Of all the authors I’ve read and will be reading for Vintage month, Robert Heinlein (1907 – 1988) is the one I’m most familiar with. Yesterday I shared with you my love for Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and today I’d like to share my journey through Heinlein’s works with you. I haven’t read everything he wrote, although one day I hope to. He’s a writer that’s been with me for my entire adult life, and I like to think that my worldview was in part shaped by his writings.
Sometime near the end of high school, maybe the beginning of college, I picked up a battered copy of Stranger in a Strange Land. I’d heard of it, it had neat cover art. The beginning blew me away. The end confused me. I didn’t grok what I was reading, but I knew I wanted to. It marked the beginning of my quest to read Heinlein title I could get my hands on: Moon is a Harsh Mistress, The Puppermasters, Friday, Job, The Sixth Column, Starship Troopers, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, Glory Road, Farnham’s Freehold, the list really does go on. He wrote over 30 novels and nearly 60 short stories, so I’m not going to run out of material any time soon.
Every story was different – some followed families in dire straights, others were political responses to a world gone mad, some were pure fantasy or pure hard scifi, or social science fiction, and nearly all focused on the philosophies of non-conformity and individuality. For a 20-something, this was pretty mind blowing stuff.
It was years later that I finally discovered Heinlein’s juvenile (what we now call Young Adult) fiction such as Red Planet, Podkayne of Mars, and Have Spacesuit Will Travel.
While Heinlein’s juvenile fiction tends to focus on more conservative and traditional values (respect for elders and authority and very traditional gender roles), his adult fiction is quite the opposite, often filled with Anarchist politics, violence, fluid morals, metaphysical investigations, and let’s not forget all the sex. The “traditionalness” of his juvenile fiction was quite a surprise to me after reading the more adult titles, but I can only imagine the shock of someone reading it the other way around. I am still occasionally shocked (and even sometimes offended) when reading his work.
Born and raised in the midwest, Heinlein joined the Navy in the late 1920s and became and accomplished engineer. He was discharged for medical reasons in the mid 1930s. After two failed marriages, he finally found Virginia, who he would spend the rest of his life with. His first short story was published in 1939, and although he finished a novel in 1939 as well, it did not see publication until after his death, and was published as For Us: The Living in 2003.
Known as a master of science fiction, Robert Heinlein was the first author to be awarded the SFWA Grand Master award in 1974. He was just as active in the science world as he was in the science fiction world, publishing non-fiction articles in mainstream magazines and even was a guest commentator with Walter Cronkite during the Moon Landing. This guy was everywhere, and he was doing everything. He knew the future was coming, and he was trying his hardest to teach the rest of us how to live safely in a science fictional universe.
If you have never read any Robert Heinlein, I hope this article, or my review of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress has inspired you to. If you’ve just read your first Heinlein, or your 5th or your twentieth, I invite you to tell us about your own journey.