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My Little Corner of the Universe

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Main SF Page Heinlein's Works
Future Histories SF Links

Robert Anson Heinlein

On this page is a discussion of Robert Heinlein, 1907 - 1988, long called the Dean of Science Fiction and one of the most widely respected of science fiction authors, often known to fans as RAH or "the master."

Robert Heinlein grew up in Missouri, attended the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, and planned on a career in the Navy. However, his military career was brief, cut short by illnesses.

One of the most well-known stories about Heinlein is the following: although he had not planned to be a writer, an ad for a short story contest caught his attention. This was in the age when magazines were THE forum for science fiction and short stories the format. The story goes that Heinlein liked the idea of getting the award offered, but figured that a competitor of the magazine running the contest would be less swamped with submissions just then. He was right; "Life-Line" was published in 1939 -- by the competitor, for more money.

For the next 50 years Heinlein turned out dozens of short stories and novels, many classed as stories for juveniles but still enjoyed by adults today. Among his ideas that are still widely recognized are the concept of the waterbed and coinage of the word "grok" (both in 1961's Stranger in a Strange Land).

While Heinlein wrote with careful attention to precise technology and mathematics, the human issues in his stories keep readers coming back.

Heinlein was an old-fashioned gentleman and patriot, expressing in many tales views that could be seen as "conservative": passionate patriotism, women who realize their most fulfilling destiny is to marry and raise many children, wives who call their husbands "sir," characters who express disapproval of women in combat, characters who pay lip service to the prevailing religion, the importance of bearing arms. At the same time, Heinlein was a liberated individualist whose stories combatted racism, sexism, and sexual preference-ism and frequently discounted monogamy; in many stories, women are effective soldiers, wives benignly boss their husbands around, and people don't bother pretending to be religious. Not only that, but they don't like to wear clothes.

Another interesting aspect of Heinlein's book is ... sexual relations. (Stick with me; this is a clean page.) In many of his stories, most especially the later ones, Heinlein explored human sexuality in thoughtful ways, examining alternative arrangements to monogamy. (One of his characters says, "The plural of 'spouse' is 'spice.'") His works also examine consensual incest between adults and children's sexuality. Many of his stories take a realistic look at premarital sex and illegitimacy. Most of his characters do get married in the end, and Heinlein takes the opportunity to examine various marital arrangements. Often his characters marry into groups, several men and several women all taking vows together and "bringing into the fold" new loved ones they meet. In at least one place, this system is described as providing improved security for the (many) children that result. After all, in our standard one- or two-parent families, when something happens to one of those parents it's often a real struggle to provide for the kids adequately. But when the kids have four or six or twenty loving adults taking care of them, they're guaranteed adequate care and family support even when there's a tragedy.

In many of Heinlein's stories, the protagonists are super-people. Most are supremely intelligent, most are absolutely gorgeous, most are physically superior, most are highly capable. While this idea crops up frequently in his earlier works, in the chain of stories called the Future Histories, all the main characters who aren't bad guys are superhuman. They're virtually immortal, gorgeous geniuses with high sex drives and, while many or most of them are also very likeable and even loveable people, most of us just don't stack up. I'd get a real complex living among them! Another recurring idea that I like a lot is that most of the characters who are Caucasian have red hair.

All in all, most everything by Heinlein is a good read. Fun, entertaining, idealistic, sexy, and thought-provoking -- a wonderful combination. I highly, highly recommend checking out his work if you haven't before.

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Main SF Page Heinlein's Works
Future Histories SF Links