Robert Anson Heinlein was born July 7, 1907, in Butler Missouri. We lost him in 1988. Thursday, Today, July 7, 2022 would have been his 115th birthday, had he been blessed with the immortality he bestowed on a character of his own creation, Lazarus Long.

His biographer, William H. Patterson, Jr., and many other critics, “considered him the greatest American SF writer of the 20th century.” Along with Dr. Isaac Asimov and Sir Arthur C. Clarke were considered the “Big Three” of English-language 20th century science fiction. Heinlein was a master storyteller who kept his readers’ attention.

Heinlein’s Juveniles

Heinlein was many readers’ introduction to science fiction through his juvenile novels. From 1947 to 1958, he wrote one YA novel a year, usually “a boy’s book” timed for the Christmas market and published by Charles Scribners’ Sons . The heroes were usually high scchool-aged boys and aimed for high school or junior high readers. The Hugo-winning Starship Troopers was originally intended as a juvenile. I personally would not consider it such, but fellow Hugo winner Jo Walton once offered that “Starship Troopers is ‘best understood’ as one of the juveniles.”

Oddly, Podkayne of Mars is not considered one of his juveniles, perhaps because it’s about a teenage girl, perhaps because it was published by Putnam instead of Scribner.

  • Rocket Ship Galileo (1947)
  • Space Cadet (1948)
  • Red Planet (1949)
  • Farmer in the Sky (1950)
  • Between Planets (1951)
  • The Rolling Stones (also known as Space Family Stone, 1952)
  • Starman Jones (1953)
  • The Star Beast (1954)
  • Tunnel in the Sky (1955)
  • Time for the Stars (1956)
  • Citizen of the Galaxy (1957)
  • Have Space Suit—Will Travel (1958)
  • Starship Troopers (1959) (rejected by Scribner’s, published by Putnam’s)
  • Podkayne of Mars (1963) (published by Putnam)

All of his juveniles shared a common theme of space exploration, but also explored such topics as education, citizenship, family, and ethics. His juveniles were not didactic, but they did tend to make his readers think.

Patriot and Veteran

Although born and raised in landlocked Missouri, Heinlein intended on a naval career. He graduated from the U. S. Navy Academy in Annapolis, Maryland in 1929. He had intended to dedicate himself to a life in the Navy, but due to ill health (tuberculosis) he was forced to resign after only five years. He studied engineering at the academy, and later pursued graduate studies in mathematics and engineering at the Univivercity of California, Los Angeles. During World War II, he worked as a civilian engineer to assist the war effort. He and fellow SF author L. Sprague de Camp worked on ways to detect kamikaze attacks.

The Dean of Modern Science Fiction

Robert A. Heinlein wrote his first short story, “Life-Line” in 1939. He wrote it for a contest, but instead submitted it to Astounding Magazine. He wound up earning more money for the sale than he would have won had he entered it in the originally intended contest. He continued writing short stories for the next few decades, moving on to writing novels in 1947.

In the early 21st century, most people think of the Saturday Evening Post only in connection with Norman Rockwell’s illustrations, but in the 1960s it was a major magazine, and it was considered a big deal when Heinlein broke out of the literary ghetto of the pulp magazines by selling “The Green Hills of Earth” to the Saturday Evening Post in 1947.

Real World Influences

It is impossible to measure Heinlein’s influence upon the field of Science Fiction. The  Robert A. Heinlein Award. is bestowed for outstanding published works in science fiction and technical writings that inspire the human exploration of space. However, his real world influences are legion. He is credited with designing the water bed popularizing blood drives.

“[Heinlein] designed the waterbed during years as a bed patient in the middle thirties; a pump to control water level, side supports to permit one to float rather than simply lying on a not very soft water filled mattress. He also designed in thermostatic control of temperature, safety interfaces to avoid all possibility of electric shock, waterproof box to make a leak no more important than a leaky hot water bottle rather than a domestic disaster, calculation of floor loads (important!), internal rubber mattress and lighting, reading, and eating arrangements — an attempt to design the perfect hospital bed by one who had spent too damn much time in hospital beds.” R. A. H., Expanded Universe

Blood

Heinlein was an advocate of blood drives, having a rare blood type himself, and needing multiple transfusions due health problems. He is single-handedly the reason many literary science fiction conventions in the USA include blood donation drives.

Politics

Many readers find Heinlein’s personal politics intrusive in his books. Given the importance in politics in Double Star and other books, it should not come as a surprise to his fans that he himself was a minor politician in the 1930s. At the time, he was considered left-wing. The pendulum of the political spectrum has swung enough since then that few modern fans consider him anything but extreme right-wing.

(Beyond This Horizon was originally published under the pen name Anson Mac Donald) Like most writers of the Campbell Era, Heinlein wrote under a variety of pen names, including Anson MacDonald, Lyle Monroe, Caleb Saunders, John Riverside, and Simon York. Most of those stories have been reprinted under Heinlein’s own name.

His Novels

During his lifetime, Heinlein wrote 32 novels, 59 short stories and 16 collections ..four films, two TV series, several episodes of a radio series . He wrote a screenplay for one of the films. Heinlein edited an anthology of other writers’ science fiction short stories.

  • Rocket Ship Galileo, 1947
  • Beyond This Horizon1948 (initially serialized in 1942, and at that time credited to Anson MacDonald)
  • Space Cadet 1948
  • Red Planet 1949
  • Sixth Column, 1949
  • Farmer in the Sky, 1950 (Retro Hugo Award, 1951)
  • Between Planets, 1951
  • The Puppet Masters (1951)
  • Have Space Suit, Will Travel (1958)
  • Methuselah’s Children (1968)
  • Starship Troopers (1959) Hugo Award Winner
  • Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) Hugo Award Winner
  • Podkayne of Mars (1963)
  • Orphans of the Sky (1963)
  • Glory Road (1963)
  • Farnham’s Freehold (1964)
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966) Hugo Award Winner
  • I Will Fear No Evil (1970)
  • Time Enough for Love (1973)
  • The Number of the Beast (1980)
  • Friday (1982)
  • Job: A Comedy of Justice (1984)
  • The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (1985)
  • To Sail Beyond the Sunset (1987)

Three non-fiction books and two poems have been published posthumously. One novel has been published posthumously and another an unusual collaboration, was published in 2006. Four collections have been published posthumously.

The Eminently Quotable Heinlein

One of the great delights of the literarily inclined science fiction fan are the two intermissions in the Robert Heinlein novel “Time Enough for Love”. They are presented as the Notebooks of Lazarus Long, the protagonist of the novel, and gifted with apparent immortality. The wisdom he accumulated over his many centuries of life are condensed into these notebooks. Frankly, they’re pretty quotable.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

“There is no conclusive evidence of life after death. But there is no evidence of any sort against it. Soon enough you will know. So why fret about it?”

“No state has an inherent right to survive through conscript troops and, in the long run, no state ever has. Roman matrons used to say to their sons: ‘Come back with your shield, or on it.’ Later on this custom declined. So did Rome.”

“Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded—here and there, now and then—are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as ‘bad luck.'”

“The correct way to punctuate a sentence that starts: “Of course It is none of my business but–” is to place a period after the word ‘but.’ Don’t use excessive force in supplying such moron with a period. Cutting his throat is only a momentary pleasure and is bound to get you talked about.

You can find many more of these here — or failing that, you could just go buy the book.

Personal Life

Robrert A. Heinlein was born July 7, 1907, only four years after the first airplane flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. He lived to see men reach the moon and return safely to Earth. As a science fiction author, he had the privilege of seeing some of his imagings become reality. He was married three times, but had no biological children. His offspring were the children of his mind, John Thomas in Star Beast, Johnny Rico in Starship Troopers, Thorby Baslim-Krausa in Citizen of the Galaxy, Castor and Pollux Stone in The Rolling Stones, etc. He and his first wife, Elinor Curry, were wed only a year before their divorce. He and his second wife, Leslyn MacDonald were joined for fifteen years before divorcing. His third wife, Virginia “Ginny” Gerstenfeld(1916-2003) were together forty years until his death. There is no disputing that she was the love of his life. She herself passed away in 2003. She inspired many of his female protagonists.

The English language is very lucky to have had Robert A. Heinlein as one f the 20th century’s major authors in any genre.

-30-

Susan Macdonald
Susan Macdonald

Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as 26 short stories, mostly fantasy in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress ”, Swords &Sorceries Vols. 1, 2, & 5, “Cat Tails” “Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions,  Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.