Robert Heinlein 1907-1988
(Full name Robert Anson Heinlein; wrote under the pseudonyms Anson MacDonald, Lyle Monroe, John Riverside, Caleb Saunder, and Simea York) American short story writer, novelist, screenwriter, essayist, and children's author.
Heinlein is regarded as one of the most influential science fiction writers of the twentieth century. A prolific author, his short stories are characterized by their highly developed and believable futuristic worlds, replete with scientific and technological advances and attention to detail. He is often ranked with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke as a master of the science fiction genre, yet his work has inspired a mixed critical reaction.
Heinlein was born on July 7, 1907, in Butler, Missouri. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1929, and did graduate study in physics and mathematics at the University of California in Los Angeles. After leaving school, he worked as an architect, real estate agent, aeronautical engineer, and electronics company official. During World War II, he served as an aviation engineer with the U.S. Navy. He wrote several engineering textbooks during those years. In 1939 Heinlein wrote his first story, “Life-Line,” which was published in Astounding Science Fiction in August 1939. From that time, his stories and novels were published in several periodicals, such as Astounding Science Fiction, Galaxy Science Fiction, Saturday Evening Post, Argosy, and Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He authored more than forty-five books, most of which have been published in at least thirty languages. He was the first science fiction writer to appear on a bestseller list. During his long career, he was awarded four Hugo awards, four Best Science Fiction Novel awards from the World Science Fiction Convention, and the first Grand Master Nebula Award, given to Heinlein in 1975 by the Science Fiction Writers of America for his lifelong contribution to the genre. He died of heart failure on May 8, 1988, in Carmel, California.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Heinlein's fiction is characterized by his reliance on a dominant, independent hero and the conflict between individualism and collectivism. In his stories, he emphasized themes of self-reliance, patriotism, and individualism, which often led to criticism of his work as extremely conservative in nature. For example, “Gulf” features a protagonist who is recruited into a secret elite force—a master race—who plans to conquer the Earth through assassination. At first shocked, he soon adopts the group's disdain for democracy and collectivism. Heinlein's best-known collection of short fiction, The Past Through Tomorrow (1967), contains previously published stories and a detailed background chart—known as Future History—that provides the chronology of the major events in the stories, the lifelines of the major characters, and technological, sociological, and political developments. In one of the stories in the collection, “Requiem” (1939), an elderly industrialist, D. D. Harriman, finances and directs the first trip to the moon on a manned rocket. He stands by, frustrated, as others travel to the moon and establish a base. Finally, he makes the journey, knowing it will probably kill him. He dies shortly after his arrival, a happy man.
There has been a polarized critical reaction to Heinlein's career. Many commentators have deemed his fiction as extremely conservative, even fascist; moreover, the perception of him as a Social Darwinist and right-wing author has negatively prejudiced the overall consensus on his work. Defenders of Heinlein's short stories and novels reject this classification of him, asserting that his stories and novels exhibit racial and social tolerance. They contend that he should be categorized as libertarian and iconoclastic. The conflict between individualism and collectivism is considered the dominant theme in Heinlein's work. Critical commentary has also focused on the sexuality in his stories, the role of technology, and his portrayal of alien civilizations. His later work is denigrated by some reviewers as didactic, stylistically monotonous, and solipsist. Yet he has been praised for his attention to detail, and his rendering of imaginative scientific and technological advances and their impact on human civilization. No matter the opinion on Heinlein's work itself, critics do not deny the profound impact his short stories and novels had on the genre of science fiction. In fact, some commentators have compared his influence on the science fiction genre to that of H. G. Wells.
The Man Who Sold the Moon 1950
Waldo and Magic, Inc. 1950
The Green Hills of Earth 1951
Assignment in Eternity 1953
The Menace from Earth 1959
The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag 1959
The Past through Tomorrow: Future History Stories 1966
The Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein 1966
The Best of Robert Heinlein: 1939-1959. 2 vols. 1973
Destination Moon 1979
Expanded Universe: More Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein 1980
Requiem: New Collected Works by Robert A. Heinlein and Tributes to the Grand Master (edited by Yoji Kondo) 1992
Rocket Ship Galileo (juvenilia) 1947
Beyond This Horizon (novel) 1948
Space Cadet (juvenilia) 1948
Red Planet (juvenilia) 1949
Sixth Column (novel) 1949
Farmer in the Sky (juvenilia) 1950
Between Planets (juvenilia) 1951
The Puppet Masters (novel) 1951
The Rolling Stones (juvenilia) 1952
Revolt in 2100 (novel) 1953
Starman Jones (juvenilia) 1953...
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SOURCE: Slusser, George Edgar. The Classic Years of Robert A. Heinlein, pp. 9-39. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1977.
[In the following excerpt, Slusser surveys the plots and major thematic concerns of Heinlein's short fiction.]
Heinlein's short stories belong, essentially, to his early years. From his first published tale, “Life-Line” (August 1939) through 1942, when the war briefly interrupted his writing career, Heinlein worked exclusively in shorter forms, and the medium-length serialized narratives which, in their episodic quality, bear more affinity with the story than the novel. The majority of these early tales appeared in Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction; some were written under pseudonyms (the most famous of which is Anson MacDonald). Among this handful of works is some of the most interesting fiction Heinlein has done. In the years immediately after the war (1947-1949), he resumed writing stories—here, however, is a different kind of tale, for a different audience. Where the earlier sketches were often genuinely allegorical—parables in which a complex world view is acted out rather than simply exposed—these are more didactic. More than a change in Heinlein, perhaps, we have a change in audience—the stories were written for the slicks (especially Saturday Evening Post) rather than the more specialized pulps. A new tone of...
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SOURCE: Gaar, Alice Carol. “The Human as Machine Analog: The Big Daddy of Interchangeable Parts in the Fiction of Robert A. Heinlein.” In Robert A. Heinlein, edited by Joseph D. Olander and Martin Harry Greenberg, pp. 64-82. New York: Taplinger Publishing Co., 1978.
[In the following essay, Gaar explores the theme of interchangeable parts and the central figure in several of Heinlein's novellas and short stories.]
There is a discontinuity between the rate of moral development in the human being and the exponential rate of technological progress. One might state it in a simpler way: The tool grows better and better, while its user is the same old hairless ape. The hairless ape can fly, but emotionally and morally he is still crawling. The machine works very well; maybe we don't work at all. Are the machines getting out of control, or were we never under control?
Robert A. Heinlein has been inspired by the apparent perfections of the cosmic machine to equal it by proving that we can outlive it. However, the human creature can only equal the machine by being like it or like its most efficient products. One may ascribe Heinlein's weakness in characterization—a weakness shared by most science fiction writers—to his overwhelming desire to beat the cosmos at its own game by the clever manipulation of parts. As Alexei Panshin puts it, Heinlein is essentially the engineer and is...
(The entire section is 8172 words.)
SOURCE: Sarti, Ronald. “Variations on a Theme: Human Sexuality in the Work of Robert A. Heinlein.” In Robert A. Heinlein, edited by Joseph D. Olander and Martin Harry Greenberg, pp. 107-36. New York: Taplinger Publishing Co., 1978.
[In the following essay, Sarti traces Heinlein's treatment of gender roles and sexuality in his short fiction.]
By the end of the 1950s, Robert Heinlein had established himself as the Dean of science fiction, a beloved storyteller whose ways had grown familiar after twenty years of pleasurable reading. Few would have wanted him to change, and fewer still would have expected it. And yet, abruptly, Heinlein's work did change. With the arrival of the new decade, Heinlein's stories took a startling new direction, the reason for which remained a mystery to his readers. Perhaps most surprising was Heinlein's sudden concern for the theme of sexuality. He seemed to have become fascinated with the subject and began exploring such explicit sexual topics as promiscuity, incest, and narcissism. The avant-garde discovered Heinlein's new work and hailed his vision of the sexual future. At the same time, they generally ignored his earlier works, regarding them as adventure stories devoid of meaningful sexual content. They were wrong.
Heinlein's concern with sexuality did not suddenly leap into existence with the Sixties. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Heinlein had...
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SOURCE: Tucker, Frank H. “Major Political and Social Elements in Heinlein's Fiction.” In Robert A. Heinlein, edited by Joseph D. Olander and Martin Harry Greenberg, pp. 172-93. New York: Taplinger Publishing Co., 1978.
[In the following essay, Tucker explores the political, social, and economic threads found in Heinlein's fiction.]
In discussing the principal political and social ideas which are expressed or reflected in the Heinlein literature, it is best to begin by observing that these are in no sense tract novels and stories, and the political content is secondary or even incidental to the narratives. One should also note that the usual uncertainty regarding fictional material applies here, as to whether or not the statements of various characters reflect the author's views. However, we are obliged to rely on such statements usually as our primary source, and where they recur or are emphasized, they can be considered as significant.
First let us look at elements which are essentially individual matters. There are several ways in which the author's concepts of the “proper individual,” the hero and the leader, shed light upon our subject. There are many strong characters, functioning in the stories as exemplary figures, even acting as leaders of their people or as guides to younger, less experienced characters. These leaders often seem to reflect an outlook which is typical of...
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SOURCE: Franklin, H. Bruce. “From Depression into World War II: The Early Fiction.” In Robert A. Heinlein: America as Science Fiction, pp. 17-63. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.
[In the following essay, Franklin discusses the defining characteristics of Heinlein's early short fiction.]
“—during the '30's almost everyone, from truck driver to hatcheck girl, had a scheme for setting the world right in six easy lessons; and a surprising percentage managed to get their schemes published.”
—Robert Heinlein, “The Roads Must Roll,” June 1940
In 1938 the atom was split. That did not seem such big news to many people, for in 1938 the Japanese were extending their invasion of China, the Italian Fascist army was trying to wipe out the stubborn partisan resistance in Ethiopia, Franco's forces opened their decisive offensive against the Loyalist government of Spain, Franco's ally Adolf Hitler invaded Austria, and Czechoslovakia was divided up by Germany, Hungary, and Poland. In early 1939, the Soviet Union crushed an attempted invasion by Japan. In late 1939, Germany successfully invaded Poland. At some point, World War II had begun.
Meanwhile, in April of 1939, the New York World's Fair opened, in futuristic splendor, with visions of “the World of Tomorrow” presented by hundreds of corporations and...
(The entire section is 14860 words.)
SOURCE: Wolfe, Gary K. “Autoplastic and Alloplastic Adaptations in Science Fiction: ‘Waldo’ and ‘Desertion’.” In Coordinates: Placing Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by George E. Slusser, Eric S. Rabkin, and Robert Scholes, pp. 65-79. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983.
[In the following essay, Wolfe contrasts the different approaches of Heinlein's Waldo and Clifford D. Simak's “Desertion” to the problem of integration between body and environment.]
At a recent gathering of science fiction fans—a “con,” to use the jargon of the fans themselves—an acquaintance and I were watching the bizarrely dressed crowd milling about in the lobby of the hotel when he turned to me and asked, “Have you noticed how many grossly overweight people there are here?” In fact, there were a surprising number of rather large people present, but there were also quite a few fans who seemed to represent the more traditional stereotype of the science fiction fan as undernourished adolescent. There was even a sizable number of people of normal, undistinguished girth. But the person who called this to my attention assured me that a rather atypical distribution of body types was quite common at conventions of this sort, and that he had noted it often. Perhaps he was more acutely aware of bodily structures than I, for, himself a science fiction fan since childhood, he had...
(The entire section is 5283 words.)
SOURCE: Slusser, George. “Notes and Correspondence: Robert Anson Heinlein, 1907-88.” Science Fiction Studies 15, no. 3 (November 1988): 385-86.
[In the following essay, Slusser reflects on his personal friendship with Heinlein.]
In the newspaper Tuesday morning, May 10th, I read that Robert A. Heinlein had died Monday in his sleep from heart ailments and emphysema. He was 80 years old, and had lived a long, rich, and creative life. Death was merciful to him. And yet I had difficulty believing he was really dead. After all, the single theme of his work, over all those years, is the quest for material life at all costs. Once pushed into this life, you fought for all you're worth to keep going on. A powerful theme, and one which in Heinlein's case seemed to admit no defeat. Yet here were the facts.
During that Tuesday, I tried to sift out what Heinlein meant to me. First people called me from newspapers, to get some quick information about this “acclaimed SF writer.” Journalistic memory went back to the hippies and Stranger and Manson. There were the inevitable questions. “Was Heinlein really a good writer?” “If I liked him, why?” I found myself saying things like: he put me on the Moon, he let me live in Luna City, he put me on a spaceship with the real Rolling Stones. Not the sort of “literary” things they wanted to hear.
Then friends called,...
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SOURCE: Slusser, George. “Heinlein's Fallen Futures.” Extrapolation 36, no. 2 (summer 1995): 96-112.
[In the following essay, Slusser evaluates the impact of Heinlein's work, viewing him as “a national writer, one who carries into a new scientific century cultural and ethical patterns first conceived by nineteenth-century American thinkers and writers of ‘romance’.”]
Robert Heinlein's long career has ended. Thus, there is the need, more urgent than ever, to assess the nature and importance of his work. But on what level should this assessment take place? The old-style fan saw Heinlein, both writer and public persona, as the quintessential SF writer and adulated him. Criticism of any sort was not tolerated, as I found out when my mid-seventies monographs were awarded the “galaxative award” by Spider Robinson in a hostile fan press. But SF readership has changed since then, and Heinlein has been placed in broader context—not necessarily to his advantage either, for the persona fans once admired has become an embarrassment to many of today's academic readers, whose ideologies he does not readily serve. All this shows that the Heinlein “problem” is one of the critical context in which we choose to place him. Is his work best studied in terms of genre? As a “literary” phenomenon? A cultural or mythical construct? After years of thinking about Heinlein and following his career, I wish...
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SOURCE: McGiveron, Rafeeq O. “Heinlein's Solar System, 1940-1952.” Science Fiction Studies 23, no. 2 (July 1996): 245-52.
[In the following essay, McGiveron explores the role of extraterrestrials in Heinlein's fiction.]
“Noisy” Rhysling, the wandering blind poet of the spaceways in Robert A. Heinlein's “The Green Hills of Earth” (1947), sings,
We've tried each spinning space mote And reckoned its true worth: Take us back again to the homes of men On the cool, green hills of Earth.
Despite his apparent dismissal of “the harsh bright soil of Luna” and the jungles of a pulp-fiction Venus “Crawling with unclean death,” Rhysling can not help but admit the beauty of “Saturn's rainbow rings,” “the frozen night on Titan” (Past 372-23), and, in another poem, the canals and graceful towers of a Lowellian Mars (Past 366-67). Reckoning the true worth of the Solar System Heinlein created throughout the 1940s and early 1950s, however, reveals more than simply an admiration for rugged beauty.
One notable characteristic of much of Heinlein's early work is his use of a Solar System inhabited in the past or present by four different species of nonhuman intelligences. Heinlein depicted these species first in magazine stories published in the 1940s and enriched his treatment of them in a number of...
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Franklin, H. Bruce. Robert A. Heinlein: America as Science Fiction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980, 232 p.
Traces Heinlein's literary development.
Olander, Joseph D. and Greenberg, Martin Harry, eds. Robert A. Heinlein. New York: Taplinger Publishing Co., 1978, 268 p.
Collection of critical essays.
Slusser, George Edgar. The Classic Years of Robert A. Heinlein. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1977, 63 p.
Classifies Heinlein's literary career into periods and discusses the defining characteristics of each category.
Usher, Robin Leslie. “Robert A. Heinlein: Theologist?” Foundation, no. 54 (spring 1992): 70-86.
Discusses George Edgar Slusser's critic of Heinlein's work.
Additional coverage of Heinlein's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 17; Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 2; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vols. 4, 13; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 75;Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4R, 125;Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 1, 20, 53; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 1, 3, 8, 14, 26, 55;...
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