Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

SF, science, and daily living

Robert A. Heinlein

Robert Anson Heinlein (pronounced like Hine-Line) is generally considered to be one of the best science fiction authors of all time. His early work introduced concepts and ideas that have since become ‘standard’ within the field, such as the multi-generation starship and the influence of new technology on economics and governments. His later work grew much more philosophical, dealing with the proper relationship of an individual to others, his enclosing society, and to government.
He was born in 1907, and spent his childhood in Missouri, the influence of which can be seen in many of his works, such as Time Enough for Love and To Sail Beyond the Sunset. A graduate of Annapolis, he was forcibly ‘retired’ with a medical discharge from the Navy due to contracting tuberculosis. After his discharge, he tried a variety of jobs, including running for the California State Assembly on the Democratic ticket (some of that experience eventually landed on the pages of the 1956 novel Double Star). Eventually, he tried his hand at writing, completing his first novel, For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs , somewhere around 1938. The novel proved to be unsaleable at the time due to its racy content (and its clumsy technique), and all copies were thought to have been destroyed until a single copy was found just recently. The novel was finally published at the tail end of 2003, 65 years after it was written.
This failure did not stop his attempts at writing, and when he saw an advertisement for a story writing contest offering $50 for the winner, he wrote Lifeline – but instead of sending it in to the contest, he sent it to John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding, who immediately bought the story and set Heinlein’s occupation for the rest of his life. He died in 1988, after producing over 40 novels, numerous short stories, and changing the face of science fiction forever.
Major Works My Rating
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress — Hugo Award, 1967 9.3
Stranger in a Strange Land — Hugo Award, 1962 9.2
Starship Troopers — Hugo Award, 1960 9.0
Double Star — Hugo Award, 1956 9.0
The Door into Summer 8.0
Friday — Hugo & Nebula Nominee, 1982 8.0
Job: A Comedy of Justice — Hugo & Nebula Nominee, 1984 7.5
Glory Road — Hugo Nominee, 1964 7.5
The Future History Series: Main Components:
The Green Hills of Earth (short story collection) 4.0-9.0
The Man Who Sold the Moon (short story collection) — Retro Hugo Award, 2001 4.0-8.5
Revolt in 2100 (..If This Goes On, Coventry, Misfit) 5.5,6.5,7.5
Methuselah’s Children 6.5
Orphans of the Sky (Universe, Commonsense) 6.0
Time Enough for Love — Hugo & Nebula Nominee, 1973 8.5
The Number of the Beast 8.0
The Cat Who Walks Through Walls 7.5
To Sail Beyond the Sunset 7.0
The ‘Juveniles’
These were a series of books that Heinlein wrote under contract to Scribners that were aimed at the 10-15 year-old market. However, calling them ‘juveniles’ does them a disservice, as they were books that tackled some very adult problems, even if their protagonists were adolescents. They are fully readable by adults, and most are better than the large majority of what is on the book racks of then and today.
Between Planets 6.0
Citizen of the Galaxy 7.5
Farmer in the Sky — Retro Hugo Award, 2001 6.5
Have Spacesuit – Will Travel — Hugo Nominee, 1958 8.0
Podkayne of Mars 7.0
Red Planet 6.0
Rocket Ship Galileo 4.5
The Rolling Stones 6.5
Space Cadet 6.5
The Star Beast 7.0
Starman Jones 7.0
Time For the Stars 7.0
Tunnel in the Sky 7.5
Mr. Heinlein was also awarded the Grandmaster Nebula Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1976.
Waldoes: Introduced in the novella “Waldo” (published as by ‘Anson McDonald’ in the August, 1942 issue of Astounding), these are the remote robot hands used today for handling dangerous items or things that must be kept in a hostile/secure environment. The Waldo of the title was a mechanical genius who was effectively crippled by severe muscular weakness and used the ‘hands’ as a substitute for his own. The name was given to the real instrument when they came into use for handling of radioactive materials.
Automated Drafting Tool: Introduced in The Door into Summer (1956), the concept was to use an electric typewriter interface to automatically draw lines and curves for mechanical drawings. This has evolved today into CAD (computer aided drafting).
Water Bed: First mentioned in detail in Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), Heinlein envisioned it being used solely in hospitals. This is one of the few cases where he failed to realize the social implications of a device, and certainly didn’t foresee its current prevalence in motels and homes. (Note there is a reference to a water bed in Beyond this Horizon, first published in 1941, but I believe this was added to the text when Heinlein did some minor rewrites of this work some time later).
Microwaves for Cooking: This item is hidden in a single line comment in Space Cadet, casually thrown out as a commonplace of the day. The only thing is, this book was written in 1948, when radar was still in its infancy, the heating properties of microwaves were still the subject of laboratory experimentation, and the first commercial home microwave oven wouldn’t appear until 1967.
Concepts and Ideas
Multi-Generation Starship: Though the idea has since been worked to death, Heinlein was one of the first to work this concept out in detail in Universe & Commonsense.
Line Marriage: Though many authors have worked with polyandry, polygamy, and group marriage, Heinlein presented this as an alternative that has the major advantages of never dying, never having a situation where the children are left uncared for or unloved, and preserving capital resources from generation to generation. Presented in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as the convict’s solution to an environment that had no security and where individuals had no ‘rights’, this idea seems so solid I would not be surprised if some attempt was made to institute this form of marriage in the near future.
Service Requirement for Citizenship: The basic concept is simple enough — if you wish to exercise the right to vote and hold political office, you must first demonstrate that you have the willingness to serve the society in which you wish to wield power. Heinlein posited in Starship Troopers that a society based on this concept would be more stable than any existing form of government because it requires a balance between responsibility and authority. The movie made from this book made an absolute hash of this idea, turning it into a fascist-like government, about as far away from Heinlein’s idea as possible.
School Courses in Basic Survival: Heinlein felt that anyone that could not do everything from skinning a deer to programming a computer was at least partially incapacitated. He also felt that the current school system is woefully lacking in being able to teach the student how to get along in the real world, both in terms of teacher expertise and what is being required of the student. The school course in survival was one recommendation of his to help correct this deficiency, and formed the basis for the novel Tunnel in the Sky.
Detailed Future History: Though the concept is not original with Heinlein, he worked out a detailed map of the proposed direction of the future, including political, social, and scientific events as milestone markers. The Future History chart he developed is printed in several of the books belonging to the series. Its use made possible a long series of stories that could stand independently, but could still be linked by the reader into a satisfying whole. His last few books made use of the concept of alternate time tracks and author generated universes to basically manage to tie all his books together into this series.
Time Travel Paradox: Again, not original with Heinlein, but his treatment of the idea in “By His Bootstraps” and “All You Zombies” may be the ultimate, with “All You Zombies” managing for a man to become his own wife and his own child! A quieter treatment, without most of the paradox problems, was his Door Into Summer, where travel to the future was accomplished by cryogenic freezing.
Powered Armor Suits: Again, from Starship Troopers, an idea that the movie totally ignored. The idea is basically a suit wired to greatly amplify body movements precisely, while protecting the encased individual. This would certainly help ease the problem of the poor infantry soldier, who has to carry everything he needs on his back/shoulders, with nothing but his muscles as motive power. In addition, the suit was envisioned as having a heads-up radar display and multiple radio links, all addressing problems the foot soldier sees constantly.
The Heinlein Voice
Like any author, Heinlein has a distinct style and ‘voice’. But many people have remarked on how easy Heinlein is to read, and how ‘true to life’ so many of his works are.
For a short analysis of just why these qualities permeate his works, see my post The Heinlein Voice.
Stranger in a Strange Land
This book is Heinlein’s most famous effort, still selling very well today in both its original (1961) ‘cut’ version, and in the ‘uncut’ version (about 60,000 words longer), released after his death by his wife, Virginia Heinlein. It is an extremely complex satirical book, with multiple literary and philosophical allusions and referents, and with attacks and comments on many of the basic tenants of American life and social structure, including sex, love, politics, government, religion(s), economics, tattoos, art, writing, astrology, journalism, TV, military, inheritance laws, cannibalism, prejudice, prisons, and carnival life. Heinlein’s aim was for this book to create questions about all of a reader’s basic assumptions, to gore every sacred cow, to upset all the apple-carts. In some ways, he succeeded beyond his dreams, as the book was ‘adopted’ as their bible by many of the ’60s counter-culture movement, even to the point that several churches were established with this book as their basis (most notably the Church of All Worlds). Heinlein himself was rather terrified by this use, as he never intended the book to provide answers, only to force questions.

The plot line is fairly simple: A child born to the first Martian expedition, Valentine Michael Smith (“Mike”), is raised by the Martians and brought back to Earth as a young man, where he receives a rather eccentric education into the ways of man by those who befriend him. Once he feels that he understands humanity, Mike undertakes to educate humans in the philosophy of “Thou art God” in such a way that the truth of that statement is self-evident. As such, he becomes a self-proclaimed messiah, with the usual fate of messiahs that upset everyone’s idea of what is ‘right’. But those who have accepted his ‘education’ will continue on…

The book makes heavy use of irony and contrasting poles of thought, such as Mike (the innocent) vs Jubal Harshaw (the voice of experience). Most of the character’s names are important in terms of their ‘meaning’, elucidating and enhancing many of Heinlein’s points. Due to its structure and theme, this is one of the few SF books that has been subjected to a fair amount of academic analysis, a process that continues to this day.

This book has contributed some new words to the English language, most notably “grok” and “water-brother” and may have the best simple definition of love found anywhere: “Love is that condition in which the happiness of another is conditional to your own”. (Note: this definition appears only in the ‘cut’ version, apparently thought up while he was editing the original version of the book down to what was at the time ‘publishable’ length). And it has certainly expanded the range of what SF can be, both in structure and theme.

The picture here shows a first edition of this book, with the cover art being a picture of the sculpture “Fallen Caryatid With Stone” by Rodin. This item is referenced in the book during a long conversation between Jubal Harshaw and Ben Caxton, where Jubal is instructing Ben in the art of looking at art:

“No,” Caxton answered, “I want to know about these others. How about this one? It doesn’t bother me as much… I can see it’s a young girl, right off. But why tie her up like a pretzel?”

Jubal looked at the replica “Caryatid Who has Fallen under the Weight of her Stone” and smiled. “Call it a tour de force in empathy, Ben. I won’t expect you to appreciate the shapes and masses which make that figure much more than a ‘pretzel’ – but you can appreciate what Rodin was saying. Ben, what do people get out of looking at a crucifix?”

“You know how much I go to church.”

“‘How little’ you mean. Still, you must know that, as craftsmanship, paintings and sculpture of the Crucifixion are usually atrocious – and the painted, realistic ones often used in churches are the worst of all… the blood looks like catsup and that ex-carpenter is usually portrayed as if he were a pansy… which He certainly was not if there is any truth in the four Gospels at all. He was a hearty man, probably muscular and of rugged health. But despite the almost uniformly poor portrayal in representations of the Crucifixion, a poor one is about as effective as a good one for most people. They don’t see the defects; what they see is a symbol which inspires their deepest emotions; it recalls to them the Agony and Sacrifice of God.”

“Jubal, I thought you weren’t a Christian?”

“What’s that got to do with it? Does that make me blind and deaf to fundamental human emotion? I was saying that the crummiest painted plaster crucifix or the cheapest cardboard Christmas Creche can be sufficient symbol to evoke emotions in the human heart so strong that many have died for them and many more live for them. So the craftsmanship and artistic judgment with which such a symbol is wrought are largely irrelevant. Now here we have another emotional symbol – wrought with exquisite craftsmanship, but we won’t go into that, yet. Ben, for almost three thousand years or longer, architects have designed buildings with columns shaped as female figures – it got to be such a habit that they did it as casually as a small boy steps on an ant. After all those centuries it took Rodin to see that this was work too heavy for a girl. But he didn’t simply say, ‘Look, you jerks, if you must design this way, make it a brawny male figure.’ No, he showed it… and generalized the symbol. Here is this poor little caryatid who has tried – and failed, fallen under the load. She’s a good girl – look at her face. Serious, unhappy at her failure, but not blaming anyone else, not even the gods… and still trying to shoulder her load, after she’s crumpled under it.

“But she’s more than good art denouncing some very bad art; she’s a symbol for every woman who has ever tried to shoulder a load that was too heavy for her – over half the female population of this planet, living and dead, I would guess. But not alone women – this symbol is sexless. It means every man and every woman who ever lived who sweated out life in uncomplaining fortitude, whose courage wasn’t even noticed until they crumpled under their loads. It’s courage, Ben, and victory.”


“Victory in defeat, there is none higher. She didn’t give up, Ben; she’s still trying to lift that stone after it has crushed her. She’s a father going down to a dull office job while cancer is painfully eating away his insides, so as to bring home one more pay check for the kids. She’s a twelve-year old girl trying to mother her baby brothers and sisters because Mama had to go to Heaven. She’s a switchboard operator sticking to her job while smoke is choking her and the fire is cutting off her escape. She’s all the unsung heroes who couldn’t quite cut it but never quit. Come. Just salute as you pass her and come see my Little Mermaid.”

First editions of this book in reasonable condition currently sell for several thousand dollars; signed copies are astronomical. I remember having such a copy in my hands at one point. My junior high school automatically got the latest releases by Heinlein (in 1961 Heinlein was a prime favorite of school librarians with all his previous excellent juvenile novels). When they got this book, they didn’t quite know what to make of it as it was so different from his earlier work, with very adult themes and situations. They ended up placing it on the ‘restricted’ shelf; I had to bring in a permission slip from my parents to get my hands on it. I read the book in one day – non-stop eight hours worth of reading – one of the most enjoyable days I’ve ever had.

Web Links:
The Heinlein Society News and notes from the society formed to honor Heinlein and further his goal of man’s continued exploration of space.
The RAH Home Page includes a complete bibliography, a much more complete biography than presented here, and a long list of FAQ’s.
The Quotable Heinlein Page has several hundred short (and memorable) quotes from many of Heinlein’s works. Also has a discussion board frequented by some quite intelligent and welcoming people.
Whence Came the Stranger: Tracking the Metapattern of Stranger in a Strange Land is a very different viewpoint on Heinlein’s most famous novel.
Robert Heinlein: Dean of Science Fiction WritersThe main site of wegrokit, offering insightful reviews, essays, and news about the man and his works.



8 Responses to “Robert A. Heinlein”

  1. fairportfan said

    As to the water bed – Heinlein used the basic concept, perhaps a little subtly for some to notice, in such works as “Double Star” (and some of the “Future History” stories, as well), where it was colloquially referred to as the “cider press” – a flotation acceleration compensation device.

  2. whoah this weblog is magnificent i love reading your articles. Stay up the good paintings! You know, a lot of people are hunting round for this information, you can help them greatly.

  3. […] […]

  4. Linus said

    A friend of mine suggested this Site to me and I’m ever so glad he did. I agree w/ the previous replier that said this Site is Magnificent. Wow the sheer volume of ratings, the genius of your analysis… I can’t name the specific attribution, but something like: “the true measure of a man’s genius is how closely his views reflect your own”. I… agree w/ 80% plus of your ratings of which I have read about 20-25%. Yeah! Me! As you stated in your rating system explanation, some of your ratings were made when you were much younger and are indicative of your emotional/intellectual development (and I suppose to a degree, the social climate) at the time of your reading the books, my ratings vary slightly on some of the books and I attribute this to that effect. Or it could be just a matter of taste, I may like my Double Doubles w/ onions and you may like yours without, but I’m sure we both agree that In n Out Burgers are pretty darn good. (sorry if your not into burgers, just trying to wax the lyrical figurative here) Personally, I would have rated Friday higher as I had such the mad crush on her as a 13-14 year old when I read the book. At about the same time, I read Stranger and while I enjoyed it a lot, I didn’t have the wherewithal of life experience to fully appreciate it and therefor it didn’t really resonate w/ me at the time. Adult me, should probably revisit Stranger. I agree whole heartedly that Moon was one of Heinlein’s greatest works, using the AI construct as a means to really explore what it means to be a human being was revolutionary. Granted, Asimov and others running w/ the same idea at the time and it could be said that Pinocchio wanting to be a Real Boy may have been the starter yeast, but the social ramifications, i.e. accepting the constructed/servant man as an equal or possibly even, the superior man was stretching the edge of the envelope of societal consciousness, circa 1960’s. In my opinion RAH was a head above even the other Giants of the “Golden Age. Plus the man could really tell a tale and spin a yarn like there was no tomorrow. Rather than spending the next 1000 or so words being a Fanboy, and naming all the different ways I think your soooo right, I’m genuinely curios about the ratings in which we differ to a larger degree. Or books that I would assume you probably have read based on your catalogue but haven’t rated. My intention isn’t to back seat driver you. i.e. tell you why I’m right, if I wanted to do that I should just start my own blog. Instead, I come to you as a Pahdawan Learner. I’m pretty sure I could gain a greater insight w/ the benefit of your greater experience in sucking down SF like a Shipstone powered Super Oreck. I’ll stop here. I think I may have already exceeded the Reply function word count. Please let me know if you’d be amenable to discussing books.

  5. Linus said

    Hey Hyperpat,
    I read some of your Amazon book reviews and feel even more concussively that I wish you had more time in your day to further expound your views in this or on another “Meta Blog”.
    Case in point, I think you mentioned on an Amazon Scalzi review that you flipped back to the cover just to check if it was RAH book. Yes! I couldn’t agree more that Scalzi has studied at the literary feet of the Master, and has managed to, as a worthy and faithful acolyte, to carry on the RAH Vision a lil bit. (side note, I’m pretty certain that you must have read Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation, his admitted redeaux of Piper’s Fuzzy Sapiens rated 6.5 ((of which I can’t find a printed copy! Dag Nabbit!!)) books. I’m curious to know what you thought of both as I was both charmed and fighting down the bittersweet weeping reflex while reading Scalzi’s version)
    Many have tried to emulate RAH’s Starship Troopers: in style, subject matter, actual or close facsimile description of military life, philosophy and technologies there of, w/ various levels of success…
    Scalzi’s, Old Man’s War series is an excellent example of success.
    Zahn’s Cobra series, though a true to life example of RAH’s powered armor/mobile suit premise, which had a solid depiction of the boot camp experience , in my opinion was not as successful. I dunno why!? I like Zahn’s: Noir P.I. on the interstellar Orient Express series .He’s a good writer.
    Ringo’s Posleen series, was for me, pretty fantastic. Ringo managed to run w/ the idea that powered armor would, in a military battle space sense, be able to combine all of the flexibility of infantry w/ the speed and throw weight of cav/armor, plus specialized heavy weapons/artillery suits on a squad level tossed in the mix. Ideal.
    Ringo has been cranking out titles and series like there is no tomorrow lately. Though at times his crossing the line into possible misogyny/50 Shades of Grey in his Ghost series makes my vas deferens shrivel up, Ringo has been, especially w/ his Citadel series been able to emulate the Master RAH.
    Travis Taylor’s books have been especially reminiscent of RAH. Tossing in the Hard Sciences as well as a rip roaring good tale of highly competent boy meeting fantastical girl and finding true… dare I say it Love.

  6. Stranger in a strange land was absolutely brilliant, and turned the concepts of religion on it’s ear, once the Man from Mars arrives!

    • Linus said

      “Now the Man from Mars is through w/ eating Cars and eating Bars, and Now he Only Eats Guitars!. Giddup!..” Blondie, Circa early CBGB days… like 40 years ago… Religion, what does this mean? The current paradigm of thought that the “masses” believe in?.. That needs to be turned on it’s ear? We are so clever in the “Here and Now” that there is no wisdom to be derived from what happened or was conceived of more than 6 months ago… passé, never mind tens of years ago in “ancient times”. Food for thought… We hear in the news today, about salmonella poisoning and cross contamination of foods caused by the reusing and the not up to par washing of our green approved shopping bags. HELLO!!! does the word Kosher ring any bells? some genius Rabbi Hommie was able to figure out 2,3,6? K years ago that washing your hands and knives and other culinary implements when handling food might be in order, especially without the benefit of refrigeration in a desert climate, where the temperature and general lack of cleanliness would cause an acceleration of food spoilature. Said Hommie Rabbi, would not have had the benefit of a modern scientific education, nor any knowledge of bacteria, fungi, and other food born pathogens that we now know to be a big bad no no. Genious? Fo Shizzle! Devine? dunno, if you really think about it, plausibly miraculous? Conceivably. Think about this for a sec Sci-Fi Classic!, labels for what may have resonance w/ you, may be what is limiting you from what you can actually see. My Bad! I don’t know you, nor have any idea where you’re coming from, just got excited about my first posting response and went all crazy existential. I’ll read Stranger again in the next week and will be better able to converse w/ you in detail if you are so inclined.

  7. Richard said

    If you are interested in how a line marriage would work, check out http://www.line-family.info . It is an early, rough draft of the book to be published in late 2014. We use the term “line family” because marriage is now such a politically loaded word.

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