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||Robert A(nson) Heinlein (1907-1988)|
Prolific American writer, one of the grand masters of science fiction with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. Heinlein produced during his career fifty novels and collections of short stories. Heinlein admired highly motivated men of action – like Howard Hawks in his movies – and attacked religious hypocrisy and corporate power games. His later works, in which his right-wing views mixed with fast-moving stories and fascination with with the paranormal, earned him the reputation of being a militarist, even a "fascist." However, a number of his book gained cult status among members of the counterculture.
"Furthermore, although a flaming liberal during the war, Heinlein became a rock-ribbed far-right conservative immediately afterward. This happened at just the time he changed wives from a liberal woman, Leslyn, to a rock-ribbed far-right conservative woman, Virginia... I used to brood about it in puzzlement (of course, I never would have dreamed of asking Heinlein – I'm sure he would have refused to answer, and would have done so with the uttermost hostility), and I did come to one conclusion. I would never marry anyone who did not generally agree with my political, social, and philosophical view of life." (from I, Asimov: A Memoir, 1994)
Robert A. Heinlein was born in Butler, Missouri, the son of Rex Ivar
Heinlein and Bam Lyle Heinlein; Robert was the third of their seven
children. His parents had grown up in Butler, where their families were
well established. Heinlein's
mother was the daughter of a succesful "horse and buggy" doctor, who
became the model for Lazarus Long's grandfather, Dr. Ira Johnson. Rex
Ivar had fought in the Spanish-American War; he then worked
in his uncle's dry goods store.
In 1907 the family moved to Kansas City, where Heinlein's father was employed as a clerk and cashier first at the Midland Manufacturing and then at the company of Samuel and Harvey Wallace Heinlein. The family was active in Democratic party politics and in the Abolitionist and antiracist Methodist Episcopal Church. Heinlein himself insisted that he held no prejudices against other races. Today's reader may find some of his work problematic. In this respect his most ambivalent novel is Farnham's Freehold (1964), in which black people are the Chosen Race and keep whites as slaves. It has been labelled as both an anti-racist and a racist work. Nevertheless, Hugh Farnham, Heinlein's mouthpiece, says in the novel: "Karen, you know that color does not matter to me. I want to know other things about a man. Is his word good? Does he meet his obligations? Does he do honest work? Is he brave? Will he stand up and be counted?"
As a young man, Heinlein was a stammerer. He was educated in a
public school in Kansas City and after graduating
from Central High School, he attended University of Missouri and the
United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, graduating in 1929. He served
in aircraft carriers and destroyers for four years, but was then invalided out for
tuberculosis. As part of his self-prescribed recovery program, Heinlein
joined a nudist community in Colorado, and remained faithful to the
ideal of nudism. For a period he studied physics at the graduate school
of U.C.L.A., but left the school without completing a degree and worked
in odd jobs in mining and real estate without real success. He also
became involved in Upton Sinclair's race for governor of California.
Heinlein's first wife was Elinor Curry; they divorced in 1931. He then married Leslyn McDonald, a poet and actress; she was never happy with wife swapping and nudism and took to drink. Heinlein also had an affair with Sally Rand, an actress and nude dancer, who became the model of some of his fictional characters. The marriage with Leslyn ended in 1947. Heinlein's third wife was Virginia Doris Gerstenfeld, a chemist, biochemist, and female reserve lieutenant.
At the age of thirty-two, Heinlein turned his hand to the
writing science fiction. His first published story, 'Life-Line,'
appeared in 1939 in Astounding Science Fiction. During the next three years, Heinlein contributed twenty stories, including three serials, to the action-adventure pulp
editor was John W. Campbell, who has been credited with moving science
fiction toward its modern form. Under his influence writers started to
examine how technology might affect the everyday life of ordinary
people and society in general. 'Requiem,' published in Astounding
in January 1940, has remained one of Heinlein's most loved stories. It
tells of an aging millionare, D.D. Harriman, who is not allowed to
leave Eart because of his heart condition. Harriman hires the owners of
a beat-up rocket-ship to take him to the Moon, where he dies happily in
the Mare Imbrium.
Heinlein never got over his navy discharge. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he tried to enlist but was rejected. During World War II years from 1943 Heinlein published no stories, but worked as an engineer at the Naval Air Experimental Station, Philadelphia. His first novel, Rocket Ship Galileo (1947) paved way to childrens' science fiction. From 1947 to 1959 Heinlein produced sixteen novels.
Heinlein's early works emphasized adventure and were aimed at young readers. In 1959 he received the Boys' Clubs of America Book Award. In these novels Heinlein avoided open didacticism, although his characters learn lessons in courage, tolerance, and military virtues during the course of the story. Often Heinlein's male protagonist has to go through rites of passage – he meets a guru or somebody who has superior wisdom, and after a period of apprenticeship he has to earn his place in a group and prove his skills. Citizen of the Galaxy (1957), dedicated to Fritz Leiber, was actually Oliver Twist in space. In the story a young boy, Thorby, is bought from an inter-galactic slave market by a mysterious beggar, a benefactor, who later turns out to be a secret agent. Thorby learns to speak Finnish and after all kinds of adventures he turns out to be from a wealthy corporate family from the Earth.
In Starship Troopers (1959) Heinlein showed his fascination with the glamour of high-tech weaponry. The book earned him again the prestigious Hugo Award. Starship Troopers first appeared in abridged form in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1959. The hero is Juan "Johnnie" Rico, the son of a wealthy merchant who has enlisted in the army to impress the beautiful Carmen. After tough training he joins Rasczack's Roughnecks to battle against the "Bugs," intelligent arthropods. Johnnie's mother is killed in a bombing, Carmen becomes a starship pilot, and their mutual friend Carl dies in a battle in Pluto.
Heinlein's militaristic novel can be interpreted as an attack on corruption and distorted views of democracy – only those willing to sacrifice their lives for the state may govern and vote – but also as a conflict between individualism and collectivism: the social system of the Bugs represent "total communism," Heinlein's regular publisher, Scribner's refused to publish the book and it eventually appeared under the Putnam imprint. The film adaptation from 1997 played with the themes of fascism and militarism, but the comic book characters did not interest adult movie goers; the human beings did not show much more personality than the bugs. "Whereas Heinlein's novel was punctuated by quotations from apocryphal books about warfare and social order, the movie has chosen to interpolate into the action a wearisome series of newscasts, media bulletins, and commercial advertisements. These interruptions serve no dramatic or satirical purpose whatsoever; they are merely annoying and, at best, sophomoric in their obvious humor." (from Novels into Film by John C. Tibbets and James M. Welsh, 1997)
From the late 1950s Heinlein started write expressly for adults and deal with such topics as cloning, incest, religion, free love, and mysticism. Differing from many SF writers, his focus did not lay on technological change. The short story 'All You Zombies – ' (1959) played with the paradoxes of time travel, and pushed them to their limits and beyond: the protagonist, an agent for the "Temporal Bureau," turns out to be his/her own mother, father, daughter and son. This is possible because according to the "by-laws of time," A Paradox May Be Paradoctored. Have a Space Suit, Will Travel (1958) echoed – distantly – Jack Kerouac's vision of "a great rucksack revolution, thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray. . . ." Heinlein's religious views were in direct opposition to the literal interpretation of biblical scripture: "The 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 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." (from Time Enough for Love, 1973)
short stories were independent of one another but related in the
author's "Future History: 1951-2600" AD time line. Some of his
characters periodically appear in different novels, among the Lazarus
Long from Methuselah's Children (1958). In Time Enough for Love
(1973) Lazarus has a number of sexual adventures, travels back in time,
and has sex with his own mother. "A "pacifist male" is a contradiction
in terms. Most self-described "pacifist" are not pacifist; they simple
assume false colors. When the wind changes, they hoist the Jolly Roger." (from Time Enough for Love, 1973) The life of Maureen Johnson, Lazarus's mother, is dealt in To Sail Beyond the Sunset
(1987), Heinlein's final novel. "Yet published in his 80th year, its is
so full of vigour and the sheer joy of life that it reminds me (in more
ways than one) of Picasso's last works," said Arthur Clarke in his book
of memoir, Astounding Days (1989).
Nearly all of Heinlein's work fit into a specific time period within this larger scheme. The idea was later imitated by several writers, with considerable success by Poul Anderson and Larry Niven. Also Isaac Asimov developed similar scheme, and claimed imaginative copyright on the imagined future.
Among Heinlein's best known works is
the pre-Hippie Stranger in a Strange Land,
which came out in 1961. A few years later it was adopted by the Peace
and Love generation. This work became the most successful
science-fiction novel ever published. The protagonist is Valentine
Smith, a child of two members of the first expedition to Mars. He is
born there and raised on by brillinatly advanced Martians after humans
have died. A second Mars expedition discovers him and Michael comes to
Earth without much knowledge of sex. He is shertered and educated by
Jubal Harshaw, and old doctor, lawyer, and writer. Helped with psi
powers he establishes a new religion and starts
his transformation into a Messiah-figure. Michael is eventually killed
by a mob, but his disciples, called "water brothers," continue his
work. Again, like in many Heinlein's works, a small elite rises above
the masses and show the way to future.
Stranger in a Strange Land was one of the favorite books of the mass murderer Charles Manson. "When he started his "family" in Berkeley, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, Manson borrowed some of the terminology and ceremonies from the book. It is reported that his followers held water-sharing ceremonies as well as group sex orgies. He referred to his parole officer as "Roger Smith Jubal," after Jubal Harshaw, Mike's mentor. When Mary Theresa Brunner, one of Manson's followers, gave birth to a baby boy in 1968, Manson named the child Valentine Michael Manson." (from Chronology of Twentieth-Century History: Arts & Culture, volume II, ed. by Frank N. Magill, 1998)
Glory Road (1963), written in the tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Mars stories, has been decades one of Heinlein's most popular books. The protagonist is Oscar Gordon who experiences a series of adventures with a beautiful woman, Star, and an old man, Rufo, who have their secrets. Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966) was set in an exploited penal colony, Luna. All dissident and other unfits have been sent there and soon the best brains invents new forms of marriage due to shortage of women. The protagonist has an artificial left arm, or several of them for special purposes. In I Will Fear No Evil (1971) a dying tycoon, Johann Smith, has his brain transplanted into the body of Eunice, a young black woman. Johann has her body impregnated with his frozen sperm. Cat Who Walks Through Walls (1985) was about alternate histories and time travels. Colonel Colin Campbell, alias Senator Richard Johnson, alias doctor Richard Ames, is a warrior, philosopher, and wanderer, who saves the history and future of multiversum. Also Schrödinger's cat has an important role in the story.
Usually Heinlein spent some three months with his writing and travelled widely for the rest of the time. In 1973 he taught as James V. Forrestal Lecturer at the U.S. Naval Academy. He was awarded the first Grand Master Nebula in 1975. Heinlein was repeatedly voted as "the best all-time author" in reader's polls held by the magazine Locus in 1973 and 1975. He died on May 8, 1988.