"Never underestimate the power of human stupidity." -- Robert A. Heinlein
Robert Anson Heinlein (July 7, 1907 — May 8, 1988) was an American science fiction writer. Often called "the dean of science fiction writers", WonderCon 2008 :: Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Blood Drive he was one of the most popular, influential, and controversial authors of the genre. He set a high standard for science and engineering plausibility and helped to raise the genre's standards of literary quality. He was one of the first writers to break into mainstream, general magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, in the late 1940s, with unvarnished science fiction. He was among the first authors of bestselling, novel-length science fiction in the modern, mass-market era. For many years, Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke were known as the "Big Three" of science fiction.
Heinlein was a notable writer of science-fiction short stories, and he was one of a group of writers who were groomed in their writing by John W. Campbell, Jr. the editor of Astounding magazine...though Heinlein himself denied that Campbell influenced his writing to any great degree.
Within the framework of his science fiction stories, Heinlein repeatedly integrated recognizable social themes: The importance of individual liberty and self-reliance, the obligation individuals owe to their societies, the influence of organized religion on culture and government, and the tendency of society to repress non-conformist thought. He also examined the relationship between physical and emotional love, explored various unorthodox family structures, and speculated on the influence of space travel on human cultural practices. His iconoclastic approach to these themes led to wildly divergent perceptions of his works and attempts to place mutually contradictory labels on his work. For example, his 1959 novel Starship Troopers was regarded by some as advocating militarism and to some extent fascism, although many passages in the book disparage the inflexibility and stupidity of a purely militaristic mindset. By contrast, his 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land put him in the unexpected role of a pied piper of the sexual revolution, and of the counterculture, and through this book he was credited with popularizing the notion of polyamory.
Heinlein won Hugo Awards for four of his novels; in addition, fifty years after publication, three of his works were awarded "Retro Hugos"...awards given retrospectively for years in which Hugo Awards had not been awarded. He also won the first Grand Master Award given by the Science Fiction Writers of America for his lifetime achievement. In his fiction, Heinlein coined words that have become part of the English language, including "grok" and "waldo", and popularized the term "TANSTAAFL".
"A competent and self-confident person is incapable of jealousy in anything. Jealousy is invariably a symptom of neurotic insecurity.""A society that gets rid of all its troublemakers goes downhill.""An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.""Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat.""Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors... and miss.""Being right too soon is socially unacceptable.""By cultivating the beautiful we scatter the seeds of heavenly flowers, as by doing good we cultivate those that belong to humanity.""Don't ever become a pessimist... a pessimist is correct oftener than an optimist, but an optimist has more fun, and neither can stop the march of events.""Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.""Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done.""For me, politeness is a sine qua non of civilization.""I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.""I don't see how an article of clothing can be indecent. A person, yes.""I never learned from a man who agreed with me.""It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.""It's an indulgence to sit in a room and discuss your beliefs as if they were a juicy piece of gossip.""Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own... Jealousy is a disease, love is a healthy condition. The immature mind often mistakes one for the other, or assumes that the greater the love, the greater the jealousy.""May you live as long as you wish and love as long as you live.""Never insult anyone by accident.""Never worry about theory as long as the machinery does what it's supposed to do.""No statement should be believed because it is made by an authority.""One could write a history of science in reverse by assembling the solemn pronouncements of highest authority about what could not be done and could never happen.""One man's "magic" is another man's engineering. "Supernatural" is a null word.""One man's theology is another man's belly laugh.""One of the sanest, surest, and most generous joys of life comes from being happy over the good fortune of others.""Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.""Sex without love is merely healthy exercise.""The difference between science and the fuzzy subjects is that science requires reasoning while those other subjects merely require scholarship.""The supreme irony of life is that hardly anyone gets out of it alive.""The universe never did make sense; I suspect it was built on government contract.""Theology is never any help; it is searching in a dark cellar at midnight for a black cat that isn't there. Theologians can persuade themselves of anything.""There is no way that writers can be tamed and rendered civilized or even cured. the only solution known to science is to provide the patient with an isolation room, where he can endure the acute stages in private and where food can be poked in to him with a stick.""They didn't want it good, they wanted it Wednesday.""To be matter-of-fact about the world is to blunder into fantasy - and dull fantasy at that, as the real world is strange and wonderful.""When a place gets crowded enough to require ID's, social collapse is not far away. It is time to go elsewhere. The best thing about space travel is that it made it possible to go elsewhere.""When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know, the end result is tyranny and oppression no matter how holy the motives.""Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.""Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.""Yield to temptation. It may not pass your way again.""You can have peace. Or you can have freedom. Don't ever count on having both at once."
Heinlein (pronounced Hine-line) was born on July 7, 1907, to Rex Ivar Heinlein (an accountant) and Bam Lyle Heinlein, in Butler, Missouri. His childhood was spent in Kansas City, Missouri. The outlook and values of this time and place (in his own words, "The Bible Belt") had a definite influence on his fiction, especially his later works, as experiences from his childhood were heavily drawn upon both for setting and for cultural atmosphere in Time Enough for Love and To Sail Beyond the Sunset, among others. However, he would later break with many of its values and mores...especially those concerning morality as it applies to issues such as religion and sexuality...both in his writing and in his personal life.
The military was the second great influence on Heinlein; throughout his life, he strongly believed in loyalty, leadership, and other ideals associated with the military. Heinlein graduated from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1929, and served as an officer in the United States Navy. He served on the new aircraft carrier USS Lexington in 1931. During that time, Heinlein worked on radio communications, then in its nascent phase, with the carrier's airplanes. The captain of the warship was Ernest J. King who was later to serve as the Chief of Naval Operations during the Second World War. Heinlein was frequently interviewed during his later years by military historians on Captain King and his services as the commander of the U.S. Navy's first modern aircraft carrier. Heinlein also served aboard the destroyer USS Roper in 1933—1934, reaching the rank of Lieutenant. His brother, Lawrence Heinlein, served in the Army, the Air Force, and the Missouri National Guard and rose to the rank of Major General.
In 1929, he married Eleanor Curry of Kansas City in Los Angeles, Calif. but this marriage lasted only about a year. He soon married his second wife, Leslyn Macdonald, in 1932. MacDonald was a political radical, and Isaac Asimov recalled that Heinlein was, like her, "a flaming liberal."
In 1934, Heinlein was discharged from the Navy due to pulmonary tuberculosis. During a lengthy hospitalization, he developed the concept of the waterbed, and his detailed descriptions of it in three of his books constituted sufficient prior art to prevent a U.S. patent on water beds when they became common in the 1960s.
After his discharge, Heinlein attended a few weeks of graduate classes in mathematics and physics in the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), but he soon quit either because of his health or from a desire to enter politics.
Heinlein supported himself at several occupations, including real estate sales and silver mining, but for some years found money in short supply. Heinlein was active in Upton Sinclair's socialist End Poverty in California movement in the early 1930s. When Sinclair gained the Democratic nomination for Governor of California in 1934, Heinlein worked actively in the campaign. Heinlein himself ran for the California State Assembly in 1938, but he was unsuccessful. In 1954, he wrote, "...many Americans ... were asserting loudly that McCarthy had created a 'reign of terror.' Are you terrified? I am not, and I have in my background much political activity well to the left of Senator McCarthy's position."
While not destitute after the campaign—he had a small disability pension from the Navy—Heinlein turned to writing in order to pay off his mortgage and in 1939, his first published story, "Life-Line", was printed in Astounding Science-Fiction magazine. He was quickly acknowledged as a leader of the new movement toward "social" science fiction. He was the guest of honor at Denvention, the 1941 Worldcon, held in Denver. During World War II, he did aeronautical engineering for the U.S. Navy, also recruiting Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp to work at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in Pennsylvania.
As the war wound down in 1945, Heinlein began re-evaluating his career. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, along with the outbreak of the Cold War, galvanized him to write nonfiction on political topics. In addition, he wanted to break into better-paying markets. He published four influential short stories for The Saturday Evening Post magazine, leading off, in February 1947, with "The Green Hills of Earth". That made him the first science fiction writer to break out of the "pulp ghetto". In 1950, the movie Destination Moon...the documentary-like film for which he had written the story and scenario, co-written the script, and invented many of the effects...won an Academy Award for special effects. Also, he embarked on a series of juvenile S.F. novels for the Charles Scribner's Sons publishing company that was to last through the 1950s (at the rate of one book per year).
Heinlein and his second wife divorced in 1947, and the following year he married Virginia "Ginny" Gerstenfeld, to whom he would remain married until his death forty years later.
Shortly thereafter, the Heinlein couple moved to Colorado, but in 1965 her health was affected by the altitude. They moved to Santa Cruz, California while constructing a new residence in the adjacent Bonny Doon, California. The unique circular California house, which, like their Colorado house, he designed with Virginia, and built himself, is on Bonny Doon Road .
Ginny undoubtedly served as a model for many of his intelligent, fiercely independent female characters. In 1953—1954, the Heinleins voyaged around the world (mostly via ocean liner and cargo liner), which Heinlein described in Tramp Royale, and which also provided background material for science fiction novels set aboard spaceships on long voyages, such as Podkayne of Mars and Farmer in the Sky. Ginny acted as the first reader of his manuscripts, and she was reputed to be a better engineer than Heinlein himself.
Isaac Asimov believed that Heinlein made a drastic swing to the right politically at the same time he married Ginny. The couple formed the small "Patrick Henry League" in 1958 and they worked in the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign, and Tramp Royale contains two lengthy apologias for the McCarthy hearings. Yet during this period Heinlein wrote Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), which is generally considered to advance very liberal themes, and was occasionally called "the unofficial bible of the hippie movement" in the late 1960s.
The Heinlein juveniles, S.F. novels for young adults, are also considered to be an important part of his output. He had used topical materials throughout his series, but in 1959, his Starship Troopers was considered by the Scribner's editorial staff to be too controversial for their prestige line, and they rejected it; Heinlein found another publisher, feeling himself released from the constraints of writing novels for children, and he began to write "my own stuff, my own way," and he wrote a series of challenging books that redrew the boundaries of science fiction, including his best-known work, Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), and also The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966).
Later life and death
Beginning in 1970, however, Heinlein had a series of health crises, broken by strenuous periods of activity in his hobby of stonemasonry. (In a private correspondence, he referred to that as his "usual and favorite occupation between books." ) The decade began with a life-threatening attack of peritonitis, recovery from which required more than two years. As soon as he was well enough to write again, he began work on Time Enough for Love (1973), which introduced many of the themes found in his later fiction.
In the mid-1970s, Heinlein wrote two articles for the Britannica Compton Yearbook. He and Ginny crisscrossed the country helping to reorganize blood donation in the United States, and he was the guest of honor at the worldcon for the third time at MidAmeriCon in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1976. While vacationing in Tahiti in early 1978, he suffered a transient ischemic attack. Over the next few months, he became more and more exhausted, and his health again began to decline. The problem was determined to be a blocked carotid artery, and then he had one of the earliest known carotid bypass operations to correct it. Heinlein and Virginia had been smokers and smoking appears often in his fiction, as well as fictitious strikable self-lighting cigarettes.
Asked to appear before a Joint Committee of the U.S. House and Senate that year, he testified on his belief that spin-offs from space technology were benefiting the infirm and the elderly. His surgical treatment re-energized Heinlein, and he wrote five novels from 1980 until he died in his sleep from emphysema and heart failure on May 8, 1988.
At that time, he had been putting together the early notes for another World as Myth novel. Several of his other works have been published posthumously.
After his death, his wife Virginia Heinlein issued a compilation of Heinlein's correspondence and notes into a somewhat autobiographical examination of his career, published in 1989 under the title Grumbles from the Grave. Heinlein's archive is housed by the Special Collections department of McHenry Library at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The collection includes manuscript drafts, correspondence, photographs and artifacts. A substantial portion of the archive has been digitized and is available online through the Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Archives.
Over the course of his career Heinlein wrote three somewhat overlapping series.
Future History series
Lazarus Long series
World as Myth series
Early work, 1939—1958
The first novel that Heinlein wrote, A Comedy of Customs (1939), did not see print during his lifetime, but Robert James later tracked down the manuscript and it was published in 2003. Widely regarded as a failure as a novel, being little more than a disguised lecture on Heinlein's social theories, it is intriguing as a window into the development of Heinlein's radical ideas about man as a social animal, including his interest in free love. The root of many themes found in his later stories can be found in this book. It also contained much material that could be considered background for his other novels, including a detailed description of the protagonist's treatment to avoid being banned into Coventry (a place in the Heinlein mythos where unrepentant law-breakers are sent to experience actual anarchy).
It appears that Heinlein at least attempted to live in a manner consistent with these ideals, even in the 1930s, and had an open relationship in his marriage to his second wife, Leslyn. He was also a nudist; nudism and body taboos are frequently discussed in his work. At the height of the cold war, he built a bomb shelter under his house, like the one featured in Farnham's Freehold.
After For Us, The Living, Heinlein began selling (to magazines) first short stories, then novels, set in a Future History, complete with a time line of significant political, cultural, and technological changes. A chart of the future history was published in the May 1941 issue of Astounding. Over time, Heinlein wrote many novels and short stories that deviated freely from the Future History on some points, while maintaining consistency in some other areas. The Future History was also eventually overtaken by actual events. These discrepancies were explained, after a fashion, in his later World as Myth stories.
Heinlein's first novel published as a book, Rocket Ship Galileo, was initially rejected because going to the moon was considered too far out, but he soon found a publisher, Scribner's, that began publishing a Heinlein juvenile once a year for the Christmas season. Eight of these books were illustrated by Clifford Geary in a distinctive white-on-black scratchboard style. Some representative novels of this type are Have Space Suit...Will Travel, Farmer in the Sky, and Starman Jones. Many of these were first published in serial form under other titles, e.g., Farmer in the Sky was published as Satellite Scout in the Boy Scout magazine Boys' Life. There has been speculation that Heinlein's intense obsession with his privacy was due at least in part to the apparent contradiction between his unconventional private life and his career as an author of books for children, but For Us, The Living also explicitly discusses the political importance Heinlein attached to privacy as a matter of principle.
The novels that Heinlein wrote for a young audience are commonly referred to as "the Heinlein juveniles", and they feature a mixture of adolescent and adult themes. Many of the issues that he takes on in these books have to do with the kinds of problems that adolescents experience. His protagonists are usually very intelligent teenagers who have to make their way in the adult society they see around them. On the surface, they are simple tales of adventure, achievement, and dealing with stupid teachers and jealous peers. However, Heinlein was a vocal proponent of the notion that juvenile readers were far more sophisticated and able to handle complex or difficult themes than most people realized. Thus even his juvenile stories often had a maturity to them that made them readable for adults. Red Planet, for example, portrays some very subversive themes, including a revolution in which young students are involved; his editor demanded substantial changes in this book's discussion of topics such as the use of weapons by children and the misidentified sex of the Martian character. Heinlein was always aware of the editorial limitations put in place by the editors of his novels and stories, and while he observed those restrictions on the surface, was often successful in introducing ideas not often seen in other authors' juvenile SF.
In 1957, James Blish wrote that one reason for Heinlein's success "has been the high grade of machinery which goes, today as always, into his story-telling. Heinlein seems to have known from the beginning, as if instinctively, technical lessons about fiction which other writers must learn the hard way (or often enough, never learn). He does not always operate the machinery to the best advantage, but he always seems to be aware of it."
1959—1960: the seminal years
Heinlein decisively ended his juvenile novels with Starship Troopers (1959), a controversial work and his personal riposte to leftists calling for President Dwight D. Eisenhower to stop nuclear testing in 1958. "[Heinlein] called for the formation of the Patrick Henry League and spent the next several weeks writing and publishing his own polemic that lambasted 'Communist-line goals concealed in idealistic-sounding nonsense' and urged Americans not to become 'soft-headed'. ... Critics labeled Heinlein everything from a Nazi to a racist."
"'The "Patrick Henry" ad shocked 'em,' he wrote many years later. "Starship Troopers outraged 'em."
Starship Troopers is a coming-of-age story about duty, citizenship, and the role of the military in society The book portrays a society in which suffrage is given only to those who earn it through government service, in the protagonist's case, military service. Later, in Expanded Universe, Heinlein said that it was his intention in the novel that service would include positions outside strictly military functions and would include teachers, police officers, and other government positions. The primary thing was, the individual didn't get to decide what job they got...it was a "take me, I'm yours" scenario. In addition, suffrage was only attained after leaving the assigned service, thus (in defiance of those who claim his proposed society was jingoist, militaristic, or fascist) the active military itself was excluded from exercising any franchise. Career military were completely disenfranchised until retirement.
Middle period work, 1961—1973
From about 1961 (Stranger in a Strange Land) to 1973 (Time Enough for Love), Heinlein wrote some of his more libertarian novels. His work during this period explored his most important themes, such as individualism, libertarianism, and free expression of physical and emotional love. He did not publish Stranger in a Strange Land until some time after it was written, and the themes of free love and radical individualism are prominently featured in his long-unpublished first novel, A Comedy of Customs. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress tells of a war of independence waged by the Lunar penal colonies, with significant comments from a major character, 'Professor La Paz', regarding the threat posed by government...including republican types...to individual freedom.
Although Heinlein had previously written a few short stories in the fantasy genre, during this period he wrote his first fantasy novel, Glory Road, and in Stranger in a Strange Land and I Will Fear No Evil, he began to mix hard science with fantasy, mysticism, and satire of organized religion. Critics William H. Patterson, Jr., and Andrew Thornton believe that this is simply an expression of Heinlein's longstanding philosophical opposition to positivism. Heinlein stated that he was influenced by James Branch Cabell in taking this new literary direction. The next-to-last novel of this period, I Will Fear No Evil, is according to critic James Gifford "almost universally regarded as a literary failure" and he attributes its shortcomings to Heinlein's near-death from peritonitis.
Later work, 1980—1987
After a seven-year hiatus brought on by poor health, Heinlein produced five new novels in the period from 1980 (The Number of the Beast) to 1987 (To Sail Beyond the Sunset). These books have a thread of common characters and time and place. They most explicitly communicated Heinlein's philosophies and beliefs, and many long, didactic passages of dialog and exposition deal with government, sex, and religion. These novels are controversial among his readers, and some critics have written about them very negatively. Heinlein's four Hugo awards were all for books written before this period. All of the books are written with the more heavily didactic style introduced with Starship Troopers.
Some of these books, such as The Number of the Beast and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, start out as tightly constructed adventure stories, but transform into philosophical fantasias at the end. It is a matter of opinion whether this demonstrates a lack of attention to craftsmanship or a conscious effort to expand the boundaries of science fiction, either into a kind of magical realism, continuing the process of literary exploration that he had begun with Stranger in a Strange Land, or into a kind of literary metaphor of quantum science (The Number of the Beast dealing with the Observer problem, and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls being a direct reference to the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment). Most of the novels from this period are recognized by critics as forming an offshoot from the Future History series, and referred to by the term World as Myth.
The tendency toward authorial self-reference begun in Stranger in a Strange Land and Time Enough for Love becomes even more evident in novels such as The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, whose first-person protagonist is a disabled military veteran who becomes a writer, and finds love with a female character who, like many of Heinlein's strong female characters, appears to be based closely on his wife Ginny.
The 1982 novel Friday, a more conventional adventure story (borrowing a character and backstory from the earlier short story Gulf, also containing suggestions of connection to The Puppet Masters) continued a Heinlein theme of expecting what he saw as the continued disintegration of Earth's society, to the point where the title character is strongly encouraged to seek a new life off-planet. It concludes with a traditional Heinlein note, as in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress or Time Enough for Love that freedom is to be found on the frontiers.
The 1984 novel A Comedy of Justice is a sharp satire of organized religion.
Several Heinlein works have been published since his death, including the aforementioned For Us, The Living as well as 1989's Grumbles from the Grave, a collection of letters between Heinlein and his editors and agent; 1992's Tramp Royale, a travelogue of a southern hemisphere tour the Heinleins took in the 1950s; Take Back Your Government, a how-to book about participatory democracy written in 1946; and a tribute volume called Requiem: Collected Works and Tributes to the Grand Master, containing some additional short works previously unpublished in book form. Off the Main Sequence, published in 2005, includes three short stories never before collected in any Heinlein book (Heinlein called them "stinkeroos").
Spider Robinson, a colleague, friend, and admirer of Heinlein, wrote Variable Star, based on an outline and notes for a juvenile novel that Heinlein prepared in 1955. The novel was published as a collaboration, with Heinlein's name above Robinson's on the cover, in 2006.
A complete collection of Heinlein's published work, conformed and copyedited by several Heinlein scholars including biographer William H. Patterson is being published by the Heinlein Trust as the "Virginia Edition", after his wife; the volumes are printed on 50 lb acid-free archival paper and bound in leather. The series price for 44 volumes is $1500.
Heinlein's writing may appear to oscillate wildly across the political spectrum. His first novel, For Us, The Living, consists largely of speeches advocating the Social Credit system, and the early story Misfit deals with an organization that seems to be Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps translated into outer space. Heinlein himself has suggested that, early on, he was very liberal, and that his divergence from that position was one of the stressors leading to his divorce from his first wife. Of his later works, Stranger in a Strange Land was embraced by the hippie counterculture, and Glory Road can be read as an antiwar piece, Starship Troopers militaristic, and To Sail Beyond the Sunset, published during the Reagan administration, stridently right-wing.Libertarians have found inspiration in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, however it is not clear that Heinlein held libertarian views. His early juvenile novels often contain a surprisingly strong anti-authority message, as in his first published novel Rocket Ship Galileo, which has a group of boys blasting off in a rocket ship in defiance of a court order. A similar defiance of a court order to take a moon trip takes place in the short story "Requiem". Heinlein was opposed to any encroachment of religion into government; he pilloried organized religion in A Comedy of Justice.
Heinlein grew up in the era of racial segregation in the United States and wrote some of his most influential fiction at the height of the US civil rights movement. His early juveniles were very much ahead of their time both in their explicit rejection of racism and in their inclusion of non-white protagonists...in the context of science fiction before the 1960s, the mere existence of non-white characters was a remarkable novelty, with green occurring more often than brown. For example, his second juvenile, the 1948 Space Cadet, explicitly uses aliens as a metaphor for minorities. Heinlein challenges his readers' possible racial preconceptions by introducing a strong, sympathetic character, only to reveal much later that he or she is of African or other descent; in several cases, the covers of the books show characters as being light-skinned, when in fact the text states, or at least implies, that they are dark-skinned or of African descent. Heinlein repeatedly denounced racism in his non-fiction works, including numerous examples in Expanded Universe.
Race was a central theme in some of Heinlein's fiction. The most prominent and controversial example is Farnham's Freehold, which casts a white family into a future in which white people are the slaves of cannibalistic black rulers. In the 1941 novel Sixth Column (also known as The Day After Tomorrow), a white resistance movement in the United States defends itself against an invasion by an Asian fascist state (the "Pan-Asians") using a "super-science" technology that allows ray weapons to be tuned to specific races. The book is sprinkled with racist slurs against Asian people, and interestingly blacks and Hispanics don't exist at all. The idea for the story was pushed on Heinlein by editor John W. Campbell, and Heinlein wrote later that he had "had to reslant it to remove racist aspects of the original story line" and that he did not "consider it to be an artistic success." (However, the novel prompted a heated debate in the scientific community regarding the plausibility of developing ethnic bioweapons). Heinlein reveals near the end of Starship Troopers that the novel's protagonist and narrator, Johnny Rico, the formerly disaffected scion of a wealthy family, is in fact of Filipino descent.
Some of the alien species in Heinlein's fiction can be interpreted in terms of an allegorical representation of human ethnic groups. It has been suggested that the strongly hierarchical and anti-individualistic "Bugs" in Starship Troopers were meant to represent the Chinese or Japanese, but Heinlein claimed to have written the book in response to "calls for the unilateral ending of nuclear testing by the United States." Heinlein suggests in the book that the Bugs are a good example of Communism being something that humans cannot successfully adhere to, since humans are strongly defined individuals, whereas the Bugs, being a collective, can all contribute to the whole without consideration of individual desire.
Individualism and self-determination
In keeping with his belief in individualism, his work for adults...and sometimes even his work for juveniles...often portrays both the oppressors and the oppressed with considerable ambiguity. Heinlein believed that individualism did not go hand-in-hand with ignorance. He believed that an appropriate level of adult competence was achieved through a wide-ranging education, whether this occurred in a classroom or not. In his juvenile novels, more than once a character looks with disdain at a student's choice of classwork, saying "Why didn't you study something useful?" In Time Enough for Love, Lazarus Long gives a long list of capabilities that anyone should have, concluding, "Specialization is for insects". The ability of the individual to create himself is explored deeply in stories such as I Will Fear No Evil, "...All You Zombies...", and By His Bootstraps.
For Heinlein, personal liberation included sexual liberation, and free love was a major subject of his writing starting in 1939, with For Us, The Living. During his early period, Heinlein's writing for younger readers needed to take account of both editorial perceptions of sexuality in his novels, and potential perceptions amongst the buying public; as critic William H. Patterson has put it, his dilemma was "to sort out what was really objectionable from what was only excessive over-sensitivity to imaginary librarians".By his middle period, sexual freedom and the elimination of sexual jealousy were a major theme of Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), in which the progressively minded reporter, Ben Caxton, acts as a dramatic foil for the less parochial characters, Jubal Harshaw and Valentine Michael Smith (Mike).
Gary Westfahl points out that "Heinlein is a problematic case for feminists; on the one hand, his works often feature strong female characters and vigorous statements that women are equal to or even superior to men; but these characters and statements often reflect hopelessly stereotypical attitudes about typical female attributes. It is disconcerting, for example, that in Expanded Universe Heinlein calls for a society where all lawyers and politicians are women, essentially on the grounds that they possess a mysterious feminine practicality that men cannot duplicate."
In books written as early as 1956, Heinlein dealt with incest and the sexual nature of children. Ten of his books (including "The Door into Summer", "Time for the Stars", "Glory Road", and "Time Enough for Love") dealt explicitly or implicitly with incest, sexual feelings and relations between adults and children, or both. Such could be as relatively light a treatment as a 30 year old engineer and an 11 year old girl arranging time travel in such a fashion as to get married when they were both adults ("The Door into Summer"), or as strongly controversial as father/daughter, mother/son, brother/sister unions ("To Sail Beyond the Sunset"). Authors such as L. Sprague DeCamp and Damon Knight have commented on this matter of Heinlein portraying incest and pedophilia in positive lights, and their views, as well as those who maintain The Heinlein Society website, are not favorable to it.
In To Sail Beyond the Sunset, Heinlein has the main character, Maureen, state that the purpose of metaphysics is to ask questions: Why are we here? Where are we going after we die? (and so on), and that "you are not allowed to answer the questions". Asking the questions is the point for metaphysics, but answering them is not, because once you answer them, you cross the line into religion. Maureen does not state a reason for this; she simply remarks that such questions are "beautiful" but lack answers. Maureen's son/lover Lazarus Long makes a related remark in Time Enough for Love. In order for us to answer the "big questions" about the universe, Lazarus states at one point, it would be necessary to stand outside the universe.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Heinlein was deeply interested in Alfred Korzybski's General Semantics and attended a number of seminars on the subject. His views on epistemology seem to have flowed from that interest, and his fictional characters continue to express Korzybskian views to the very end of his writing career. Many of his stories, such as Gulf, If This Goes On..., and Stranger in a Strange Land, depend strongly on the premise, extrapolated from the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, that by using a correctly designed language, one can liberate oneself mentally, or even become a superman. He was also strongly affected by the religious philosopher P. D. Ouspensky. Freudianism and psychoanalysis were at the height of their influence during the peak of Heinlein's career, and stories such as Time for the Stars indulged in psychoanalysis. However, he was skeptical about Freudianism, especially after a struggle with an editor who insisted on reading Freudian sexual symbolism into his juvenile novels. Heinlein was fascinated by the social credit movement in the 1930s. This is shown in his 1938 novel A Comedy of Customs, which was finally published in 2003, long after his death. He was strongly committed to cultural relativism, and the sociologist Margaret Mader in his novel Citizen of the Galaxy is clearly a reference to Margaret Mead. In the World War II era, cultural relativism was the only intellectual framework that offered a clearly reasoned alternative to racism, which Heinlein was ahead of his time in opposing. Many of these sociological and psychological theories have been criticized, debunked, or heavily modified in the last fifty years, and Heinlein's use of them may now appear credulous and dated to many readers. The critic Patterson says "Korzybski is now widely regarded as a crank", although others disagree.
Heinlein is usually identified, along with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, as one of the three masters of science fiction to arise in the so-called Golden Age of science fiction, associated with John W. Campbell and his magazine Astounding. However, in the 1950s he was a leader in bringing science fiction out of the low-paying and less prestigious pulp ghetto. Most of his works, including short stories, have been continuously in print in many languages since their initial appearance and are still available as new paperbacks decades after his death.
Robert Heinlein was also influenced by the American writer, philosopher and humorist Charles Fort who is credited as a major influence on most of the leading science-fiction writers of the 20th-century. Heinlein was a long-time member of the International Fortean Organization also known as INFO, the successor to the original Fortean Society until his death. Heinlein's letters were often displayed on the walls of the INFO offices and his active participation in the organization is mentioned in the INFO Journal.
He was at the top of his form during, and himself helped to initiate, the trend toward social science fiction, which went along with a general maturing of the genre away from space opera to a more literary approach touching on such adult issues as politics and human sexuality. In reaction to this trend, hard science fiction began to be distinguished as a separate subgenre, but paradoxically Heinlein is also considered a seminal figure in hard science fiction, due to his extensive knowledge of engineering, and the careful scientific research demonstrated in his stories. Heinlein himself stated...with obvious pride...that in the days before pocket calculators, he and his wife Virginia once worked for several days on a mathematical equation describing an Earth-Mars rocket orbit, which was then subsumed in a single sentence of the novel Space Cadet. Part of this may be tied to Heinlein's almost uniquely effective ability to see, as he defined it, not only the primary and secondary effects of technology (the automobile leads to the disappearance of the horse, primary, and to the fact that few Americans have any real experience of horses, secondary) but to the tertiary and deeper effects of technology (for example, the effect of the automobile on loosening social mores, by allowing people to "get away" from people that might gossip about them). In this, Heinlein was a master: He foresaw Interstate Highways (The Roads Must Roll), concern over nuclear power generation (Blowups Happen), international nuclear stalemate (Solution Unsatisfactory...i.e., the Cold War) as well as numerous other lesser examples. Rarely was the technology he described the end solution, but almost always he saw the effect that sort of technology would have on society. Heinlein can also be credited, post-Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, with writing the first modern variations of almost every hard SF archetype.
Heinlein has had a nearly ubiquitous influence on other science fiction writers. In a 1953 poll of leading science fiction authors, he was cited more frequently as an influence than any other modern writer. In 1974, he won the first Grand Master Award given by the Science Fiction Writers of America for lifetime achievement. Critic James Gifford writes that "Although many other writers have exceeded Heinlein's output, few can claim to match his broad and seminal influence. Scores of science fiction writers from the pre-war Golden Age through the present day loudly and enthusiastically credit Heinlein for blazing the trails of their own careers, and shaping their styles and stories."
Outside the science fiction community, several words and phrases coined or adopted by Heinlein have passed into common English usage: waldo, TANSTAAFL, moonbat, and grok.
In 1962, Oberon Zell-Ravenheart (then still using his birth name, Tim Zell) founded the Church of All Worlds, a Neopagan religious organization modeled in many ways after the treatment of religion in the novel Stranger in a Strange Land. This spiritual path included several ideas from the book, including polyamory, non-mainstream family structures, social libertarianism, water-sharing rituals, an acceptance of all religious paths by a single tradition, and the use of several terms such as "grok", "Thou art God", and "Never Thirst". Though Heinlein was neither a member nor a promoter of the Church, it was done with frequent correspondence between Zell and Heinlein, and he was a paid subscriber to their magazine Green Egg. This Church still exists as a 501(C)(3) religious organization incorporated in California, with membership worldwide, and it remains an active part of the neopagan community today.
He was influential in making space exploration seem to the public more like a practical possibility. His stories in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post took a matter-of-fact approach to their outer-space setting, rather than the "gee whiz" tone that had previously been common. The documentary-like film Destination Moon advocated a Space Race with the Soviet Union almost a decade before such an idea became commonplace, and was promoted by an unprecedented publicity campaign in print publications. Many of the astronauts and others working in the U. S. space program grew up on a diet of the Heinlein juveniles, best evidenced by the naming of a crater on Mars after him, and a tribute interspersed by the Apollo 15 astronauts into their radio conversations while on the moon.
Heinlein was also a guest commentator for Walter Cronkite during Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's Apollo 11 moon landing.
There was an active campaign to persuade the Secretary of the Navy to name the new Zumwalt class destroyer DDG-1001 the USS Robert A. Heinlein; however, DDG-1001 will be named USS Monsoor, after Michael Monsoor, a Navy SEAL who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in Iraq.
Main-belt asteroid 6312 Robheinlein (1990 RH4), discovered on September 14, 1990 by H. E. Holt, at Palomar was named after him.
Heinlein published 32 novels, 59 short stories, and 16 collections during his life. Four films, two TV series, several episodes of a radio series, and a board game have been derived more or less directly from his work. He wrote a screenplay for one of the films. Heinlein edited an anthology of other writers' SF short stories.
Three non-fiction books and two poems have been published posthumously. One novel has been published posthumously and another, written by Spider Robinson based on a sketchy outline by Heinlein, was published in September 2006.
Stover, Leon: Robert Heinlein. Boston: Twayne, 1987