Books by Heinlein, Robert A.

Heinlein, Robert A. For Us, The Living. New York: Scribner, 2004. ISBN 0-7432-5998-X.
I was ambivalent about reading this book, knowing that Robert and Virginia Heinlein destroyed what they believed to be all copies of the manuscript shortly before the author's death in 1988, and that Virginia Heinlein died in 2003 before being informed of the discovery of a long-lost copy. Hence, neither ever gave their permission that it be published. This is Heinlein's first novel, written in 1938–1939. After rejection by Macmillan and then Random House, he put the manuscript aside in June 1939 and never attempted to publish it subsequently. His first fiction sale, the classic short story “Life-Line”, to John W. Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction later in 1939 launched Heinlein's fifty year writing career. Having read almost every word Heinlein wrote, I decided to go ahead and see how it all began, and I don't regret that decision. Certainly nobody should read this as an introduction to Heinlein—it's clear why it was rejected in 1939—but Heinlein fans will find here, in embryonic form, many of the ideas and themes expressed in Heinlein's subsequent works. It also provides a glimpse at the political radical Heinlein (he'd run unsuccessfully for the California State Assembly in 1938 as a Democrat committed to Upton Sinclair's Social Credit policies), with the libertarian outlook of his later years already beginning to emerge. Much of the book is thinly—often very thinly—disguised lectures on Heinlein's political, social, moral, and economic views, but occasionally you'll see the great storyteller beginning to flex his muscles.

February 2004 Permalink

Heinlein, Robert A. Have Space Suit—Will Travel. New York: Del Rey, [1958] 1977. ISBN 0-345-32441-2.

February 2003 Permalink

Heinlein, Robert A. Podkayne of Mars. New York: Ace, [1963] 2010. ISBN 978-0-441-01834-5.
This novel had an interesting genesis. Robert Heinlein, who always considered writing a business—he had things to say, but it had to pay—paid attention when his editor at Scribner's pointed out to him that his work was selling well in the young male demographic and observed that if he could write for girls as well he could double the size of his market. Heinlein took this as both a challenge and opportunity, and created the character of “Puddin'” (Maureen), who appeared in three short stories in the magazine Calling All Girls, the most memorable of which is “Cliff and the Calories”.

Heinlein was so fond of Puddin' that he later decided to move her to Mars, change her name to Podkayne, after an ancient Martian saint, and launch her into interplanetary intrigue along with her insufferable and cataclysmically clever younger brother, Clark. This novel was written just as the original romantic conception of the solar system was confronted with the depressing reality from the first interplanetary probes. Mars was not the home of ancients, but an arid desert with a thin atmosphere where, at best, microbes might survive. Venus was not a swampy jungle world but a hellish furnace hot enough to melt lead. But when Heinlein was writing this book, we could still dream.

Podkayne was the prototype of the strong female characters which would populate Heinlein's subsequent work. She aspired to captain an exploration starship, and wasn't averse to using her emerging feminine wiles to achieving her goals. When, after a mix-up in Mars family planning grounded her parents, depriving her and deplorable brother Clark of the opportunity to take the triplanetary grand tour, her Uncle Tom, a Mars revolutionary, arranges to take them on a trip to Earth via Venus on the luxury liner Tricorn. On board and at Venus, Podkayne discovers the clash of cultures as planetary civilisations have begun to diverge, and the conflict between those who celebrate their uniqueness formed from their environments and those who would coerce them into uniformity.

When brother Clark vanishes, Podkayne discovers that Uncle Tom's trip is not a tourist jaunt but rather a high stakes mission, and that the independence of Mars may depend upon the her resourcefulness and that of her detestable brother.

There are two endings to this novel. Readers detested the original and, under protest, Heinlein wrote an alternative which appears in this edition. This is often classified as a Heinlein juvenile because the protagonist is a young adult, but Heinlein did not consider it among his juvenile works.

Is there anybody who does not admire Poddy and simultaneously detest and respect Clark? This is a great story, which may have made young women of my generation aspire to fly in space. Many did.

December 2013 Permalink

Schulman, J. Neil. The Robert Heinlein Interview. Pahrump, NV: Pulpless.Com, [1990, 1996, 1999] 2017. ISBN 978-1-58445-015-3.
Today, J. Neil Schulman is an accomplished novelist, filmmaker, screenwriter, actor, journalist, and publisher: winner of the Prometheus Award for libertarian science fiction. In the summer of 1973, he was none of those things: just an avid twenty year old science fiction fan who credited the works of Robert A. Heinlein for saving his life—replacing his teenage depression with visions of a future worth living for and characters worthy of emulation who built that world. As Schulman describes it, Heinlein was already in his head, and he wanted nothing more in his ambition to follow in the steps of Heinlein than to get into the head of the master storyteller. He managed to parlay a book review into a commission to interview Heinlein for the New York Sunday News. Heinlein consented to a telephone interview, and on June 30, 1973, Schulman and Heinlein spoke for three and a half hours, pausing only for hourly changes of cassettes.

The agenda for the interview had been laid out in three pages of questions Schulman had mailed Heinlein a few days before, but the letter had only arrived shortly before the call and Heinlein hadn't yet read the questions, so he read them as they spoke. After the interview, Schulman prepared a transcript, which was edited by Robert Heinlein and Virginia, his wife. The interview was published by the newspaper in a much abridged and edited form, and did not see print in its entirety until 1990, two years after Heinlein's death. On the occasion of its publication, Virginia Heinlein said “To my knowledge, this is the longest interview Robert ever gave. Here is a book that should be on the shelves of everyone interested in science fiction. Libertarians will be using it as a source for years to come.”

Here you encounter the authentic Heinlein, consistent with the description from many who knew him over his long career: simultaneously practical, visionary, contrary, ingenious, inner-directed, confident, and able to observe the world and humanity without the filter of preconceived notions. Above all, he was a master storyteller who never ceased to be amazed people would pay him to spin yarns. As Schulman describes it, “Talking with Robert Heinlein is talking with the Platonic archetype of all his best characters.”

If you have any interest in Heinlein or the craft of science fiction, this should be on your reading list. I will simply quote a few morsels chosen from the wealth of insights and wisdom in these pages.

On aliens and first contact:
The universe might turn out to be a hell of a sight nastier and tougher place than we have any reason to guess at this point. That first contact just might wipe out the human race, because we would encounter somebody who was meaner and tougher, and not at all inclined to be bothered by genocide. Be no more bothered by genocide than I am when I put out ant poison in the kitchen when the ants start swarming in.
On the search for deep messages in his work:
[Quoting Schulman's question] “Isn't ‘Coventry’ still an attempt by the state (albeit a relatively benign one) to interfere with the natural market processes and not let the victim have his restitution?” Well, “Coventry” was an attempt on the part of a writer to make a few hundred dollars to pay off a mortgage.
On fans who complain his new work isn't consistent with his earlier writing:
Over the course of some thirty-four years of writing, every now and then I receive things from people condemning me for not having written a story just like my last one. I never pay attention to this, Neil, because it has been my intention—my purpose—to make every story I've written—never to write a story just like my last one…I'm going to write what it suits me to write and if I write another story that's just like any other story I've ever written, I'll be slipping. … I'm trying to write to please not even as few as forty thousand people in the hardcover, but a million and up in the softcover. If an author let these self-appointed mentors decide for him what he's going to write and how he's going to write it, he'd never get anywhere….
On his writing and editing habits:
I've never written more than about three months of the year the whole time I've been writing. Part of that is because I never rewrite. I cut, but I don't rewrite.
On the impact of technologies:
When I see how far machine computation has gone since that time [the 1930s], I find it the most impressive development—more impressive than the atom bomb, more impressive than space travel—in its final consequences.
On retirement:
Well, Tony Boucher pointed that out to me years ago. He said that there are retired everything else—retired schoolteachers, retired firemen, retired bankers—but there are no retired writers. There are simply writers who are no longer selling. [Heinlein's last novel, To Sail Beyond the Sunset, was published in 1987, the year before his death at age 80. —JW]
On the conflict between high technology and personal liberty:
The question of how many mega-men [millions of population] it takes to maintain a high-technology society and how many mega-men it takes to produce oppressions simply through the complexity of the society is a matter I have never satisfactorily solved in my own mind. But I am quite sure that one works against the other, that it takes a large-ish population for a high technology, but if you get large populations human liberties are automatically restricted even if you don't have legislation about it. In fact, the legislation in many cases is intended to—and sometimes does—lubricate the frictions that take place between people simply because they're too close together.
On seeking solutions to problems:
I got over looking for final solutions a good, long time ago because once you get this point shored up, something breaks out somewhere else. The human race gets along by the skin of its teeth, and it's been doing so for some hundreds of thousands or millions of years. … It is the common human condition all through history that every time you solve a problem you discover that you've created a new problem.

I did not cherry pick these: they are but a few of a multitude from the vast cherry tree which is this interview. Enjoy! Also included in the book are other Heinlein-related material by Schulman: book reviews, letters, and speeches.

I must caution prospective readers that the copy-editing of this book is embarrassingly bad. I simply do not understand how a professional author—one who owns his own publishing house—can bring a book to market which clearly nobody has ever read with a critical eye, even at a cursory level. There are dozens of howlers here: not subtle things, but words run together, sentences which don't begin with a capital letter, spaces in the middle of hyphenated words, commas where periods were intended, and apostrophes transformed into back-tick characters surrounded by spaces. And this is not a bargain-bin special—the paperback has a list price of US$19.95 and is listed at this writing at US$18.05 at Amazon. The Heinlein interview was sufficiently enlightening I was willing to put up with the production values, which made something which ought to be a triumph look just shabby and sad, but then I obtained the Kindle edition for free (see below). If I'd paid full freight for the paperback, I'm not sure even my usually mellow disposition would have remained unperturbed by the desecration of the words of an author I cherish and the feeling my pocket had been picked.

The Kindle edition is available for free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

July 2017 Permalink

Heinlein, Robert A. Rocket Ship Galileo. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services, [1947, 1974, 1988] 2014. ASIN B00H8XGKVU.
After the end of World War II, Robert A. Heinlein put his wartime engineering work behind him and returned to professional writing. His ambition was to break out of the pulp magazine ghetto in which science fiction had been largely confined before the war into the more prestigious (and better paying) markets of novels and anthologies published by top-tier New York firms and the “slick” general-interest magazines such as Collier's and The Saturday Evening Post, which published fiction in those days. For the novels, he decided to focus initially on a segment of the market he understood well from his pre-war career: “juveniles”—books aimed a young audience (in the case of science fiction, overwhelmingly male), and sold, in large part, in hardcover to public and school libraries (mass market paperbacks were just beginning to emerge in the late 1940s, and had not yet become important to mainstream publishers).

Rocket Ship Galileo was the first of Heinlein's juveniles, and it was a tour de force which established him in the market and led to a series which would extend to twelve volumes. (Heinlein scholars differ on which of his novels are classified as juveniles. Some include Starship Troopers as a juvenile, but despite its having been originally written as one and rejected by his publisher, Heinlein did not classify it thus.)

The plot could not be more engaging to a young person at the dawn of the atomic and space age. Three high school seniors, self-taught in the difficult art of rocketry (often, as was the case for their seniors in the era, by trial and [noisy and dangerous] error), are recruited by an uncle of one of them, veteran of the wartime atomic project, who wants to go to the Moon. He's invented a novel type of nuclear engine which allows a single-stage ship to make the round trip, and having despaired of getting sclerotic government or industry involved, decides to do it himself using cast-off parts and the talent and boundless energy of young people willing to learn by doing.

Working in their remote desert location, they become aware that forces unknown are taking an untoward interest in their work and seem to want to bring it to a halt, going as far as sabotage and lawfare. Finally, it's off to the Moon, where they discover the dark secret on the far side: space Nazis!

The remarkable thing about this novel is how well it holds up, almost seventy years after publication. While Heinlein was writing for a young audience, he never condescended to them. The science and engineering were as accurate as was known at the time, and Heinlein manages to instill in his audience a basic knowledge of rocket propulsion, orbital mechanics, and automated guidance systems as the yarn progresses. Other than three characters being young people, there is nothing about this story which makes it “juvenile” fiction: there is a hard edge of adult morality and the value of courage which forms the young characters as they live the adventure.

At the moment, only this Kindle edition and an unabridged audio book edition are available new. Used copies of earlier paperback editions are readily available.

March 2015 Permalink

Heinlein, Robert A. and Spider Robinson. Variable Star. New York: Tor, 2006. ISBN 0-765-31312-X.
After the death of Virginia Heinlein in 2003, curators of the Heinlein papers she had deeded to the Heinlein Prize Trust discovered notes for a “juvenile” novel which Heinlein had plotted in 1955 but never got around to writing. Through a somewhat serendipitous process, Spider Robinson, who The New York Times Book Review called “the new Robert Heinlein” in 1982 (when the original Robert Heinlein was still very much on the scene—I met him in 1984, and his last novel was published in 1987, the year before his death), was tapped to “finish” the novel from the notes. To his horror (as described in the afterword in this volume), Robinson discovered the extant notes stopped in mid-sentence, in the middle of the story, with no clue as to the ending Heinlein intended. Taking some comments Heinlein made in a radio interview as the point of departure, Robinson rose to the challenge, cranking in a plot twist worthy of the Grandmaster.

Taking on a task like this is to expose oneself to carping and criticism from purists, but to this Heinlein fan who reads for the pleasure of it, Spider Robinson has acquitted himself superbly here. He deftly blends events in recent decades into the Future History timeline, and even hints at a plausible way current events could lead to the rise of the Prophet. It is a little disconcerting to encounter Simpsons allusions in a time line in which Leslie LeCroix of Harriman Enterprises was the first to land on the Moon, but recurring Heinlein themes are blended into the story line in such a way that you're tempted to think that this is the way Heinlein would have written such a book, were he still writing today. The language and situations are substantially more racy than the classic Heinlein juveniles, but not out of line with Heinlein's novels of the 1970s and 80s.

Sigh…aren't there any adults on the editorial staff at Tor? First they let three misspellings of Asimov's character Hari Seldon slip through in Orson Scott Card's Empire, and now the very first time the Prophet appears on p. 186, his first name is missing the final “h;”, and on p. 310 the title of Heinlein's first juvenile, Rocket Ship Galileo is given as “Rocketship Galileo”. Readers intrigued by the saxophone references in the novel may wish to check out The Devil's Horn, which discusses, among many other things, the possible connection between “circular breathing” and the mortality rate of saxophonists (and I always just thought it was that “cool kills”).

As you're reading this novel, you may find yourself somewhere around two hundred pages in, looking at the rapidly dwindling hundred-odd pages to go, and wondering is anything ever going to happen? Keep turning those pages—you will not be disappointed. Nor, I think, would Heinlein, wherever he is, regarding this realisation of his vision half a century after he consigned it to a file drawer.

March 2007 Permalink