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Robert A. Heinlein - a grandmaster of Sci-fi


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In the 1950's, the pulp fiction magazine scene in America exploded with a new flavor of science fiction.  It took a nod to the science-fantasy writings of the turn of the century (Jules Vern and Edgar Rice Burrows come to mind), and started branching out in directions that the technology of World War 2 pointed us in.


One of the early writers in this movement was Robert A. Heinlein.  He began slowly, submitting stories while trying to make a living apart from writing.  But the editors of the pulps he submitted to kept paying him and asking for more.  Soon he was writing professionally full time, and never considered himself actually honestly working ever again.  When he was asked why he wrote science fiction, he simply replied that he didn't write stories about the technical stuff, or flying saucers (this was the 1950's after all), but he wrote about the people for whom the technical stuff was their everyday life.


As a kid, I found Heinlein's early stuff was kind of tame.  Fun, good reads, but really idealistic and without a lot of the fighting and conflict that modern Sci-Fi over does in place of a good story.  As I grew older and had other authors to compare Heinlein's writings to, Andre Norton comes chiefly to mind, I began to see something more.  Beyond the surface of the story was this idea that he was testing social mores.  Today, such things are a little more open and obvious.  Mr. Heinlein was a master of subtleties, in a time when all sorts of media was under the gaze of a government terrified of communism and communist themes undermining American ideals.


Many of his works envisioned and predicted the internet, global ease of communications, cell phones, the difficulties that international banking can have on the economy, and social engineering emerging with our advanced science.  He also predicted that advances in science and culture would be opposed, primarily by religious zealots and political parties.  At least two of his works were considered so controversial that in some places they are still on banned reading lists for high schools ("Stranger in a Strange Land" and "Farnham's Freehold").  He didn't break ground with the purpose of just being controversial.  He wrote things to point out that while we think we're an advanced society, we often need to look at ourselves with as keen an eye as we turn to our universe. 


He approaches his characters with a sense of charm and wit that is sadly missing in a lot of stories these days.  Of the influences on my writing, I count how Heinlein treats each character as their own personal hero of their own personal story as a primary lesson.  He looks at the good and the bad of the character, whether that person is a hero of the overall story or the villain.  He's more focused on the people and their motivations than the "stuff," which so much sci-fi expounds upon to the utmost.


I recommend "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel," "Between Planets," "Red Planet," "Tunnel in the Sky," "The Menace from Earth," "Farnham's Freehold," "Stranger in a Strange Land," "Friday," "Starship Troopers," "The Cat Who Walks Through Walls," "The Number of the Beast," and "Time Enough for Love."  That should definitely keep any reader busy for a while.  =P

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My introduction to Science Fiction was Robert Heinlein's "The Rolling Stones" in elementary school.  I was hooked.  


Having a father who was an aerospace engineer and working on the Apollo and Gemini electrical systems, just fueled it.  I dreamed of living in space and on the moon.  A fifty gallon rusty drum, laid on its side in our backyard was my spaceship and the other kids would pile on.  


I dragged a library around with me full of his novels, Andre Norton's and so many others.  But it all started with him.  And I still remember the whiplash I experienced with "The Number of the Beast!"


If you have a child who enjoys reading, they recently republished "The Rolling Stones" a few years ago in paperback.  I highly recommend it for a child's introduction to good science fiction.

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  • 4 weeks later...

A few decades later my introduction to sci-fi was with Star wars and stargate SG1 and since that I'm an addict of sci-fi and fantasy lol :D


Its interesting to see the older star trek series and then star wars old and then new along with babylon 5 and Stargate and seeing how the industry transformed from puppets and analogue means to the digital era, blue screens and 3D animation.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I too started in sci fi with Heinlein and Andre Norton. Now I am more into the fantasy side probably because today's writers don't spend enough time on the characters in sci fi. Don't forget The Puppet Masters, D'Artagnon, where the Chinese  invade the US. Think that couldn't happen for real.


A.B.  You are so right! I watched the original Star Wars (now labeled Episode IV) the other night. At the time it was the best technology they had and kept thinking this is so bad and corny as I was watching and comparing to what can be done now. Can't wait for the new movie next year!!

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For those with a conspiracy twist, i would point out that in "Farnham's Freehold" a bulk of the plot revolves around a nuclear launch, segregation, alcoholism/drug use in the middle class, accidental time travel and the existence of a global caliphate on North American soil.  "Friday" deals with genetically grown secret agents, group marriage and a unique espionage use of tragedy.  "Stranger in a Strange Land" deals with sexuality, morality, the truth of humor, and the simplicity and honor of the element that brings life, oh and what constitutes ownership.


Read on if you dare..

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A made-up word, whose actual meaning many, if not most, readers fail(ed) to understand. That failing is not because Heinlein failed to explain it, properly. It is because we, as a society, no longer have the referents to perceive the meaning.


I truly think Heinlein was poking loads of fun at the religionists of our time. There are words in the christian bible that were never adequately translated (many were transliterated into the Latin). We use such words all the time, in our current society, without ever thinking of what they really mean.


Consider the phrase, 'in memory of', or 'as a memorial to', not once do we think of where the use of the term originated, or even what it meant to those ancient peoples who did use the term as it was meant. We find this a constant theme in that bible. Particularly, the KJV of that set of books (remembering that it was a transliteration of the Latin Vulgate, and not a translation). Memoria, memorialis is the Latin transliteration of a word that was originally written in Koine Greek, Aramic and Hebrew. The Latin does not convey the full meaning of the actual word(s) used by those writers. Even the Greek mnemosunon (nn. mnemoneuo vt), falls somewhat short of the meaning of the Aramic/Hebrew word (to relive as if, for the first time).


But you get the picture (I hope).


Heinlein played a lot with words and their meanings, if for no reason than to expose us to our own shortcomings. Stranger in a Strange Land conveyed the idea beautifully, in that single word, grok!

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