Anson Heinlein was one of the most influential and, at times, controversial
authors of "hard" science fiction. 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 years after his death. Known towards the end of
his career as the "dean of science fiction," he set a
high standard for science and engineering plausibility that many
contemporaries could not emulate.
was the first science-fiction writer to break into mainstream
general magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post in the late
1940s with unvarnished science fiction, and he was among the first
authors of bestselling novel-length science fiction in the 1960s.
For many years Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke were
known as the Big Three of science fiction. He won seven Hugo Awards,
three of them retrospectively, as well as the first Grand Master
Award given by the Science Fiction Writers of America for lifetime
major themes of Heinlein's work were social: radical individualism,
libertarianism, solipsism, religion, the relationship between
physical and emotional love, and speculation about unorthodox
family relationships. His iconoclastic approach to these themes
has led to wildly divergent perceptions of his works. His 1959
novel Starship Troopers was excoriated by some as being fascist.
His 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land, on the other hand,
put him in the unexpected role of pied piper to the sexual revolution
English language has absorbed several words from his fiction,
including "grok," meaning "to understand something
so thoroughly that it becomes part of the observer." During
his lifetime, beginning with his very first works in the later
1930s, he was also a major influence on many other writers, who
tried to emulate, with varying degrees of success, the apparently
effortless skill with which he blended speculative concepts and
was born on July 7, 1907, to Rex Ivar and Bam Lyle Heinlein, in
Butler, Missouri, United States. His father was an accountant.
His childhood was spent in Kansas City, Missouri, where the family
of seven lived in a two-bedroom house. The outlook and values
of this time and place would influence his later works; however,
he would also break with many of its values and social mores,
both in his writing and in his personal life.
attended the U.S. Naval Academy, graduated in 1929, and served
as an officer in the United States Navy. He married his second
wife, Leslyn Macdonald, in 1932. Little is known about his first
marriage. Leslyn was a political radical, and Isaac Asimov recalled
Robert during those years as being, like her, "a flaming
liberal." Heinlein served aboard the USS Roper (DD-147) in
1933-1934, achieving the rank of Lieutenant.
1934, Heinlein was discharged from the Navy due to pulmonary tuberculosis.
During his long hospitalization he conceived of the waterbed,
and his detailed descriptions of it in three of his books later
prevented others from patenting the idea. The military was the
second great influence on Heinlein; throughout his life, he strongly
believed in loyalty, leadership, and other ideals associated with
his discharge, Heinlein informally attended a few weeks of graduate
classes in mathematics and physics at the University of California,
Los Angeles, quitting because of either his health, a desire to
enter politics, or both. He supported himself by working at a
series of jobs, including real estate and – like Mark
Twain – silver mining. Heinlein was active in Upton Sinclair's
socialist EPIC (End Poverty In California) movement in early 1930s
California. When Sinclair gained the Democratic nomination for
governor of California in 1934, Heinlein worked actively for the
himself ran for the California State Assembly in 1938, and was
also unsuccessful. In later years, Heinlein kept his socialist
past secret, writing about his political experiences coyly, and
usually under the veil of fictionalization. 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."
not destitute after the campaign—he had a small disability
pension from the Navy—he turned to writing to pay off his
mortgage, and in 1939 his first published story, "Life-Line",
was printed in Astounding magazine. He rapidly became acknowledged
as a leader of the new movement toward "social" science
fiction. He began fitting his early published stories into a fairly
consistent future history, a chart of which editor John W. Campbell
published in the May 1941 issue of Astounding, and which was later
reprinted in his collection The Past Through Tomorrow.
World War II he did aeronautical engineering work for the Navy,
recruiting the young Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp to work
at the Naval Aircraft Factory. As the war wore down in 1945, he
began reevaluating his career. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki and the outbreak of the Cold War galvanized him to
write nonfiction on political topics, and he wanted to break into
published four influential stories for The Saturday Evening Post,
leading off with The Green Hills of Earth in February 1947, which
made him the first science fiction writer to break out of the
pulp ghetto. Destination Moon, the documentary-like film for which
he had written story, scenario, and script, and invented many
of the effects, won an Academy Award for special effects. Most
importantly, he embarked on a series of juvenile novels for Scribner's
that was to last through the 1950s.
was divorced from his wife Leslyn in 1947, and in 1948 married
his third wife, Virginia "Ginny" Gerstenfeld, who undoubtedly
served as a model for many of his intelligent, fiercely independent
female characters. In 1953–1954, the Heinleins took a trip
around the world, which Heinlein described in Tramp Royale, and
which also provided background material for science fiction novels
such as Podkayne of Mars that were set aboard spaceships.
believed that Heinlein made a drastic swing to the right politically
at the same time he married Ginny. The couple formed the Patrick
Henry League in 1958 and worked on the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign,
and Tramp Royale contains two lengthy apologias for the McCarthy
hearings. However, this perception of a drastic shift may result
from an inappropriate tendency to try to place libertarianism
on the traditional right-left spectrum of American politics, as
well as from Heinlein's iconoclasm, and unwillingness to let himself
be pigeonholed into any ideology (including libertarianism).
evidence of Ginny's influence is clearer in matters literary and
scientific. She acted as the first reader of his manuscripts,
and was reputed to be a better engineer than Heinlein himself.
The political ideas in Heinlein's writing are discussed below
under "Ideas, themes, and influence."
juvenile novels may have turned out to be the most important work
he ever did, building an audience of scientifically and socially
aware adults. He had used topical materials throughout his series,
but his juvenile for 1959, Starship Troopers, was regarded by
the Scribner's editorial staff as too controversial for their
prestige line and was rejected summarily. Heinlein felt himself
released from the constraints of writing for children and began
to write "my own stuff, my own way," and came out with
a series of challenging books that redrew the boundaries of science
fiction, including Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), which is
his best-known work, and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966),
which many regard as his finest novel.
in 1970, however, Heinlein had a series of health crises, punctuated
by strenuous work. The decade began with a life-threatening attack
of peritonitis, recovery from which required more than two years.
But as soon as he was well enough to write, he began work on Time
Enough for Love (1973), which introduced many of the themes found
in his later fiction. In the mid-1970s he wrote two articles for
the Britannica Compton Yearbook.
and Ginny crisscrossed the country helping to reorganize blood
donation in the U.S., and he was guest of honor at a World Science
Fiction Convention for the third time at Kansas City, Missouri
in 1976. In 1977 he suffered a "near-stroke" because
of a blocked carotid artery. He became exhausted, his health began
declining again, and in 1978 he had one of the earliest carotid
operations to correct the blockage.
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 benefitting the infirm and the elderly. His surgical
treatment re-energized Heinlein, and he wrote five novels from
1980 until he died in his sleep on May 8, 1988, as he was putting
together the early notes for his sixth "World As Myth"
(Pantheistic solipsism) novel. Several of his works have been
The first novel that Heinlein wrote, For Us, The Living: 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. Although 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 free love. The root of many
themes found in his later stories can be found in this book.
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.
For Us, The Living, he began writing novels and short stories
set in a consistent future history, complete with a timeline of
significant political, cultural, and technological changes. His
collection The Man Who Sold the Moon offers a vertical timeline
labeled "FUTURE HISTORY 1951-2600 A.D." with stories
and novels located appropriately, lives of significant characters
marked with vertical bars, and commentary. His full future history
is compiled in two volumes: The Past Through Tomorrow and Orphans
of the Sky. Subsequent authors such as Larry Niven have postulated
future histories for their stories.
Solution Unsatisfactory, written in 1940, Heinlein set out the
following predictions: in 1941 the US government would start a
large-scale secret project, which would make nuclear weapons available
for use by the end of 1944 (radioactive dust rather than a bomb
- but with much the same strategic implications); the weapon would
be used to destroy an Axis city in 1945; this would bring WWII
to an end, but start a nuclear arms race between the US and the
Soviet Union. (In Heinlein's story, it leads to a new war which
the US wins, gaining domination over the whole world but becoming
a military dictatorship in the process).
the accurate prediction of specific events, "Solution Unsatisafactory"
set out in advance the main arguments, dilemmas and mindsets of
the Nuclear Age, which were to become enshrined in such terms
and concepts as Nuclear Arms Race, Second strike or Mutual Assured
Destruction. This, at a time when the whole issue was barely imagined
even among most political and military decision-makers in the
first published novel, 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
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.
novels that he wrote for a young audience are a fascinating 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 a 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.
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 make them readable for adults.
Red Planet, for example, portrays some very subversive themes,
including a revolution by young students modeled on the American
Revolution; his editor demanded substantial changes in this book's
discussion of topics such as the use of weapons by adolescents
and the confused sexuality 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.
readers may not realize that some of Heinlein's apparently clichéd
ideas, such as the voyage to the moon in Rocket Ship Galileo,
were considered surprising at the time, and in fact helped to
create the clichés in the first place. Another good example
from this period is The Puppet Masters, which originated the idea
of aliens taking over humans' bodies, as in Invasion of the Body
last juvenile novel, and probably his most controversial work
in general, was Starship Troopers, which he wrote in response
to the U.S.'s decision to unilaterally end nuclear testing. The
book's main political idea is that there should be no conscription,
but that suffrage should belong only to those willing to serve
their society by two years of voluntary civil or military service.
From about 1961 (Stranger in a Strange Land) to 1973 (Time Enough
for Love), Heinlein wrote his most characteristic and fully developed
novels. His work during this period explored his most important
themes, such as individualism, libertarianism, and physical and
emotional love. To some extent, the apparent discrepancy between
these works and the more naïve themes of his earlier novels
can be attributed to his own perception, which was probably correct,
that readers and publishers in the 1950s were not yet ready for
some of his more radical ideas.
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,
For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs. Considered by many to
be his best novel, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress tells of a war
of independence of Lunar colonies, with between-the-lines satire
on the threat posed by any government -- including a republic
-- to individual freedom.
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.
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.
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 with the intensity of
four Hugo awards were all for books written before this period.
Many feel that his later novels were not up to the quality of
his earlier work; some have suggested the quality drop stemmed
from his near-stroke in 1977. Heinlein's books of the 1980s sold
well, in spite of some critics' lack of enthusiasm; many readers
believe that those who criticize them are missing their irony
and self-conscious parodying of both science fiction and literature
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 into a kind of magical realism,
continuing the process of literary exploration that he had begun
with Stranger in a Strange Land.
tendency toward authorial self-referentialism 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 all of Heinlein's
strong female characters, appears to be based closely on his wife
self-parodying element of these books keeps them from bogging
down by taking themselves too seriously, but may also fail to
evoke the desired effect in readers who are not familiar with
Heinlein's earlier novels. Many readers are split on their reactions
to Heinlein's wit, particularly in his dialogue -- characters
from a plethora of milieus tend to favor the same midwestern-American,
post-Depression style and referents. Some find it charming and
disarming. Others attack it as unsophisticated.
A Comedy of Justice is an overt satire of evangelical Christianity
connected to his 1942 short story "The Unpleasant Profession
of Jonathan Hoag." Like Job, Friday does not tie in to the
other three self-referential novels but with the world of an earlier
story, the 1953 novelette "Gulf."
Four Heinlein works were published after his death — 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, and a tribute volume called
Requiem, containing some additional short works never published
in book form previously.
fifth work, "Robert A. Heinlein's Variable Star" has
been completed by Spider Robinson, a science fiction author who
admits to being greatly influenced by Heinlein. It is scheduled
for publication in October 2006.
themes, and influence
Heinlein's writing may appear to have oscillated 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 which
seems to be Franklin D. Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps
translated into outer space. Stranger in a Strange Land was embraced
by the hippie counterculture, and Glory Road can be read as an
antiwar piece, while Starship Troopers has been deemed militaristic,
and To Sail Beyond the Sunset, published during the Reagan administration,
is stridently right-wing.
are, however, certain threads in Heinlein's political thought
that remain constant. A strong current of libertarianism runs
through his work, as expressed most eloquently in The Moon Is
a Harsh Mistress. His early juvenile novels often contain a surprisingly
strong anti-authoritarian 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.
similar defiance of a court order to take a moon trip takes place
in the short story "Requiem." In The Moon Is a Harsh
Mistress, the unjust Lunar Authority that controls the lunar colony
is usually referred to simply as "Authority," which
leads to an obvious interpretation of the book as a parable for
the evils of authority in general, rather than the evils of one
was opposed to any encroachment of religion into government, and
pilloried organized religion in Job: A Comedy of Justice, and,
with more subtlety and ambivalence, in Stranger in a Strange Land.
His future history includes a period called the Interregnum, in
which a backwoods revivalist becomes dictator of the United States.
descriptions of the military (Between Planets, The Moon Is a Harsh
Mistress, Red Planet, Starship Troopers) tend to emphasize the
individual actions of volunteers in the spirit of the Minutemen,
while the draft and the military as an extension of government
are portrayed with skepticism in Time Enough for Love, Glory Road,
and Starship Troopers.
Heinlein's work with the socialist EPIC and Social Credit movements
in his early life, he was an ardent, lifelong anti-communist.
In the political world of the 1930s (and other times), there was
no perceived contradiction between being a socialist and being
passionately anti-communist. Heinlein's nonfiction includes Who
are the heirs of Patrick Henry? (an anti-communist polemic published
as an advertisement) and articles such as Pravda Means Truth and
Inside Intourist, in which he recounted his visit to the USSR
and advised western readers on how to evade official supervision
on such a trip.
of Heinlein's stories explicitly spell out a view of history which
could be compared to Marx's: social structures are dictated by
the materialistic environment. Heinlein would perhaps have been
more comfortable with a comparison with Frederick Jackson Turner's
frontier thesis. In Red Planet, Doctor MacRae links attempts at
gun control to the increase in population density on Mars. (This
discussion was edited out of the original version of the book
at the insistence of the publisher.)
Farmer in the Sky, overpopulation of Earth has led to hunger,
and emigration to Ganymede provides a "life insurance policy"
for the species as a whole; Heinlein puts a lecture in the mouth
of one of his characters toward the end of the book in which it
is explained that the mathematical logic of Malthusianism can
lead only to disaster for the home planet. A subplot in Time Enough
for Love involves demands by farmers upon Lazarus Long's bank,
which Heinlein portrays as the inevitable tendency of a pioneer
society evolving into a more dense (and, by implication, more
decadent and less free) society. This episode is an interesting
example of Heinlein's tendency (in opposition to Marx) to view
history as cyclical rather than progressive.
good example of this is The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, in which
a revolution deposes the Authority, but immediately thereafter,
the new government falls prey to the inevitable tendency to legislate
people's personal lives, despite the attempts of one of the characters,
who describes himself as a "Rational Anarchist."
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 U.S. 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 dark-skinned
characters was a remarkable novelty, with green occurring more
often than brown.
example, his second juvenile, the 1948 Space Cadet, explicitly
uses aliens as a metaphor for human racial minorities: "That's
just race prejudice. A Venerian is easier to like than a man."
"...that's not fair...Matt hasn't got any race prejudice...Take
Lieutenant Peters--did it make any difference to us that he's
as black as the ace of spades?" In this example, as in books
written throughout his career, Heinlein challenges his readers'
possible racial stereotypes by introducing a strong, sympathetic
character, only to reveal much later that he is of African descent.
also occurs in, e.g., The Cat Who Walks Through Walls and Tunnel
in the Sky; in several cases, the covers of the books show characters
as being light-skinned, when in fact the text says that they are
dark-skinned or of African descent. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
and Podkayne of Mars both contain incidents of racial prejudice
or injustice against their protagonists. Heinlein repeatedly denounced
racism in his non-fiction works, including numerous examples in
was a central theme in some of Heinlein's fiction. The most prominent
example is Farnham's Freehold, which casts a white family into
a future in which white people are the slaves of Black rulers.
In the 1941 novel Sixth Column (also known as The Day After Tomorrow),
a resistance movement 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.
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."
Some readers may mistake Heinlein's dislike of communist China
for a dislike of Asians, or misinterpret negative depictions of
overpopulation in Asia in Tunnel in the Sky and Farmer in the
Sky as general criticism of Asian civilization.
and bad people are to be found among all races in Heinlein's fiction.
For example, in Sixth Column, a Japanese-American heroically sacrifices
himself in the fight against the invaders. In The Star Beast,
a harried African bureaucrat is sympathetically portrayed as the
behind-the-scenes master of the world government, while a white
sheriff in rural Colorado is parochial and prejudiced.
of the alien species in Heinlein's fiction can be interpreted
in terms of an allegorical representation of human ethnic groups,
but this is often risky. Double Star, Red Planet, and Stranger
in a Strange Land all deal with tolerance and understanding between
humans and Martians. Several of his stories, such as Jerry Was
a Man, The Star Beast, and Red Planet, involve the idea of nonhumans
who are incorrectly judged as being less than human.
it has been suggested that the strongly hierarchical and anti-individualistic
"bugs" in Starship Troopers were meant to represent
the Chinese or Japanese, Heinlein wrote the book in response to
the unilateral ending of nuclear testing by the U.S., so it is
more likely that they were intended to represent communism. The
slugs in The Puppet Masters are likewise explicitly and repeatedly
identified as metaphors for communism. A problem with interpreting
aliens as stand-ins for races of homo sapiens is that Heinlein's
aliens generally occupy an entirely different mental world than
example, an alien race depicted in Methuselah's Children, the
Jockaira, are sentient domesticated animals ruled by a second,
godlike species. In his early juvenile fiction, the Martians and
Venerians are usually depicted as ancient, wise races who seldom
deign to interfere in human affairs.
Many of Heinlein's novels are stories of revolts against political
oppression, for example:
Residents of a lunar penal colony, aided by a self-aware computer,
rebel against the Warden and Lunar Authority (and eventually Earth)
in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.
2. Colonists rebel against Earth in Between Planets and Red Planet,
and in the back story to Podkayne of Mars.
3. Secularists overthrow a religious dictatorship in "If
This Goes On—".
4. A group of soldiers take on the mantle of power after the governments
of the world break down as part of the back story in Starship
But in keeping with his belief in individualism, his more sophisticated
work for adults often portrays both the oppressors and the oppressed
with considerable ambiguity. In Farnham's Freehold, the protagonist's
son accepts the security that comes with being castrated. In Glory
Road, a monarch is depicted positively, and in The Star Beast,
a publicity-shy bureaucrat is sympathetically portrayed as the
behind-the-scenes decision-maker behind the planetary government.
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, prerevolutionary life under the
Lunar Authority is portrayed as a kind of anarchist or libertarian
utopia; projections of economic disaster are the true (and secret)
justification for the revolution, which brings with it the evils
of republican government. Novels such as Stranger in a Strange
Land and Friday revolve around individual rebellions against oppression
by society rather than by government.
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 (as in Citizen of the Galaxy). 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, ending with "Specialization
is for insects."
common thread, then, is the struggle for self-determination of
individuals, rather than of nations. 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. We are invited to wonder, what would humanity
be if we shaped customs to benefit us, and not the other way around?
In Heinlein's view, as outlined in For Us, The Living, humanity
would not only be happier, but perceptually, behaviorally, and
morally aligned with reality.
For Heinlein, personal liberation included sexual liberation,
and free love was a major subject of his writing starting from
the 1939 For Us, The Living. Beyond This Horizon (1942) cleverly
subverts traditional gender roles in a scene in which the protagonist
demonstrates his archaic gunpowder gun for his friend and discusses
how useful it would be in dueling — after which the discussion
turns to the shade of his nail polish. "—All You Zombies—"
(1959) is the story of a person who undergoes a sex change operation,
goes back in time, has sex with herself, and gives birth to herself.
freedom and the elimination of sexual jealousy are a major theme
of Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), in which the straitlaced
nurse Jill acts as a dramatic foil for the less parochial characters
Jubal Harshaw and Mike. Over the course of the story, Jill learns
to embrace her innate tendency toward exhibitionism, and to be
more accepting of other people's sexuality (e.g., Duke's fondness
discussed in more detail in the book's article, two brief negative
references to homosexuality have been interpreted by some readers
as being homophobic, but both deal with Jill's hang-ups, and one
is a discussion of Jill's thoughts. Homosexuality is treated with
approval — even gusto — in books such as the 1970
I Will Fear No Evil, which posits the social recognition of six
innate genders, consisting of all the combinations of male and
female with straight, gay, and bisexual.
later books, Heinlein dealt with incest and the sexual nature
of children, topics that, Freud notwithstanding, touch a raw nerve
with many readers. In Time Enough For Love, Lazarus Long uses
genetic arguments to dissuade a brother and sister he's adopted
from sexual experimentation with each other (and later arranges
for them to be married), and consummates his strong sexual attraction
to his own mother, whom he goes back in time to rescue.
some of his books, To Sail Beyond the Sunset for instance, a young
girl climbs into her father's lap or bed, but he kicks her out.
In the same book, when the protagonist is unable to dissuade two
of her teenage children from having a sexual relationship, she
washes her hands of them, sends them to their father, and never
mentions them again. The protagonist of The Cat Who Walks Through
Walls recalls a homosexual experience with a Boy Scouts leader,
which he didn't find unpleasant.
Heinlein's treatment of the possibility of sex between adults
and children, some readers may feel that he dodges many of the
valid reasons for the taboo by portraying the sexual attractions
or actual sex as taking place only between Nietzschean supermen,
who are so enlightened that they can avoid all the ethical and
the greatest form of sexual liberation found in Heinlein's work,
from first to last, was his treatment of females. Beginning with
For Us, the Living and Life-Line, Heinlein's female characters
of all ages were generally competent, intelligent, courageous,
powerful and in control of their lives and situations to whatever
extent the circumstances permitted.
few of his female characters who were weak or helpless are held
in contempt by other characters (including other females). It
does not denigrate these competent females to note that part of
their agenda was generally to marry the best man they could find
(quite often the book's hero).
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
implication seems to be as follows: because (as Heinlein held)
deductive reasoning is strictly tautological and because inductive
reasoning is always subject to doubt, the only source of reliable
"answers" to such questions is direct experience —
which we do not have. 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
influence extends to hundreds of science fiction and general fiction
authors, including later notables like techno-thriller writer
Tom Clancy and science-fiction writers John Ringo, Eric Flint,
and David Weber.
the science fiction community, several words coined or adopted
by Heinlein have passed into common English usage: waldo, TANSTAAFL,
and grok. 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.
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,
as shown 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 also was guest commentator for Walter
Cronkite during Neil Armstrong's Apollo 11 moon landing.
rarely (if ever) managed to dream up a god superior to themselves.
Most gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child."
does not record anywhere or at any time a religion that has any
rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough
to stand up to the unknown without help. But, like dandruff, most
people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem
to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it."
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
this 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."
priest or shaman must be presumed guilty until proven innocent."
is never any help; it is searching in a dark cellar at midnight
for a black cat that isn't there."
is never any help; it is searching in a dark cellar at midnight
for a black cat that isn't there."
who can worship a trinity and insist that his religion is a monotheism
can believe anything ... just give him time to rationalize it."
in which I was brought up assured me that I was better than other
people; I was saved, they were damned.... Our hymns were loaded
with arrogance -- self-congratulation on how cozy we were