Saturday Art: Influential Authors: Robert A. Heinlein
Robert Anson Heinlein July 7, 1907 – May 8, 1988) was an American science fiction writer. Often called the “dean of science fiction writers”, he was one of the most influential and controversial authors of the genre in his time. He set a standard for scientific and engineering plausibility, and helped to raise the genre’s standards of literary quality.
He was one of the first science fiction writers to break into mainstream magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post in the late 1940s. He was one of the best-selling science fiction novelists for many decades. He, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke are known as the “Big Three” of science fiction.
I was in my twenties when I first read anything by Heinlein that stood out for me. I was stationed in Hawai’i in the USAF and picked up a copy of the book Starman Jones. Even though it is considered a Juvenile/Young Adult, it told a good story and that is usually one of the criterion for me to enjoy an author.
Over the next years, I read many other Heinlein books and short stories. While I may not have agreed with all of his pronouncements, his writing was always enjoyable. As with Asimov and Clarke, he coined a few phrases and words that have entered the (somewhat) common lexicon. For example, if you hear or read of someone saying “I grok that” you can be pretty sure that person has read Stranger in a Strange Land.
A phrase/acronym that Heinlein used in many of his works is TANSTAAFL (There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch).
Heinlein definitely evolved politically over his life. Again from his wiki:
Heinlein’s political positions evolved throughout his life, though he was always strongly patriotic and firmly supported the United States military. Heinlein’s early political leanings were liberal. In 1934 he worked actively for the Democratic campaign of Upton Sinclair for Governor of California. After Sinclair’s loss, Heinlein became an anti-Communist Democratic activist. He made an unsuccessful bid for a California State Assembly seat in 1938. Heinlein’s first novel, For Us, The Living (written 1939), consists largely of speeches advocating the Social Credit system, and the early story “Misfit” (1939) deals with an organization that seems to be Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps translated into outer space.
Heinlein’s juvenile fiction of the 1940s and ’50s, however, began to espouse conservative virtues. After 1945, he came to believe that a strong world government was the only way to avoid mutual nuclear annihilation. His 1949 novel Space Cadet describes a future scenario where a military-controlled global government enforces world peace. Heinlein ceased considering himself a Democrat in 1954.
Stranger in a Strange Land was embraced by the hippie counterculture, and libertarians have found inspiration in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Both groups found resonance with his themes of personal freedom in both thought and action
While I found myself often not agreeing with Heinlein politically and Heinlein could sometimes go into libertarian rants, I still found most of his books and stories interesting reads. He offered some quite unique perspectives on some things. At the moment I can’t recall which book the following came from (I think it might have been Time Enough for Love – but don’t quote me) but in one of his books, Heinlein postulated that some authors have managed to create an alternative universe through the power of their stories then proceeded to visit a few of these, traveling across dimensions. For example, one of the dimensions visited in the book was that of L Frank Baum’s Oz. Heinlein also had the characters visiting with other Heinlein created characters from over the years.
While some of Heinlein’s stuff was a bit over the top, I have to admit, I find that last perspective quite interesting. After all, for myself, I do enjoy the thought that some writers create a new dimension of Earth strictly through the power of their writing.
Photo from Hadley Paul Garland licensed under Creative Commons