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20 Things You Might Not Know About Robert A. Heinlein

All 4-parts of the series revealing science fiction's most creative innovators.

by
Sarah Hoyt

Bio

March 22, 2014 - 11:00 am
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Editor’s Note: This articles was first serialized in four parts here, here, here, and here. What other authors and subjects would you like to see explored in list format in future articles? Let us know in the comments.

Part 1: His Maculate Origin

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1. When Robert A. Heinlein was a child, his family was so poor that “[H]e slept on a pallet on the floor for years, in a constant state of amiable warfare with baby sister Louise, ‘A notorious pillow swiper.’”

Most of the writers who, in later years, would apostrophize Heinlein as “too optimistic” and turn their stories into “poverty porn” could probably have benefited from having some idea what true poverty was. Even those of us who were poor as children for some time were never so poor as to have rationed pillows.

Heinlein wrote rags to riches stories, of which those who believe the individual is powerless before his fate disapprove. But Heinlein’s own life is a refutation of their theories, so they can go suck an egg, as far as I’m concerned.

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All Comments   (13)
All Comments   (13)
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All important details, about The Master! Many thanks, Sarah, for keeping his memory alive.

Here's another detail that comes to mind. He resembled many of his protagonists in terms of polymath competency -- he was a civil engineer who built his own house from scratch, whose hobby was stone masonry, and who loved to study mathematics and history. Yet he was awed by HIS idol, who could do considerably more than that. (Remember what he had to say about E. E. Smith in "Expanded Universe"?)
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
You didn't mention "The Door Into Summer", IMHO one of the finest revenge-by-living-well novels ever written. I haven't read it in years, but I instantly leaped back to my pre-high-school days of reading F&SF Magazine when I read the WikiPedia synopsis of it. It also dovetails quite nicely with the Revenge article also appearing in today's PJMedia. Read "The Door Into Summer" and see if you don't agree.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
BTW, here's the link to the PJMedia Revenge story: http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2014/04/23/the-art-of-revenge/
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm with you on The Moon is a Harsh Mistress but he was really pushing the boundaries of palatable preachiness in it and I found his later books to be too preach as well as too long.

There was an interesting edition of Red Planet published a few years back: the book as Heinlein wanted it to be, and not as his editor made him publish it (don't forget his remark IIRC from Stranger to the effect that an editor has to pee in the author's work before the editor likes the taste of it.)

Anyway, I thought the original published version of Red Planet was a better book than
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
This different sorts of peachiness. Personally, I think the peachiness of Have Space Suit in the first part was wonderful. (That of the second part didn't make that much sense to me.)
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sometimes "killing" a work makes it better. For example, City on the Edge of Forever won an award even though they nixed Harlan Ellison's ending. I think the movie QBVII was much better than the rather pretentious book. And I will always be grateful to Streisand for trashing that sick short story of Singer's, "Yentl".

On the other hand, I do remember being puzzled at the endings of both Podykane and Red Planet as a kid. I don't know if changing them helped or hurt, but a publisher of children's literature has a right to his standards; there are more important things in the world than literary quality.

Altogether, I think Heinlein was much better when he wasn't writing "what he wanted".
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
I read quite a few of his books at a certain age, and he probably had a big impact on my worldview, along with Vonnegut, Hesse, Huxley, even Carlos Castenada and lots of other writers.

I was shaped by authors more than by "real" life, because, in a book (and to a lesser extent writing on the internet), it's mind to mind.

There (really) ain't no such thing as a free lunch, from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Perhaps the fine print at the top of the "compilation post" is TOO fine? (Besides the comment link in the main article obviously having the wrong data source - this showed no comments, but there were three when I actually got here.)

In any case, in response to the afore-mentioned "fine print" - how about either Andre Norton, or Agatha Christie? I'm not advocating "gender equality" - but both of these ladies had some fairly interesting life stories.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
The problem with Heinlein was that his late writing became self-referential and preachy.

His early writing - especially the future history short stories, but also the novels - was full with people doing things; his later novels has lots and lots of preachy talk and references to what people in previous novels did.

It's hard to believe someone who could write "by his bootstraps" or " he built a crooked house" - to name just two of the best short stories in sf ever written - could also write tripe like "the cat who walks through walls".

It seems to me the tipping point, where he passed from writing to preaching, was post "starship troopers", although there were always flashes of the old brilliance.

As for the "where are the transgendered" whine - is that fool so ignorant of his subject he hadn't read "all you zombies", one of Heinlein's, and for that matter all of sf, most famous stories?
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Something wrong with the source for the comment count in the article link - looked like there were no comments until I actually hit the link.

ST - RAH did "change" in later days, probably for two reasons. First, he could write truly long novels, which you really need if you want to get "preachy" - it's very difficult to get a point across in a short, or even in a "thin" novel. Although "Beyond This Horizon" did have some fairly "preachy" parts. Second, he was at the point in his career where he could have rewritten "Mary had a little lamb" and it would have sold (thus no more worries over the supply of building materials for his construction projects, or emeralds to set off Virginia's beauty).

I think it's a matter of taste - I read the later Heinleins, "preachy" stuff and all - the other two "pillars" of Modern SF, I didn't even bother to buy their later works. RAH still wrote about recognizable human beings who get off their rear ends to do things for themselves, not waiting around for elite "psychohistorians" to decide what they should do, nor for "more advanced" aliens.

At the risk of kicking off the same gentle hammering, I'll state here that I only know of one actual "transgender" explicitly mentioned by RAH - Elizabeth (formerly Libby) Long. The characters in "All You Zombies" and the later "I Will Fear No Evil" I do not count, as they did not change gender by intent or evidenced desire. And Elizabeth has very little in common with the transgenders we deal with; she is a fully functional and unconflicted female, achieved without the self-mutilation and chemical assault that today's transgenders undergo today to "feel right."

I know the transgenders do feel left out, not that I care. AYF showed a rather dysfunctional TG, and was a story that cast the "kill your own grandfather" trope in a different, and brilliant, way. IWFNE was more an examination of the differences between the genders, and "what would happen if we actually COULD read each other's minds?"
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nice points. BTW, the juveniles by their nature had preaching, and it was part of what was so good about them.

BTW, I see elsewhere you thought I hadn't read much Heinlein. I read every novel but three of the last six, and almost all of the future history. (I don't know about the rest, because I wasn't paying attention then to authors and titles. Just found out here that he wrote "crooked house"; I remember the plot well from my youth, but not the title or author.)
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
They don't read those old stories because they have icky hateful white man things in them and too few black gay lesbian disabled like the 30% in the real world. They know that because they don't read them.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hahahaha. I loved that last dig: androphobic and sterile. Probably because it's actually true.

I read The Book Smugglers review of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Outside that weird brand of QUILTBAG fandom, it's rare to see that combination of heightened arrogance, delusion and bigotry. When people in that cult are claiming to be neither a man or a woman I start to get that One Step Beyoned Weeeeooooooooooeeeeeee feeling. I guess that's a type of fantasy - just not the way they meant it. Lovecraft comes off like Pat Boone next to these people.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
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