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|Robert A(nson) Heinlein (1907-1988)|
Prolific American writer, one of the grand masters of science fiction with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. Heinlein produced during his career fifty novels and collections of short stories. Heinlein admired highly motivated men of action – like Howard Hawks in his movies – and attacked religious hypocrisy and corporate power games. His later works, in which his right-wing views mixed with fast-moving stories and fascination with with the paranormal, earned him the reputation of being a militarist, even a "fascist". However, a number of his book gained cult status among members of the counterculture.
Robert A. Heinlein was born in Butler, Missouri, into a family of seven children. He attended public school in Kansas City and graduated from Central High School in 1924. In 1929 he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, and served in aircraft carriers and destroyers. During this period, he married Leslyn McDonald. In 1934 he was invalided out for tuberculosis. Heinlein started to study physics at the graduate school of U.C.L.A. He left the school without completing his studies and worked in odd jobs in mining and real estate without real success. At the age of thirty-two, he turned his hand to the writing science fiction. Heinlein’s first published stories appeared in action-adventure pulp magazine Astounding Science Fiction in 1939. It was edited by John W. Campbell, who has been credited with moving science fiction toward its modern form. Under his influence writers started to examine how technology might affect the everyday life of ordinary people and society in general.
Heinlein never got over his navy discharge. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he tried to enlist but was rejected. During World War II years from 1943 Heinlein published no stories, but worked as an engineer at the Naval Air Experimental Station, Philadelphia. His first novel, ROCKET SHIP GALILEO (1947) paved way to childrens’ science fiction. After divorce he married in 1948 Virginia Doris Gerstenfeld. From 1947 to 1959 Heinlein produced sixteen novels.
Heinlein’s early works emphasized adventure and were aimed at young readers. In 1959 he received the Boys’ Clubs of America Book Award. In these novels Heinlein avoided open didacticism, although his young protagonists learned lessons in courage, tolerance, and military virtues during the course of the story. Often Heinlein’s male protagonist has to go through rites of passage – he meets a guru or somebody who has superior wisdom, and after a period of learning he has to earn his place in a group and prove his skills. CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY (1957), dedicated to Fritz Leiber, was actually Oliver Twist in space. In the story a young boy, Thorby, is bought from an inter-galactic slave market by a mysterious beggar, a benefactor, who later turns out to be a secret agent. Thorby learns to speak Finnish and after all kinds of adventures he turns out to be from a wealthy corporate family from the Earth.
In STARSHIP TROOPERS (1959) Heinlein showed his fascination with the glamour of high-tech weaponry. The book earned him again the prestigious Hugo Award. Starship Troopers first appeared in abridged form in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1959. The hero is Juan "Johnnie" Rico, a son of a wealthy merchant who has enlisted in the army to impress the beautiful Carmen. After tough training he joins Rasczack’s Roughnecks to battle against the "Bugs", intelligent arthropods. Johnnie’s mother is killed in a bombing, Carmen becomes a starship pilot, and their mutual friend Carl dies in a battle in Pluto. Heinlein’s militaristic novel attacks corruption and distorted views of democracy – only those willing to sacrifice their lives for the state may govern and vote. The social system of the Bugs represent "total communism", Heinlein’s regular publisher, Scribner’s refused to publish the book and it eventually appeared under the Putnam imprint. The film adaptation from 1997 played with the themes of fascism and militarism, but the comic book characters did not interest adult movie goers. "Whereas Heinlein’s novel was punctuated by quotations from apocryphal books about warfare and social order, the movie has chosen to interpolate into the action a wearisome series of newscasts, media bulletins, and commercial advertisements. These interruptions serve no dramatic or satirical purpose whatsoever; they are merely annoying and, at best, sophomoric in their obvious humor." (from Novels into Film by John C. Tibbets and James M. Welsh, 1997)
From the late 1950s Heinlein started write expressly for adults and deal with such topics as cloning, incest, religion, free love and mysticism. Heinlein’s religious views in direct opposition to the literal interpretation of biblical scripture: "The most preposterous notion that H. sapiens has ever dreamed up is that the Lord God of Creation, Shaper and Ruler of all the Universes, wants the saccharine adoration of His creatures, can be swayed by their prayers, and becomes petulant if He does not receive flattery. Yet this absurd fantasy, without a shred of evidence to bolster it, pays all the expenses of the oldest, largest, and least productive industry in all history." (from Time Enough for Love, 1973)
Heinlein’s short stories were independent of one another but related in the author’s ‘Future History: 1951-2600’ AD time line. Some of his characters periodically appear in different novels, among the Lazarus Long from METHUSELAH’S CHILDREN (1958). In TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE (1973) Lazarus has a number of sexual adventures, travels back in time, and has sex with his own mother. "A "pacifist male" is a contradiction in terms. Most self-described "pacifist" are not pacifist; they simple assume false colors. When the wind changes, they hoist the Jolly Roger." (from Time Enough for Love, 1973) The life of Maureen Johnson, Lazarus’s mother, is dealt in TO SAIL BEYOND THE SUNSET (1987). Nearly all of Heinlein’s work fit into a specific time period within this larger scheme. The idea was later imitated by several writers, with considerable success by Poul Anderson and Larry Niven. Also Isaac Asimov developed similar scheme, and claimed imaginative copyright on the imagined future.
Among Heinlein’s best known works is the hippie oriented STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND (1961). It became the most successful science-fiction novel ever published. The protagonist is Valentine Michael Smith, a child of two members of the first expedition to Mars. He is born there and raised on by brillinatly advanced Martians after humans have died. A second Mars expedition discovers him and Michael comes to Earth without much knowledge of sex. He is shertered and educated by Jubal Harshaw, and old doctor, lawyer, and writer. Helped with psi powers he establishes a new religion and starts his transformation into a Messiah-figure. Michael is eventually killed by a mob, but his disciples, called "water brothers," continue his work. Again, like in many Heinlein’s works, a small elite rises above the masses and show the way to future. Stranger in a Strange Land was one of the favorite books of the mass murderer Charles Manson. "When he started his "family" in Berkeley, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, Manson borrowed some of the terminology and ceremonies from the book. It is reported that his followers held water-sharing ceremonies as well as group sex orgies. He referred to his parole officer as "Roger Smith Jubal," after Jubal Harshaw, Mike’s mentor. When Mary Theresa Brunner, one of Manson’s followers, gave birth to a baby boy in 1968, Manson named the child Valentine Michael Manson." (from Chronology of Twentieth-Century History: Arts & Culture, volume II, ed. by Frank N. Magill, 1998)
GLORY ROAD (1963) has been decades one of Heinlein’s most popular books, written in the tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Mars stories. The protagonist is Oscar Gordon who experiences a series of adventures with a beautiful woman, Star, and an old man, Rufo, who have their secrets. MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS (1966) was set in an exploited penal colony, Luna. All dissident and other unfits have been sent there and soon the best brains invents new forms of marriage due to shortage of women. The protagonist has an artificial left arm, or several of them for special purposes. In I WILL FEAR NO EVIL (1971) a dying tycoon, Johann Smith, has his brain transplanted into the body of Eunice, a young black woman. Johann has her body impregnated with his frozen sperm. CAT WHO WALKS THROUGH WALLS (1985) was about alternate histories and time travels. Colonel Colin Campbell, alias Senator Richard Johnson, alias doctor Richard Ames, is a warrior, philosopher, and wanderer, who saves the history and future of multiversum. Also Schrödinger’s cat has an important role in the story.
Usually Heinlein spent some three months with his writing and travelled widely for the rest of the time. In 1973 he taught as James V. Forrestal Lecturer at the U.S. Naval Academy. He was awarded the first Grand Master Nebula in 1975. Heinlein was repeatedly voted as ‘the best all-time author’ in reader’s polls held by the magazine Locus in 1973 and 1975. He died on May 8, 1988.
It was a good read, if a bit old fashioned, and didactic. Man from 1939 wakes up in 2086…The economics lesson was fun-I couldn’t decide if modern government spending, Bush style, was the way Heinlein was talking or not. In some ways yes, not all. The book describes some more benign possibilities.