Robert A. Heinlein Heinlein, Robert A(nson) (Vol. 26)

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Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Robert A(nson) Heinlein 1907–

(Also wrote under the pseudonyms Anson MacDonald, Lyle Monroe, John Riverside, and Caleb Saunders) American novelist, short story writer, nonfiction writer, and scriptwriter.

Heinlein has played a long and significant role in the evolution of science fiction into a more sophisticated genre. He began writing in the post-Depression science fiction magazine era when simplistic plots and farfetched gadgets were the norm. Heinlein's witty style and his use of social themes and realistic technology helped give rise to speculative science fiction, which emphasizes probable technological and societal developments projected into future worlds.

After World War II Heinlein wrote a series of novels aimed at juvenile audiences which some critics consider his best work. These books feature naive protagonists who, in the course of wild adventures, learn to be "competent" human beings. Like all his works, these novels advocate "survival of the most competent." Heinlein's reliance on social Darwinism has been a constant source of controversy among critics of his work. Heinlein's survivors are those who adopt a military-like discipline and outlook, and some novels, like Starship Troopers, glorify militaristic society. Although some critics find fault with Heinlein's rigid logic, almost all agree that his bold exploration of social themes actively challenges a reader's view of society and has helped elevate science fiction above escapist entertainment.

Heinlein is considered "the dean of science fiction writers." His Stranger in a Strange Land has maintained a cultlike popularity, and his recent works are still greeted with anticipation. Heinlein has won four Hugo Awards for his novels and a Grandmaster Award for overall achievement.

(See also Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 1, 3, 8, 14; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 1; Something about the Author, Vol. 9; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 8.)

Creighton Peet

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In Mr. Heinlein's cosmos, interplanetary rocket travel is old stuff. Earlier books got his characters to the moon and to stations parked in space. [In "Red Planet"] he describes colonial life on Mars some years after men from the earth have settled there. He even throws in a desperate revolt against dishonest agents of the operating company back on earth.

When Jim and Frank, sons of colonials go to boarding school they take Willis, a Martian called a bouncer, about the size and shape of a volley ball. A charming, friendly creature, Willis can record and play back long stretches of conversation. It is Willis who records the plotting of the crooked agents and thus starts the revolt. Before justice triumphs, the boys have many terrifying experiences skating endless miles down a Martian canal. They visit mysterious Martian cities deep underground and talk with even more mysterious natives.

Mr. Heinlein is so straightforward and matter of fact in recounting all this that it's pretty hard not to believe every word of it.

Creighton Peet, "Martian Adventure," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1949 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 23, 1949, p. 50.

Iris Vinton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["The Star Beast" tells the story of] an octopod, six-ton, talking creature who was the very special pet of John Thomas Stuart XI of Westville, Planet Earth. One day, waiting for John and his friend Betty to fly home from school, Lummie began eating the neighbor's rosebushes. Mrs. Donahue drove him away with a broom and thereby started him on an innocently destructive tour of the town….

The small town clash … soon reached interstellar proportions, full of surprises.

Mr. Heinlein's name on a book of science fiction is sure to make young space-eaters reach for it, and this one, written with his usual deftness and fine sense of humor, will not disappoint them.

Iris Vinton, "Visitor From Outer Space," in The New York Times Book Review, Part II (© 1954 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission),...

(The entire section is 21,765 words.)