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|Robert A. Heinlein|
Heinlein signing autographs at Worldcon 1976
|Born||Robert Anson Heinlein|
July 7, 1907
Butler, Missouri, USA
|Died||May 8, 1988 (aged 80)|
Carmel, California, USA
|Pen name||Anson MacDonald, Lyle Monroe, John Riverside, Caleb Saunders, Simon York|
|Occupation||Novelist, short story author, essayist, screenwriter|
|Genre||Science fiction, fantasy|
|Spouse||Virginia "Ginny" Gerstenfeld (m. 1948)|
|Robert A. Heinlein|
Heinlein signing autographs at Worldcon 1976
|Born||Robert Anson Heinlein|
July 7, 1907
Butler, Missouri, USA
|Died||May 8, 1988 (aged 80)|
Carmel, California, USA
|Pen name||Anson MacDonald, Lyle Monroe, John Riverside, Caleb Saunders, Simon York|
|Occupation||Novelist, short story author, essayist, screenwriter|
|Genre||Science fiction, fantasy|
Elinor Curry (m. 1929) (divorced), Leslyn MacDonald (m. 1932–47) (divorced),Virginia "Ginny" Gerstenfeld (m. 1948)
Robert Anson Heinlein (// HINE-line; 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, and he, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke are often considered to be the "Big Three" of science fiction authors.
A notable writer of science fiction short stories, Heinlein was one of a group of writers who came to prominence under the editorship of John W. Campbell, Jr. in his Astounding Science Fiction magazine—though Heinlein denied that Campbell influenced his writing to any great degree.
Within the framework of his science fiction stories, Heinlein repeatedly addressed certain social themes: the importance of individual liberty and self-reliance, the obligation individuals owe to their societies, the influence of organized religion on culture and government, and the tendency of society to repress nonconformist thought. He also speculated on the influence of space travel on human cultural practices.
Heinlein was named the first Science Fiction Writers Grand Master in 1974. He won Hugo Awards for four of his novels; in addition, fifty years after publication, three of his works were awarded "Retro Hugos"—awards given retrospectively for works that were published before the Hugo Awards came into existence. In his fiction, Heinlein coined words that have become part of the English language, including "grok" and "waldo", and popularized the terms "TANSTAAFL" and space marine. He also described a modern version of a waterbed in his novel The Door Into Summer, though he never patented or built one. Several of Heinlein's works have been adapted for film and television.
Heinlein was born on July 7, 1907 to Rex Ivar Heinlein (an accountant) and Bam Lyle Heinlein, in Butler, Missouri. He was a 6th-generation German-American: a family tradition had it that Heinleins fought in every American war starting with the War of Independence.
His childhood was spent in Kansas City, Missouri. The outlook and values of this time and place (in his own words, "The Bible Belt") had a definite influence on his fiction, especially his later works, as he drew heavily upon his childhood in establishing the setting and cultural atmosphere in works like Time Enough for Love and To Sail Beyond the Sunset. He often broke with many of the Bible Belt's values and mores—especially in regard to religion and sexual morality—both in his writing and in his personal life.
Heinlein's experience in the U.S. Navy exerted a strong influence on his character and writing. Heinlein graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1929 with a B.S degree in naval engineering, and he served as an officer in the Navy. He was assigned to the new aircraft carrier USS Lexington in 1931, where he worked in radio communications, then in its earlier phases, with the carrier's aircraft. The captain of this carrier was Ernest J. King, who later served as the Chief of Naval Operations and Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet during World War II. Heinlein was frequently interviewed during his later years by military historians who asked him about Captain King and his service as the commander of the U.S. Navy's first modern aircraft carrier.
Heinlein also served aboard the destroyer USS Roper in 1933 and 1934, reaching the rank of lieutenant. His brother, Lawrence Heinlein, served in the U.S. Army, the U.S. Air Force, and the Missouri National Guard, and he rose to the rank of major general in the National Guard.
In 1929, Heinlein married Elinor Curry of Kansas City in Los Angeles, but their marriage lasted for only about a year. His second marriage in 1932 to Leslyn MacDonald (1904–1981) lasted for 15 years. MacDonald was a political radical, and Isaac Asimov later recalled that Heinlein was, as was she, "a flaming liberal."
After his discharge, Heinlein attended a few weeks of graduate classes in mathematics and physics at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), but he soon quit either because of his health or from a desire to enter politics.
Heinlein supported himself at several occupations, including real estate sales and silver mining, but for some years found money in short supply. Heinlein was active in Upton Sinclair's socialist End Poverty in California movement in the early 1930s. When Sinclair gained the Democratic nomination for Governor of California in 1934, Heinlein worked actively in the campaign. Heinlein himself ran for the California State Assembly in 1938, but he was unsuccessful.
While not destitute after the campaign—he had a small disability pension from the Navy—Heinlein turned to writing in order to pay off his mortgage. His first published story, "Life-Line", was printed in the August 1939 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction. Originally written for a contest, it was instead sold to Astounding for significantly more than the contest's first-prize payoff. Another Future History story, "Misfit", followed in November. Heinlein was quickly acknowledged as a leader of the new movement toward "social" science fiction. He was the guest of honor at Denvention, the 1941 Worldcon, held in Denver. During World War II, he did aeronautical engineering for the U.S. Navy, also recruiting Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp to work at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in Pennsylvania. As the war wound down in 1945, Heinlein began re-evaluating his career. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, along with the outbreak of the Cold War, galvanized him to write nonfiction on political topics. In addition, he wanted to break into better-paying markets. He published four influential short stories for The Saturday Evening Post magazine, leading off, in February 1947, with "The Green Hills of Earth". That made him the first science fiction writer to break out of the "pulp ghetto". In 1950, the movie Destination Moon—the documentary-like film for which he had written the story and scenario, co-written the script, and invented many of the effects—won an Academy Award for special effects. Also, he embarked on a series of juvenile S.F. novels for the Charles Scribner's Sons publishing company that went from 1947 through 1959, at the rate of one book each autumn, in time for Christmas presents to teenagers. He also wrote for Boys' Life in 1952.
At the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard he had met and befriended a chemical engineer named Virginia "Ginny" Gerstenfeld. After the war, her engagement having fallen through, she moved to UCLA for doctoral studies in chemistry, and made contact again.
As his second wife's alcoholism gradually spun out of control, Heinlein moved out and the couple filed for divorce. Heinlein's friendship with Virginia turned into a relationship and on October 21, 1948—shortly after the decree nisi came through—they married in the town of Raton, NM shortly after having set up house in Colorado. They would remain married until Heinlein's death.
As Heinlein's increasing success as a writer resolved their initial financial woes, they had a house custom built with various innovative features, later described in an article in Popular Mechanics. In 1965, after various chronic health problems of Virginia's were traced back to altitude sickness, they moved to Santa Cruz, California, at sea level, while they were building a new residence in the adjacent village of Bonny Doon, California. Their unique circular California house—which like their Colorado house, he designed along with Virginia and then built himself—is on Bonny Doon Road .
Ginny undoubtedly served as a model for many of his intelligent, fiercely independent female characters. In 1953–1954, the Heinleins voyaged around the world (mostly via ocean liners and cargo liners, as Ginny detested flying), which Heinlein described in Tramp Royale, and which also provided background material for science fiction novels set aboard spaceships on long voyages, such as Podkayne of Mars and Friday. Ginny acted as the first reader of his manuscripts, and she was reputed to be a better engineer than Heinlein himself. Isaac Asimov believed that Heinlein made a swing to the right politically at the same time he married Ginny. Tramp Royale contains two lengthy apologias for the McCarthy hearings. 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."
When Robert A. Heinlein opened his Colorado Springs newspaper on April 5, 1958, he read a full-page ad demanding that the Eisenhower Administration stop testing nuclear weapons. The science-fiction author was flabbergasted. He called for the formation of the Patrick Henry League and spent the next several weeks writing and publishing his own polemic that lambasted "Communist-line goals concealed in idealistic-sounding nonsense" and urged Americans not to become "soft-headed."
Heinlein had used topical materials throughout his juvenile series beginning in 1947, but in 1959, his novel Starship Troopers was considered by the editors and owners of Scribner's to be too controversial for one of its prestige lines, and it was rejected.
Heinlein found another publisher (Putnam), feeling himself released from the constraints of writing novels for children, and he began to write "my own stuff, my own way", and he wrote a series of challenging books that redrew the boundaries of science fiction, including his best-known work, Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966).
Beginning in 1970, Heinlein had a series of health crises, broken by strenuous periods of activity in his hobby of stonemasonry. (In a private correspondence, he referred to that as his "usual and favorite occupation between books.") The decade began with a life-threatening attack of peritonitis, recovery from which required more than two years. As soon as he was well enough to write again, he began work on Time Enough for Love (1973), which introduced many of the themes found in his later fiction.
In the mid-1970s, Heinlein wrote two articles for the Britannica Compton Yearbook. He and Ginny crisscrossed the country helping to reorganize blood donation in the United States, and he was the guest of honor at the Worldcon for the third time at MidAmeriCon in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1976. While vacationing in Tahiti in early 1978, he suffered a transient ischemic attack. Over the next few months, he became more and more exhausted, and his health again began to decline. The problem was determined to be a blocked carotid artery, and he had one of the earliest known carotid bypass operations to correct it. Heinlein and Virginia had been smokers, and smoking appears often in his fiction, as do fictitious strikable self-lighting cigarettes.
In 1980 Robert Heinlein was a member of the Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy, chaired by Jerry Pournelle, which met at the home of SF writer Larry Niven to write space policy papers for the incoming Reagan Administration. Members included Buzz Aldrin, General Daniel Graham, rocket engineer Max Hunter, North American VP and Space Shuttle manager George Merrick, and other aerospace industry leaders. Policy recommendations from the Council included ballistic missile defense concepts which were later transformed into what was called the Strategic Defense Initiative by those who favored it, and "Star Wars" as a term of derision coined by Senator Ted Kennedy. Heinlein contributed to the Council contribution to the Reagan "Star Wars" speech of Spring 1983.
Asked 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 benefiting the infirm and the elderly. Heinlein's surgical treatment re-energized him, and he wrote five novels from 1980 until he died in his sleep from emphysema and heart failure on May 8, 1988.
After his death, his wife Virginia Heinlein issued a compilation of Heinlein's correspondence and notes into a somewhat autobiographical examination of his career, published in 1989 under the title Grumbles from the Grave. Heinlein's archive is housed by the Special Collections department of McHenry Library at the University of California at Santa Cruz. The collection includes manuscript drafts, correspondence, photographs and artifacts. A substantial portion of the archive has been digitized and it is available online through the Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Archives.
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Heinlein published 32 novels, 59 short stories, and 16 collections during his life. Four films, two television series, several episodes of a radio series, and a board game have been derived more or less directly from his work. He wrote a screenplay for one of the films. Heinlein edited an anthology of other writers' SF short stories.
Three nonfiction books and two poems have been published posthumously. One novel was published posthumously in 2003; another, written by Spider Robinson based on a sketchy outline by Heinlein, was published in September 2006. Four collections have been published posthumously.
Over the course of his career Heinlein wrote four somewhat overlapping series.
Heinlein began his career as a writer of stories for Astounding Science Fiction, a highly respected science fiction magazine, which was edited by John Campbell. The science fiction writer Frederik Pohl has described Heinlein as "that greatest of Campbell-era sf writers". Isaac Asimov said that, from the time of his first story, it was accepted that Heinlein was the best science fiction writer in existence, adding that he would hold this title through his lifetime.
Alexei and Cory Panshin noted that Heinlein's impact was immediately felt. In 1940, the year after selling 'Life-Line' to Campbell, he wrote three short novels, four novelettes, and seven short stories. They went on to say that "No one ever dominated the science fiction field as Bob did in the first few years of his career." Alexei expresses awe in Heinlein's ability to show readers a world so drastically different from the one we live in now, yet have so many similarities. He says that "We find ourselves not only in a world other than our own, but identifying with a living, breathing individual who is operating within its context, and thinking and acting according to its terms."
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 tracked down the manuscript and it was published in 2003. Though some regard it as a failure as a novel, considering it little more than a disguised lecture on Heinlein's social theories, some readers took a very different view. In a review of it, John Clute wrote: "I'm not about to suggest that if Heinlein had been able to publish [such works] openly in the pages of Astounding in 1939, SF would have gotten the future right; I would suggest, however, that if Heinlein, and his colleagues, had been able to publish adult SF in Astounding and its fellow journals, then SF might not have done such a grotesquely poor job of prefiguring something of the flavor of actually living here at the onset of 2004."
For Us, the Living was intriguing as a window into the development of Heinlein's radical ideas about man as a social animal, including his interest in free love. The root of many themes found in his later stories can be found in this book. It also contained much material that could be considered background for his other novels, including a detailed description of the protagonist's treatment to avoid being banned to Coventry (a lawless land in the Heinlein mythos where unrepentant law-breakers are exiled).
It 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.
After For Us, The Living, Heinlein began selling (to magazines) first short stories, then novels, set in a Future History, complete with a time line of significant political, cultural, and technological changes. A chart of the future history was published in the May 1941 issue of Astounding. Over time, Heinlein wrote many novels and short stories that deviated freely from the Future History on some points, while maintaining consistency in some other areas. The Future History was eventually overtaken by actual events. These discrepancies were explained, after a fashion, in his later World as Myth stories.
Heinlein's first novel published as a book, 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 Jones. Many of these were first published in serial form under other titles, e.g., Farmer in the Sky was published as Satellite Scout in the Boy Scout magazine Boys' Life. There 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.
The novels that Heinlein wrote for a young audience are commonly called "the Heinlein juveniles", and they feature a 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 their 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 more complex or difficult themes than most people realized. His juvenile stories often had a maturity to them that made them readable for adults. Red Planet, for example, portrays some very subversive themes, including a revolution in which young students are involved; his editor demanded substantial changes in this book's discussion of topics such as the use of weapons by children and the misidentified sex 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.
In 1957, James Blish wrote that one reason for Heinlein's success "has been the high grade of machinery which goes, today as always, into his story-telling. Heinlein seems to have known from the beginning, as if instinctively, technical lessons about fiction which other writers must learn the hard way (or often enough, never learn). He does not always operate the machinery to the best advantage, but he always seems to be aware of it."
Heinlein decisively ended his juvenile novels with Starship Troopers (1959), a controversial work and his personal riposte to leftists calling for President Dwight D. Eisenhower to stop nuclear testing in 1958.
"The "Patrick Henry" ad shocked 'em," he wrote many years later. "Starship Troopers outraged 'em."
Starship Troopers is a coming-of-age story about duty, citizenship, and the role of the military in society. The book portrays a society in which suffrage is earned by demonstrated willingness to place society's interests before one's own, at least for a short time and often under onerous circumstances, in government service; in the case of the protagonist, this was military service.
Later, in Expanded Universe, Heinlein said that it was his intention in the novel that service could include positions outside strictly military functions such as teachers, police officers, and other government positions. This is presented in the novel as an outgrowth of the failure of unearned suffrage government and as a very successful arrangement. In addition, the franchise was only awarded after leaving the assigned service, thus those serving their terms—in the military, or any other service—were excluded from exercising any franchise. Career military were completely disenfranchised until retirement.
Starship Troopers was made into a 1997 film written by Ed Neumeier and directed by Paul Verhoeven. Admirers of Heinlein were critical of the movie, which they considered a betrayal of Heinlein's philosophy, presenting the society in which the story takes place as fascist. Christopher Weuve, an admirer of Heinlein, has said that the society depicted in the film showed only a superficial resemblance to the society that Heinlein describes in his book. Weuve summed up his critique of the film as follows. First, "while the Terran Federation in Starship Troopers is specifically stated to be a representative democracy, Ed Neumeier decided to make the government into a fascist state ... Second, the book was multiracial, but not so the movie: all the non-Anglo characters from the book have been replaced by characters who look like they stepped out of the Aryan edition of GQ... Third, there is real element of sadism present in the movie which simply isn't present in the book."
From about 1961 (Stranger in a Strange Land) to 1973 (Time Enough for Love), Heinlein explored some of his most important themes, such as individualism, libertarianism, and free expression of physical and emotional love. Three novels from this period, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and Time Enough for Love, won the Libertarian Futurist Society's Prometheus Hall of Fame Award, designed to honor classic libertarian fiction. Jeff Riggenbach described The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as "unquestionably one of the three or four most influential libertarian novels of the last century".
Heinlein 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.
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress tells of a war of independence waged by the Lunar penal colonies, with significant comments from a major character, Professor La Paz, regarding the threat posed by government to individual freedom.
Although 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.[verification needed] Heinlein stated that he was influenced by James Branch Cabell in taking this new literary direction. The penultimate 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 one critic, Dave Langford, has written about them very negatively. Heinlein's four Hugo awards were all for books written before this period.
Some 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, either into a kind of magical realism, continuing the process of literary exploration that he had begun with Stranger in a Strange Land, or into a kind of literary metaphor of quantum science (The Number of the Beast dealing with the Observer problem, and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls being a direct reference to the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment).
Most of the novels from this period are recognized by critics as forming an offshoot from the Future History series, and referred to by the term World as Myth.
The tendency toward authorial self-reference 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 many of Heinlein's strong female characters, appears to be based closely on his wife Ginny.
The 1982 novel Friday, a more conventional adventure story (borrowing a character and backstory from the earlier short story Gulf, also containing suggestions of connection to The Puppet Masters) continued a Heinlein theme of expecting what he saw as the continued disintegration of Earth's society, to the point where the title character is strongly encouraged to seek a new life off-planet. It concludes with a traditional Heinlein note, as in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress or Time Enough for Love, that freedom is to be found on the frontiers.
Several Heinlein works have been published since his death, including 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; Take Back Your Government, a how-to book about participatory democracy written in 1946; and a tribute volume called Requiem: Collected Works and Tributes to the Grand Master, containing some additional short works previously unpublished in book form. Off the Main Sequence, published in 2005, includes three short stories never before collected in any Heinlein book (Heinlein called them "stinkeroos").
Spider Robinson, a colleague, friend, and admirer of Heinlein, wrote Variable Star, based on an outline and notes for a juvenile novel that Heinlein prepared in 1955. The novel was published as a collaboration, with Heinlein's name above Robinson's on the cover, in 2006.
A complete collection of Heinlein's published work, conformed and copy-edited by several Heinlein scholars including biographer William H. Patterson is being published[when?] by the Heinlein Trust as the "Virginia Edition", after his wife.
Heinlein's books probe a range of ideas about a range of topics such as sex, race, politics, and the military. Many were seen as radical or as ahead of their time in their social criticism. His books have inspired considerable debate about the specifics, and the evolution, of Heinlein's own opinions, and have earned him both lavish praise and a degree of criticism. He has also been accused of contradicting himself on various philosophical questions. As Ted Gioia notes, Heinlein "has been accused of many things—of being a libertine or a libertarian, a fascist or a fetishist, pre-Oedipal or just plain preposterous. Heinlein's critics cut across all ends of the political spectrum, as do his fans. His admirers have ranged from Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the founder of American Atheists, to members of the Church of All Worlds, who hail Heinlein as a prophet. Apparently both true believers and non-believers, and perhaps some agnostics, have found sustenance in Heinlein's prodigious output."
Brian Doherty cites William Patterson, saying that the best way to gain an understanding of Heinlein is as a "full-service iconoclast, the unique individual who decides that things do not have to be, and won't continue, as they are." He says this vision is "at the heart of Heinlein, science fiction, libertarianism, and America. Heinlein imagined how everything about the human world, from our sexual mores to our religion to our automobiles to our government to our plans for cultural survival, might be flawed, even fatally so."
The critic Elizabeth Anne Hull, for her part, has praised Heinlein for his interest in exploring fundamental life questions, especially questions about "political power—our responsibilities to one another" and about "personal freedom, particularly sexual freedom."
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 1950s, however, began to espouse conservative views. 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.
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 US 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 non-white characters was a remarkable novelty, with green occurring more often than brown. For example, his second juvenile, the 1948 Space Cadet, explicitly uses aliens as a metaphor for minorities. In his juvenile, Star Beast, the de facto ruler of Earth is a Mr. Kiku who is from Africa. Heinlein explicitly states his skin is "ebony black", and that Kiku is in an arranged marriage that is happy.
In a number of his stories, Heinlein challenges his readers' possible racial preconceptions by introducing a strong, sympathetic character, only to reveal much later that he or she is of African or other ancestry; in several cases, the covers of the books show characters as being light-skinned, when in fact the text states, or at least implies, that they are dark-skinned or of African ancestry. Heinlein repeatedly denounced racism in his non-fiction works, including numerous examples in Expanded Universe.
Heinlein reveals near the end of Starship Troopers that the novel's protagonist and narrator, Johnny Rico, the formerly disaffected scion of a wealthy family, is Filipino, actually named "Juan Rico" and speaks Tagalog in addition to English.
Race was a central theme in some of Heinlein's fiction. The most prominent and controversial example is Farnham's Freehold, which casts a white family into a future in which white people are the slaves of cannibalistic black rulers. In the 1941 novel Sixth Column (also known as The Day After Tomorrow), a white resistance movement in the United States 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. The book is sprinkled with racist slurs against Asian people, and blacks and Hispanics are not mentioned at all. The idea for the story was pushed on Heinlein by editor John W. Campbell, and Heinlein wrote later that he had "had to re-slant it to remove racist aspects of the original story line" and that he did not "consider it to be an artistic success." (However, the novel prompted a heated debate in the scientific community regarding the plausibility of developing ethnic bioweapons.)
Some of the alien species in Heinlein's fiction can be interpreted in terms of an allegorical representation of human ethnic groups. It has been suggested that the strongly hierarchical and anti-individualistic "Bugs" in Starship Troopers were meant to represent the Chinese or Japanese, but Heinlein claimed to have written the book in response to "calls for the unilateral ending of nuclear testing by the United States." Heinlein suggests in the book that the Bugs are a good example of Communism being something that humans cannot successfully adhere to, since humans are strongly defined individuals, whereas the Bugs, being a collective, can all contribute to the whole without consideration of individual desire.
Heinlein's biographer William Patterson  relates a number of instances in which Heinlein responded to anti-semitic remarks by (falsely) claiming to be half-Jewish himself and breaking off all further contact with the anti-semite. (Heinlein's actual ancestry is German-American on his father's side and Scots-Irish American on his mother's side, both going back to the Colonial era in the USA.)
In keeping with his belief in individualism, his work for adults—and sometimes even his work for juveniles—often portrays both the oppressors and the oppressed with considerable ambiguity. Heinlein believed that individualism was incompatible 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. 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, concluding, "Specialization is for insects." Heinlein often used the term Polymath, and the full quote from Time Enough on the wide variety of skills indicative of being human vs. insect also is quoted in the Polymath article. The ability of the individual to create himself is explored in stories such as I Will Fear No Evil, "—All You Zombies—", and By His Bootstraps.
For Heinlein, personal liberation included sexual liberation, and free love was a major subject of his writing starting in 1939, with For Us, The Living. During his early period, Heinlein's writing for younger readers needed to take account of both editorial perceptions of sexuality in his novels, and potential perceptions among the buying public; as critic William H. Patterson has put it, his dilemma was "to sort out what was really objectionable from what was only excessive over-sensitivity to imaginary librarians". By his middle period, sexual freedom and the elimination of sexual jealousy were a major theme of Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), in which the progressively minded but sexually conservative reporter, Ben Caxton, acts as a dramatic foil for the less parochial characters, Jubal Harshaw and Valentine Michael Smith (Mike). Another of the main characters, Jill, is homophobic.
Gary Westfahl points out that "Heinlein is a problematic case for feminists; on the one hand, his works often feature strong female characters and vigorous statements that women are equal to or even superior to men; but these characters and statements often reflect hopelessly stereotypical attitudes about typical female attributes. It is disconcerting, for example, that in Expanded Universe Heinlein calls for a society where all lawyers and politicians are women, essentially on the grounds that they possess a mysterious feminine practicality that men cannot duplicate." Also, in Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, Jill, one of the main characters, says, "nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped it's partly her fault".
In books written as early as 1956, Heinlein dealt with incest and the sexual nature of children. Many of his books (including Time for the Stars, Glory Road, Time Enough for Love, and The Number of the Beast) dealt explicitly or implicitly with incest, sexual feelings and relations between adults and children, or both. The treatment of these themes include the romantic relationship and eventual marriage (once the girl becomes an adult via time-travel) of a 30-year-old engineer and an 11-year-old girl in The Door into Summer or the more overt inter-familial incest in To Sail Beyond the Sunset and Farnham's Freehold. Peers such as L. Sprague de Camp and Damon Knight have commented critically on Heinlein's portrayal of incest and pedophilia in a lighthearted and even approving manner.
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 of metaphysics, but answering them is not, because once you answer this kind of question, you cross the line into religion. Maureen does not state a reason for this; she simply remarks that such questions are "beautiful" but lack answers. 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.
During 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, related to the well-known Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, that by using a correctly designed language, one can change or improve oneself mentally, or even realize untapped potential (as in the case of Joe Green in Gulf).
When Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead was published, Heinlein was very favorably impressed, as quoted in "Grumbles..." and mentioned John Galt—the hero in Rand's Atlas Shrugged—as a heroic archetype in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. He 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 psychological theorizing.
However, he was skeptical about Freudianism, especially after a struggle with an editor who insisted on reading Freudian sexual symbolism into his juvenile novels. Heinlein was fascinated by the social credit movement in the 1930s. This is shown in Beyond This Horizon and in his 1938 novel For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs, which was finally published in 2003, long after his death. He 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.
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. In the 1950s he was a leader in bringing science fiction out of the low-paying and less prestigious "pulp ghetto". 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 decades after his death.
Robert Heinlein was also influenced by the American writer, philosopher and humorist Charles Fort who is credited as a major influence on most of the leading science-fiction writers of the 20th-century. Heinlein was a lifelong member of the International Fortean Organization also known as INFO, the successor to the original Fortean Society. Heinlein's letters were often displayed on the walls of the INFO offices, and his active participation in the organization is mentioned in the INFO Journal.
He 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. Heinlein himself stated—with obvious pride—that in the days before pocket calculators, he and his wife Virginia once worked for several days on a mathematical equation describing an Earth-Mars rocket orbit, which was then subsumed in a single sentence of the novel Space Cadet.
Heinlein has had a nearly ubiquitous influence on other science fiction writers. In a 1953 poll of leading science fiction authors, he was cited more frequently as an influence than any other modern writer. Critic James Gifford writes that "Although many other writers have exceeded Heinlein's output, few can claim to match his broad and seminal influence. Scores of science fiction writers from the prewar Golden Age through the present day loudly and enthusiastically credit Heinlein for blazing the trails of their own careers, and shaping their styles and stories."
Outside the science fiction community, several words and phrases coined or adopted by Heinlein have passed into common English usage:
In 1962, Oberon Zell-Ravenheart (then still using his birth name, Tim Zell) founded the Church of All Worlds, a Neopagan religious organization modeled in many ways after the treatment of religion in the novel Stranger in a Strange Land. This spiritual path included several ideas from the book, including polyamory, non-mainstream family structures, social libertarianism, water-sharing rituals, an acceptance of all religious paths by a single tradition, and the use of several terms such as "grok", "Thou art God", and "Never Thirst". Though Heinlein was neither a member nor a promoter of the Church, it was done with frequent correspondence between Zell and Heinlein, and he was a paid subscriber to their magazine Green Egg. This Church still exists as a 501(C)(3) religious organization incorporated in California, with membership worldwide, and it remains an active part of the neopagan community today.
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. The 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,[original research?] best evidenced 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 was also a guest commentator for Walter Cronkite during Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's Apollo 11 moon landing. He remarked to Cronkite during the landing that, "This is the greatest event in human history, up to this time. This is—today is New Year's Day of the Year One." Businessman and entrepreneur Elon Musk says that Heinlein's books have helped inspire his career.
The Heinlein Society was founded by Virginia Heinlein on behalf of her husband, to "pay forward" the legacy of the writer to future generations of "Heinlein's Children." The foundation has programs to:
The Heinlein society also established the Robert A. Heinlein Award in 2003 "for outstanding published works in science fiction and technical writings to inspire the human exploration of space."
The Science Fiction Writers of America named Heinlein its first Grand Master in 1974, presented 1975. Officers and past presidents of the Association select a living writer for lifetime achievement (now annually and including fantasy literature).
In 2001 the United States Naval Academy created the Robert A. Heinlein Chair In Aerospace Engineering.
There was an active campaign to persuade the Secretary of the Navy to name the new Zumwalt-class destroyer DDG-1001 the USS Robert A. Heinlein; however, DDG-1001 will be named USS Monsoor, after Michael Monsoor, a Navy SEAL who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in Iraq.
In December 2013 Heinlein was announced as an inductee to the Hall of Famous Missourians. His bronze bust, created by Kansas City sculptor, E. Spencer Schubert, will be one of forty-four on permanent display in the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.
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