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.