Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Robert A. Heinlein Centennial

Yesterday was the centennial of the birth of science fiction author Robert Anson Heinlein (1907-1988). Heinlein was one of the greatest innovators in the field. In the Golden Age of science fiction, alongside Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, Heinlein mainstreamed science fiction and elevated it from pulp fiction to serious literature. A graduate of the Naval Academy, he served until tuberculosis led to his medical discharge. Later he became involved in Socialist politics and unsuccessfully ran for the California State Assembly. Over time, he embraced a more libertarian political ideology, as many of his works demonstrated.

Last week, Heinlein's literary contributions were celebrated at the Heinlein Centennial Convention in Kansas City.

My favorite of his works is the 1959 classic Starship Troopers. It is a great yarn about a radically different future earth in which military service is a prerequisite for citizenship, and a highly sought-after honor. This novel follows the life of trooper Johnny Rico as Earth battles an alien insect race across interstellar space. Controversial at its release, Heinlein wrote the work in response to a growing advocacy for appeasement with the Communist Bloc among science fiction authors.

I first read Job: A Comedy of Justice about fifteen years ago. It is a satire of evangelical Christianity (at least, an evangelicism from two generations ago, even though it was written in 1984). The main character is a minister who suddenly finds himself in an alternate universe and then experiences the eschaton. The Final Judgment separates him from the woman he loves, and he goes on a quest to find her. This book is theologically preposterous, but a great love story.

What Heinlein books have you read and enjoyed?


John Meunier said...

So, what did you think about the movie version of Starship Troopers, John?

The book is one of my favorites. I read many of his books during my teen years. You kind of glossed over the sexual themes of some of his works, I noticed.

Among his many, kiddie sci fi books, Citizen of the Galaxy is just about the perfect of its genre from my point of view.

Keith Taylor said...

Starship Troopers, I saw the movie.

To quote Jethro Bodine, "You mean they made a book out of that?"

Divers and Sundry said...

I remember discovering Heinlein, particularly Time Enough for Love and Stranger in a Strange Land, when I was in my teens. I was quite impressed with Lazarus Long and re-read the books several times. I was -still am- a big science fiction fan, but I don't read Heinlein any more.

JD said...


Personally, I always liked John Stakeley's take on Starship Troopers, Armor, Mind you, he was sued for the similarities. Also, his book Vampire$, the basis for John Carpenter's movie of the same name, is the only book to ever make me laugh in public whilst reading it.


bob said...

John, If Heinlein wrote it I've read it. From my perspective his best work would be the one in my hands at the moment.His short stories starting with Lifeline and going through to the tales of Lazarus Long, really show his brilliance.

John said...

I liked Verhoeven's movie. It was exciting, and a good compression of the book, as far as such conversions go.

You kind of glossed over the sexual themes of some of his works, I noticed.

I know that Heinlein eventually advocated a sort of free-love mentality to sex, but these weren't present in the two Heinlein books that I have read.

greg hazelrig said...

I haven't read him, but watched starship troopers.

My favorite Sci-Fi author is Timothy Zahn. You read any of his?

Tom Jackson said...

"Starship Troopers" was written for children in 1959; too much (or probably any) sex would have made it unpublishable.

John said...

I've never read Zahn.

But I've read most of Feintuch, who was heavily influenced by Starship Troopers.

oldweirdscott said...

I was a great fan of Heinlein in my youth. I found a stack of pulp science fiction in the garage attic when I was about fourteen that my father had from before he met my mom, the early 50's it had to be. That is how I learned of Bradbury and Heinlein. As an older teen, the first book that I read and re-read and re-read was Stranger in a Strange Land. My interest in this book came back to haunt me later.
My wife left me for a period of six months about this time two years ago. She did return, but had become very involved in a group called CAW, which stands for Church of All Worlds (they do have a website,) a self-proclaimed neo-pagan group that bases much of their philosophy on the book Stranger in a Strange Land. They believe in group marraige, much like Valentine Michael Smith and Jubal's. After a year and a half of being back together there is very little talk of Heinlein any more.

the reverend mommy said...

I own the ALL. I like both the pre-flipped out Heinlen and the flipped out "dirty old man" stuff, but "the Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is good stuff.

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