"Wow," is all I can say about Heinlein's influence on your life as
a writer. And what a wonderful
tribute you give him. Please, take it away.
There are many writers who have influenced me, both as a fiction writer and as a poet, but one of my early influences was Robert A. Heinlein.
Growing up, I was a die-hard Robert A. Heinlein fan. When I selected his "Farmer in the Sky" for my tenth birthday, I knew exactly which book I wanted. Some of my favorite lines come from Heinlein novels, as, for example, the opening of "Double Star:"
If a man walks in dressed like a hick and acting as if he owned the place, he's a spaceman.
And from later in the book, where a character has sold out the main character:
I answered with a single squeaking polysylabic in High Martian, a sentence meaning, "Proper conduct demands that one of us leave!" But it means far more than that, as it is a challenge which usually ends in someone's nest being notified of a demise.
So many books and many editions were available on Amazon, I couldn't choose, so I trotted off to my local Barnes and Noble. They had nineteen Heinlein novels at the first Barnes and Noble I tried and twelve at the second, smaller one near my house. Clearly Heinlein is still popular.
In many respects astronomy today has passed him by. This is especially evident with respect to his vision of Venus and his Martians and Venusians. We know now that Venus has nothing like an earth-like atmosphere and we know (or we think) that neither planet has intelligent life.
However, I started reading Heinlein at age 10. I read the juveniles from 1956 onwards and I was convinced even at the time that Heinlein’s aliens were purely a figment of his imagination. That didn’t stop me from enjoying his books, and it shouldn’t stop you either.
As I have told my kids many times, when I first read “Between Planets” as a teenager and came to the bit in the beginning about the hero taking his phone out of his already packed suitcase, I was sure that a phone like that was impossible. Clearly, I was wrong, and Heinlein, who was trained as an engineer and had an insatiable curiosity about this, and just about everything else, was right.
Today practically everyone has a cell phone. So much for my ability to predict the future.
Then rereading “Stranger in a Strange Land,” I came across the spot where Ben tells Jill that Valentine Michael Smith is the biological child of Mary Jane Lisle Smith and Captain Michael Brant. Jill asks Ben how they know, and he replies, blood typing and the like. “Of course,” I thought to myself, ”DNA analysis.” Then I did a double take. In the sixties, when Stranger was first published, there was no such thing as DNA analysis -- and no water beds, and no microwaves, all of which are described in the book.
There’s more. Household robots, described in “The Door into Summer,” haven’t yet caught up to Hired Girl, much to my dismay, but we do have Roomba. And every time I’m stuck in traffic I wish that we had trimobiles, described in “Methuselah’s Children,” so I could just fly over it all.
Then there's Mike, the intelligent computer in “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.” Now, when we have the internet, annoying speech recognition software that answers the phone for many businesses, expert systems and the like, it’s easy to forget that in 1966 there was none of this. The research for the Arpanet, the government-sponsored research that resulted in a prototype networking capability, was just getting underway. And in the mid 1970’s, when I was in graduate school in computer science, speech recognition and expert systems were subjects for PhD theses, not everyday facts of life. When I first read Moon I found the idea of an intelligent computer absolutely mind boggling. It’s much less so today.
As to the political scene, in some places it’s caught up to Heinlein’s work. The war against the “bugs” in “Starship Troopers” can in many respects be likened to today’s War on Terror. My son the Army Lieutenant tells me that today’s soldiers are indeed just about as uninformed as to the motives behind the war as the soldiers in Heinlein’s book. He also assures me that Heinlein’s picture of army life is accurate. No surprise, given that Heinlein himself was invalided out of the navy and indeed only started to write as a way to support himself and his wife and to pay his mortgage.
And how about the religious dictator who’s overthrown in “Revolt in 2100.” There have been times in the recent past when politics in these United States has made me afraid that this could actually happen.
To a certain extent the sexual revolution has made the sexual piece of Stranger less shocking than it was in 1962 when it first appeared. I can assure you that when I first read “Stranger” in the 1964 or 1965 it was an absolutely revolutionary book. It’s worth noting that Germaine Greer’s “The Female Eunuch” was published in 1971 and George and Nena O’Neill’s “Open Marriage” was published in 1973. The latter half of the book, where Heinlein takes on religion, is, I will venture to say, still going to make most of squirm in our seats.
Robert Anson Heinlein was born on July 7, 1907 in Butler, Missouri and died on May 8, 1988 in Carmel, California. He graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1929 and served in the navy until he was invalided out in 1934 when he contracted pulmonary tuberculosis. He married his third wife, Virginia, in 1948. The marriage was to last the rest of his life. Virginia Heinlein was the model for many of the strong, independent women in Heinlein stories, right down to the red hair. He received four Hugo awards in his lifetime, for “Double Star” (1956) “Starship Troopers” (1959) “Stranger in a Strange Land” (1961) and “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” (1966). received three “Retro Hugos” as well as the first Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America. He wrote many fine books not mentioned here. The books mentioned in this article include:
“Beyond This Horizon” first published 1948 The society in this book includes a “genetic elite” where the children have been genetically selected for excellence (think “Gatttica”). This is far from Heinlein’s best work but the concerns in the book do seem relevant today.
“Red Planet” first published 1949, is the story of a boy colonist on Mars, his friendship with a Martian “bouncer”
“Between Planets” first published 1951, is the story of a boy caught literally “between planets” by an interplanetary war.
“Revolt in 2100” first published 1953 is the story of a revolt against a religious dictator.
“Door into Summer” first published 1957 is the story of an inventor who is manipulated by his fiancé into cold sleep. It includes time travel.
“Methuselah’s Children” first published 1958 is the story of a group of naturally long-lived people (one of them is Lazarus Long) who are forced to flee the planet.
“Starship Troopers” first published 1959 is the story of a young man’s coming of age in the army.
“Requiem” first published 1994 includes some previously unpublished stories, speeches and tributes to Heinlein.
In spite of the lateness of the hour, Ardaval opened the door as Brad raised his hand to knock. After leading the way into the courtyard, Ardaval motioned Brad to a seat. One of the two small moons hung in the sky overhead. A light breeze blew across Brad's shoulders. The moonbeams drifted down through the waving leaves of the tree in the center, making lacy patterns on the tiles.