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Wikipedia: Robert A. Heinlein
Robert A. Heinlein
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Robert A. Heinlein

Robert Anson Heinlein (July 7, 1907 - May 8, 1988) was one of the most influential authors in the science fiction genre. He developed new themes, new techniques and approaches. He became the first science fiction writer to break into major general magazines in the 1940s and 1950s with true, undisguised science fiction, and the first bestselling novel-length science fiction in the 1960s.

Heinlein was born in Butler, Missouri, but spent his childhood in Kansas City, Missouri, in the early years of the 20th century. This was a time of great religious revival across America, especially socially marginalized areas such as Missouri. The outlook and values of this period would influence his later works; however, he would also break with many of its social mores, at least on an intellectual level, frequently portraying them as narrow-minded and parochial.

After high school, Heinlein attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. After graduating from the Academy in 1929, he served as an officer in the United States Navy until 1934, when he was discharged due to pulmonary tuberculosis. During his recovery he invented the waterbed. The military was the second great influence on Heinlein; throughout his life, he strongly believed in loyalty, leadership, and other military ideals. This attitude permeated his fiction, most prominently (and controversially) in the novel Starship Troopers. His 1961 Stranger in a Strange Land was the first science-fiction book to become a national best-seller -- readers who did not read SF books as a rule were interested in Heinlein's philosophy, as expressed in that novel, which transcended what was seen as the usual scope of such novels at the time, preoccupied with robots, flying saucers, and bug-eyed monsters.

After his discharge, Heinlein studied mathematics and physics at the University of California, Los Angeles. He also worked in a series of odd jobs, including real estate dealership and silver mining. Heinlein was active in Upton Sinclair's socialist EPIC (End Poverty In Califorina) movement in early 1930's California. When Sinclair gained the Democratic nomination for governor of California in 1934, Heinlein worked actively for the campaign (which was unsuccessful). Heinlein himself ran for the California state assembly in 1938, which also was unsuccessful (an unfortunate juxtaposition of events had Konrad Henlein making headlines in the Sudetenlands). While not destitute after the campaign -- Heinlein had a small disability pension from the Navy -- Heinlein turned to writing to pay off his mortgage, and in 1939 his first story, "Lifeline", was published in Astounding. He was planning on retiring as soon as he held his mortgage party, but wanted a new car, a trip to NY, and a few other things. He then told Campbell that he was planning to quit, and made an agreement to send a few stories he had on tap but no more deadlines until Campbell bounced a story. When Campbell bounced a story, he quit and started to feel unwel: loss of appetite, loss of weight, insomania, jittery, absent-minded - which he thought might be the onset of a third attack of pulmonary tuberculosis. Campbell eventually dropped a note, and when reminded of the conditions, said that he would re-look at the story, did and asked for some very minor edits. When Heinlein sat down to do those edits, he suddenly felt better.

During WWII he served with the Navy in aeronautical engineering, after the war he returned to writing. During his time there, he practically kidnapped a young Isaac Asimov to work at Mustin Field, where he wrote the first two books of the Foundation series. He also got L. Sprague de Camp yanked from the Naval commission he was headed for, to work there as well.

Heinlein's philosophy

As in the work of other authors, in Heinlein's work there is little clear distinction between the themes of his work and the sort of philosophical views that he propagated.

In his book 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 for metaphysics, but answering them is not, because once you answer them, you cross the line into religion. He doesn't really say why, but the answer as to "why" is obvious: because any answer is an opinion. It may be a good opinion, or a bad one, but it's only what the person who wrote the opinion believes. Such opinions cannot be validated, e.g., you can't ask the person to show you what it is like after death or provide for a personal audience with their God or gods.

Struggle for self-determination

The theme of revolution against corrupt, nasty oppressors informs several of Heinlein's novels:

The theme of self-making

The theme of self-making is taken to its furthest in the related books Time Enough for Love, The Number of the Beast, and To Sail Beyond the Sunset. We are invited to wonder, what would humanity be if we shaped customs to our benefit, and not the other way around? How would our humanity be expressed if we did not develop under the soul-squashing influence of culture? We would be individuals. We would have self-made souls.

Other recurring themes binding Heinlein's works together include individual dignity and the value of both personal liberty and responsibility, the virtue of independence, science as a liberating factor, the perniciousness of bureaucrats, the brutality of corporate power, the hypocrisy of organized religion, the objective value of Korzybski's general-semantics and the subjective value of mysticism.


Heinlein originally wrote his first book, Rocket Ship Galileo, because a boy's book was solicited by a major publisher, who rejected it because 'a trip to the moon was preposterous'. He took the manuscript to Scribner's, who bought it - and started a chain of options resulting in a yearly Christmas trade book. This agreement lasted for twelve years, until the editor (who hated science fiction) cut her department's throat by rejecting a manuscript, which Heinlein took across the street and won a Hugo.

The novels that he wrote for a young audience are very different than this "adult" works. He is still the same person, but the themes he takes on in these books have much more to do with the kinds of problems that adolescents experience. His protagonists are usually very intelligent teenagers who have to make a way in the "adult" society they see around them. They are simple tales of adventure, achievement, dealing with dumb teachers and jealous peers. The books "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel", "Farmer in the Sky", "The Rolling Stones" are most representative of this type.

However, Heinlein was outspoken with editors and publishers (and other writers) on the notion that juvenile readers were far more sophisticated and able to handle complex or difficult themes better than most people realized. Thus even his juvenile stories often had a maturity to them that make them readable for adults. Indeed, his last "juvenile" novel was Starship Troopers, which is also probably his most controversial work. Starship troopers was written in response to unilaterally stopping nuclear testing.

Amongst many other awards, he has received a Grand Master Nebula of the Science Fiction Writers of America.



Short stories

Collections Nonfiction


  • The Notebooks of Lazarus Long illuminated by D.F Vassallo (1978)
  • Fate's Trick by Matt Costello (1988)
  • Requiem: New Collected Works by Robert A. Heinlein and Tributes to the Grand Master (1992)


  • "Starship Troopers" (book) (1997)
  • "Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles" TV series (1999)
  • "Red Planet" TV mini-series (book) (1994)
  • "Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters" (book) (1994)
  • "The Brain Eaters" aka "The Brain Snatchers" aka "Keepers of the Earth" aka "The Keepers" (book The Puppet Masters) (uncredited) (1958)
  • "Project Moon Base" (1953)
  • "Destination Moon" (book Rocket Ship Galileo) (screenplay) (technical advisor) (Retro Hugo Award, best dramatic presentation, 1951) (1950)

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