Robert A. Heinlein Heinlein, Robert A(nson) (Vol. 3)

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Heinlein, Robert A(nson) (Vol. 3)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Heinlein, Robert A(nson) 1907–

Heinlein, an American science fiction writer, is one of the writers responsible for the maturation of that genre. He has written for both children and adults and some of his work, notably Stranger in a Strange Land, is recognized as having serious literary intentions. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

Robert A. Heinlein has that attribute which the mathematician Hermann Weyl calls "the inexhaustibility of real things": whatever you say about him, I find, turns out to be only partly true. If you point to his innate conservatism, as evidenced in the old-time finance of "The Man Who Sold the Moon," you may feel smug for as much as a minute, until you remember the rampantly radical monetary system of Beyond This Horizon….

With due caution, then, let me say that in art, at least, Heinlein seems to be as conservative as they come. He believes in a plain tale well told. Although he fancies his own Yukon-style verses, or used to, he has no patience with poetry-in-a-garret. The people he writes about are healthy, uninhibited and positive, a totally different breed from the neurasthenic heroes of many of his colleagues. In a field whose most brilliant and well-established writers seem to flip sooner or later, Heinlein is preeminently sane….

Heinlein's greatest asset, I think, is [the] same perennial hero—essentially he's Heinlein himself, and Heinlein likes himself. This is a thing so rare in writers-by-necessity, who are insecure, self-critical men, that every now and then a writer-by-accident who has it, as Mark Twain did, cheerfully walks away with all the prizes in sight….

Heinlein's style, which I admire, is a flexible and efficient instrument, but so simple and conversational that it makes you think of Heinlein's work as a simple, standardized product, and of Heinlein himself as a simple, standardized man.

In reality, there are several Heinleins. One of them is a 19th century rationalist and skeptic, who believes in nothing he can't see, touch, and preferably measure with calipers. Another is a mystic, who strongly believes in the existence of something beyond the world of the senses, and keeps an open mind even toward the ragtag and bobtail of mystical ideas, flying saucers and Bridey Murphy.

Damon Knight, "One Sane Man: Robert A. Heinlein," in his In Search of Wonder: Critical Essays on Science Fiction (reprinted by courtesy of Advent:Publishers, Inc.), Advent, second edition, 1967, pp. 76-89.

It is regularly taken as a given these days that Robert Heinlein has been a major influence on the science fiction field. Jack Williamson, for instance, says "the first name in contemporary science fiction"; Willy Ley says "the standard"; Judith Merril says "there are few of us writing today who do not owe much early stimulus to him."

The point I'm discussing is not popularity. Popularity has nothing to do with the influence of a writer, though it may reflect it. Influence is impact on other writers. Heinlein's impact has come directly from the work that he was doing between 1939 and 1942. Since then, Heinlein has refined his techniques, and so, in their own ways, have those touched by him, but I believe that the influence would not have been greatly different if Heinlein had not written another word from 1942 to the present….

The influence and copying I am talking about are not an attempt to duplicate Heinlein's tone, his phrasing, his situations, his plots or his attitude. They are not an attempt to sound like Heinlein (which could be most easily done, I think, by copying his folksy, metaphorical dialogue). They are, actually, the adoption of a superior technique for writing readable and solidly-constructed science fiction in the same manner that newly invented techniques have been adopted in recent years in swimming, shell racing and shot putting. If a better way is found, it is naturally seized upon. Heinlein has introduced a number of ideas into science fiction, but the importance of this...

(The entire section is 4,208 words.)