Robert A. Heinlein Essay - Heinlein, Robert A(nson) (Vol. 1)

Heinlein, Robert A(nson) (Vol. 1)

Heinlein, Robert A(nson) 1907–

American science fiction writer, best known for Stranger in a Strange Land. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

[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….

In the novel form,… Heinlein has shown a special interest in the most difficult of all points of view: the first person story, told by the principal actor. Among the adult novels he has handled in this way are The Puppet Masters, Double Star, and The Door Into Summer….

The only first-person narrator Heinlein has created who is a living, completely independent human being is The Great Lorenzo of Double Star. Lorenzo is complete all the way back to his childhood—the influence of his father upon what he thinks is one of the strongest motives in the story—and his growth under pressure is consistent with his character and no-one else's….

In The Door Into Summer Heinlein has apparently come to take this hero so for granted that he does not even try to set him forth clearly for the reader—a defect which is fatal to the novel. Presented with the task of showing us not one, but two future societies, Heinlein bungles both because he has failed to visualize precisely who is seeing what there is to be seen…. Unless my memory has failed me, The Door Into Summer is Heinlein's only major essay in time travel, and as such it should have been a major novel. Every other important subject of science fiction which Heinlein has examined at length has come out remade, vitalized and made the author's own property. It didn't happen here, for the first time in Heinlein's long and distinguished career—and not because Heinlein didn't have something to say, but because he failed to embody it in a real protagonist. Evidently, Heinlein as his own hero is about played out.

William Atheling, Jr., "First Person Singular: Heinlein, Son of Heinlein" (1957), in his More Issues at Hand, Advent, 1970, pp. 51-8.

[Robert Heinlein is] a storyteller of such talent that his novels outsell all others and his name remains fixed at the top of every list of favorites…. Robert A. Heinlein is a universe maker who believes in the future of mankind and in the endless frontier of the galactic civilization that is to be. In this day of despair and crises, that faith is more of a true beacon than all the frightened philosophies of the panicked dystopians.

Look through the bulk of his novels and you will find that faith always shining through. Whatever the nature of the novel, whatever his message may be, this is the one constant that Heinlein will not surrender. Humanity, whatever its faults, is the best darned thing going and will never be pinned to the mat.

Donald A. Wolheim, in his The Universe Makers, Harper & Row, 1971, pp. 99-101.