion in the novel Stranger in a Strange Land. This spiritual path included several ideas from the book, including polyamory, non-mainstream family structures, social libertarianism, water-sharing rituals, an acceptance of all religious paths by a single tradition, and the use of several terms such as "grok", "Thou art God", and "Never Thirst". Though Heinlein was neither a member nor a promoter of the Church, it was done with frequent correspondence between Zell and Heinlein, and he was a paid subscriber to their magazine Green Egg. This Church still exists as a 501(C)(3) religious organization incorporated in California, with membership worldwide, and it remains an active part of the neopagan community today . He was influential in making space exploration seem to the public more like a practical possibility. His stories in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post took a matter-of-fact approach to their outer-space setting, rather than the "gee whiz" tone that had previously been common. The documentary-like film Destination Moon advocated a Space Race with the Soviet Union almost a decade before such an idea became commonplace, and was promoted by an unprecedented publicity campaign in print publications. Many of the astronauts and others working in the U. S. space program grew up on a diet of the Heinlein juveniles, best evidenced by the naming of a crater on Mars after him, and a tribute interspersed by the Apollo 15 astronauts into their radio conversations while on the moon. Heinlein was also a guest commentator for Walter Cronkite during Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's Apollo 11 moon landing. There is an active campaign to persuade the Secretary of the Navy to name the new Zumwalt class destroyer DDG-1001 the USS Robert A. Heinlein. Main-belt Asteroid 6371 Heinlein (1985 GS), discovered on April 15, 1985 by Edward L. G. Bowell, was named after him.

Bibliography

Main article is the Robert A. Heinlein bibliography.

Heinlein published 32 novels, 59 short stories and 16 collections during his life. Four films, two TV series, several episodes of a radio series, and a board game have been derived more or less directly from his work. He wrote a screenplay for one of the films. Heinlein edited an anthology of other writers' SF short stories.

Three non-fiction books and two poems have been published posthumously. One novel has been published posthumously and another, based on a sketchy outline by Heinlein, was published in September 2006. Four collections have been published posthumously.

Footnotes

See also

List of Robert A. Heinlein characters

References

Critical

  • H. Bruce Franklin. 1980. Robert A. Heinlein: America as Science Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-502746-9.

A critique of Heinlein from a Marxist perspective. Somewhat out of date, since Franklin was not aware of Heinlein's work with the EPIC Movement. Includes a biographical chapter, which incorporates some original research on Heinlein's family background, but contains many of the same omissions and inaccuracies as other 20th century bios of Heinlein.

A comprehensive bibliography, with roughly one page of commentary on each of Heinlein's works.

  • Alexei Panshin. 1968. Heinlein in Dimension. Advent. ISBN 0-911682-12-0. Online edition at
  • William H. Patterson, Jr. and Andrew Thornton. 2001. The Martian Named Smith: Critical Perspectives on Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. Sacramento: Nitrosyncretic Press. ISBN 0-9679874-2-3.
  • Powell, Jim. The Triumph of Liberty (New York: Free Press, 2000). See profile of Heinlein in the chapter "Out of this World".
  • Tom Shippey. 2000. "Starship Troopers, Galactic Heroes, Mercenary Princes: the Military and its Discontents in Science Fiction", in Alan Sandison and Robert Dingley, ed.s, Histories of the Future: Studies in Fact, Fantasy and Science Fiction. New York: Palgrave. ISBN 0-312-23604-2.
  • George Edgar Slusser "Robert A. Heinlein: Stranger in his Own Land". San Bernardino, CA: The Borgo Press; The Milford Series, Popular Writers of Tday, Vol. 1.
  • James Blish, writing as William Atheling, Jr. 1970. More Issues at Hand. Chicago: Advent:Publishers, Inc.
  • Ugo Bellagamba and Eric Picholle. 2008. Solutions Non Satisfaisantes, une Anatomie de Robert A. Heinlein. Les Moutons electriques (Lyon, France). ISBN 978-2-915793-37-6 [in French]

Biographical

  • Robert A. Heinlein. 2004. For Us, the Living. New York: Scribner. ISBN 0-7432-5998-X.

Includes an introduction by Spider Robinson, an afterword by Robert E. James with a long biography, and a shorter biographical sketch.

A lengthy essay that treats Heinlein's own autobiographical statements with skepticism.

Contains a shorter version of the Patterson bio.

  • Robert A. Heinlein. 1989. Grumbles From the Grave. New York: Del Rey.

Incorporates a substantial biographical sketch by Virginia Heinlein, which hews closely to his earlier official bios, omitting the same facts (the first of his three marriages, his early left-wing political activities) and repeating the same fictional anecdotes (the short story contest).

  • Elizabeth Zoe Vicary. 2000. American National Biography Online article, Heinlein, Robert Anson. Retrieved June 1, 2005 (not available for free).

Repeats many incorrect statements from Heinlein's fictionalized professional bio.

Autobiographical notes are interspersed between the pieces in the anthology.
Reprinted by Baen, hardcover October 2003, ISBN 0-7434-7159-8
Reprinted by Baen, paperback July 2005, ISBN 0-7434-9915-8
Electronic edition available at: webscription.net (not free)

External links

Bibliography links are in the Robert A. Heinlein bibliography article.

Search another word or see Water bedson Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature