Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
What did Robert Heinlein’s military service give him that was usable for his science-fiction writing?
How does Heinlein’s work exemplify the distinction between science fiction and nonscientific fantasy?
How is religious belief presented in Heinlein’s stories?
What is defamiliarization? How does Heinlein employ it in Stranger in a Strange Land?
How much and in what ways has Heinlein influenced the outer space films and television programs of the 1970’s and later?
Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Robert A. Heinlein was prolific in the science-fiction genre, producing many novels as well as several volumes of short stories. He also wrote a number of science-fiction novels for young adults and a handful of nonfiction pieces about science fiction or the future. In the 1950’s he worked as an adviser and occasional script writer for the television program Tom Corbett: Space Cadet, and he also worked on the screenplays for two films, Destination Moon (pr. 1950) and Project Moonbase (pr. 1953).
Achievements (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
With his first published story, “Lifeline,” Robert A. Heinlein became a major influence on other science-fiction writers who have emulated his crisp “insider” style, his matter-of-fact acceptance of projected innovations, and his Social Darwinist expansionist philosophy. His name is synonymous with the “realist” school of science fiction in the public mind, and his work is reprinted repeatedly in science-fiction anthologies. Heinlein’s stories are generally fast-moving and full of realistic detail, anticipating scientific and technological advances. He has been praised for his ability to create future societies in convincing detail and is considered one of the masters of the science-fiction genre. Heinlein received four Hugo Awards: in 1956 for Double Star (1956), in 1959 for Starship Troopers (1959), in 1961 for Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), and in 1966 for The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966). In 1975 he was awarded the Grand Master Nebula Award for his contributions to science-fiction literature.
Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Robert A. Heinlein (HIN-lin) was a best-selling writer of science-fiction short stories for ten years before his first novel appeared. Those stories were published in more than one dozen collections, with a great deal of overlap. He cowrote the screenplays for two films, Destination Moon (1950) and Project Moonbase (1953). He did not publish nonfiction during his lifetime, but his wife, Virginia Heinlein, published his 1946 typescript “How to Be a Politician” as Take Back Your Government: A Practical Handbook for the Private Citizen Who Wants Democracy to Work in 1992. His 1953 travelogue Tramp Royale was published in 1992.
Heinlein edited Tomorrow, the Stars (1952), a collection of short stories by other science-fiction writers. In his introduction to the book, he discusses the terms “science fiction” and “speculative fiction,” telling readers that he prefers the term “speculative fiction.” His letters, which were published as Grumbles from the Grave (1989), were selected and edited by his wife.
Achievements (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Known since the 1950’s as the dean of science fiction, Robert A. Heinlein was the top-selling author of the golden age of pulp-magazine science fiction (1930’s-1940’s), the first to sell science fiction to the “slick” magazines (prestigious glossy-paper periodicals such as The Saturday Evening Post), and the first major science-fiction author to write for film.
Heinlein’s science fiction is of the nuts-and-bolts variety, in which space travel and other future technologies are presented realistically; their engineering is worked out in detail, yet that detail does not intrude on the narrative. Examples of Heinlein’s technologies include the space suit, descriptions of which borrow from his own wartime research at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. In fact, his research led to the development of space suits long after he had described them. (Also, he had envisioned and then detailed the water bed.)
Heinlein received the Hugo Award for best science-fiction novel four times, and Science Fiction Writers of America honored him with its first Grand Master award for lifetime achievement. His fiction introduced several words and phrases to the English language, including “free fall” for zero gravity, “waldo” for a mechanical arm (named after a Heinlein character), and his acronym TANSTAAFL (There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch) for a popular phrase, perhaps borrowed from Rudyard Kipling. The acronym became a byword for libertarians and economists such as Milton Friedman.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Aldiss, Brian, and David Wingrove. Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. London: Victor Gollancz, 1986. Aldiss’s general survey of the history of science fiction includes a discussion of several of Heinlein’s works. His focus is on Heinlein’s novels, but Aldiss’s comments also provide useful insights into the short stories and place them in a historical perspective. Includes an index.
Franklin, H. Bruce. Robert A. Heinlein: America as Science Fiction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. Franklin has written an excellent, scholarly full-length study of Heinlein’s work. He assesses Heinlein’s important themes and discusses his libertarian politics. Franklin is an academic Marxist.
Gifford, J. Daniel. Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader’s Companion. Sacramento, Calif.: Nitrosyncretic Press, 2000. Includes bibliographical references and indexes.
Hantke, Steffen. “Surgical Strikes and Prosthetic Warriors: The Soldier’s Body in Contemporary Science Fiction.” Science-Fiction Studies 25 (November, 1998): 495-509. Discusses how the technologically augmented body in the science fiction of Heinlein and others raises issues of what it means to be male or female, or even human, since the use of prosthetics to heal or strengthen the body is accompanied by the dissolution of the...
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