Heinlein, Robert (Vol. 14)
Heinlein, Robert 1907–
An American science fiction novelist and short story writer, Heinlein established his reputation writing stories for Astounding in the forties. Today he is, along with Isaac Asimov, the dean of American science fiction writers. His Stranger in a Strange Land became a cult novel among the college youth of the mid-sixties, drawing attention to science fiction as a literary genre warranting more serious consideration than had previously been granted it. Heinlein has also written under the pseudonyms of Anson MacDonald, Lyle Monroe, John Riverside, and Caleb Saunders. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
Dennis E. Showalter
In 1959, Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers won the Hugo award as the year's best science fiction novel. Critics and reviewers have been apologizing for that fact ever since. Even admirers of Heinlein as a logician and story-teller condemn Starship Troopers as a "militaristic polemic" glorifying a violent, proto-fascist ethic, creating a polarized society in which heroic war veterans rule over "draftdodgers, effeminate snobs, pacifists, and other animals of low standing." (p. 113)
Evaluating [the charges of fascism and militarism] is complicated by the fact that Heinlein's society is not presented in detail. It is a framework supporting an adventure story, and any scholarly analysis runs the risk of pedantry, of burdening the novel with such a weight of footnotes that it sinks without a ripple. Nevertheless, consideration of the social structure outlined in Starship Troopers in the context of recent scholarship on fascism and militarism suggests that, in fact, neither ideology is embodied in this work, and that critics of Heinlein's views and visions must find new pejorative terms with which to condemn the novel.
The charge of fascism can be most easily dismissed, since the world of Starship Troopers has literally none of the characteristics commonly associated with fascist societies. Such concepts as a revolt against bolshevism, a reaction to liberalism and positivism, and a desire to...
(The entire section is 682 words.)
George Edgar Slusser
[What] is a "classic" Heinlein work? Most criticism of Heinlein begins and ends here. Invariably, each individual critic has chosen the works he likes best, dubbed them classics, and consigned the rest to oblivion…. The years to be covered in this study include, basically, the 1940s and 1950s—the period of the stories and novellas, and the novels of juvenile adventure. Unfortunately, there is no touchstone which allows a reader infallibly to pick "classics" out of this span. What is possible, however, is a definition of process that will permit us to study Heinlein's evolution as a writer over two long and full decades. (p. 3)
[If] chronological periods are marked off at all [in Heinlein's work], they must be ordered in terms of genre. The use of a given form, in Heinlein's case, was dictated in large part during [his] early and middle years by the vagaries of science fiction publishing. His first (and only) market was pulp magazines, so he wrote short stories and novellalength serials. The switch to novels after the war … demanded that he adopt the strict formulas and conventions imposed by his market—in this case, juvenile adventure. The middle period, then, begins with Heinlein's first full-length novel conceived as such, the space epic Rocket Ship Galileo (1947), and ends when what I call the subverted adventure finally rears its ugly head in Starship Troopers (1959)…. Not all the novels of this period were...
(The entire section is 5313 words.)
Ivor A. Rogers
The "best" science fiction writer for most [readers] is a composite entity: Heinleinasimovclarke—usually in that order…. Omitting the enthusiastic burblers who can neither see, hear, nor speak evil of Heinlein, most critics have managed a certain consensus—they like his writing, but the sins of commission and omission in his writing are staggering: poor use of language, weak and inadequate plotting, poor storytelling techniques, and incapacity to handle mature sexual themes being the worst offenders. Yet people, even his severest critics, like his writing, and he sells well. Most importantly, he is capable of attracting readers with a wide age differential and with widely disparate educational backgrounds.
The most common criticism of Heinlein is based on his (supposed) political ideology, and much of the political philosophy expressed by some of his characters does set the teeth on edge; but Liberal knee-jerk reflex has no more place in a mature consideration of his work than Conservative knee-jerk adulation does. Ideological considerations aside, Heinlein appeals to and is criticized by a wide variety of "-ists," "-ats," "-ites"; and there is little consensus on what is his best work. (p. 222)
The problem facing the archetypal or mythic scholar who applies his talents to popular culture is a simple one: the myths or topoi remain constant, but the thematic treatment suffers from changing styles in form...
(The entire section is 2884 words.)
Elizabeth Anne Hull
In an attempt to account for the extraordinary popularity and influence of the novels of Robert Heinlein, it would be all too easy to assert that the masses are asses and let it go at that. Those of us academics who read Heinlein are likely to admit it with an apology, acknowledging that we realize his literary merit is probably small and our weakness in enjoying his work a minor character defect. We feel we should not relish his opinionated expressions…. We note that frankly didactic literature has always had a relatively small but devoted readership, especially among those whose prejudices and biases coincide with the author's.
But Heinlein's appeal somehow seems to be broader than these general apologies account for. The fact is, though many of us disagree with Heinlein, or what we assume are Heinlein's "true" opinions, we're usually caught by the questions he raises…. [Contrary] to the most widely accepted critical theories, the Heinlein addict reads his work, not in spite of the sermons Heinlein crafts, but actually for the pleasure of the challenge of considering the moral and political questions Heinlein raises. I also believe the secret of his successful sermons lies in his provocative use of irony and in his not providing clear answers to these vital questions; rather, at his best he raises issues for the serious adult mind to consider and trusts the reader to draw his or her own conclusions....
(The entire section is 1982 words.)