Centenial of Robert A. Heinlein’s Birth

July 6th, 2007 | by Sqotty |

Like many longtime SF fans my age, I grew up on the writings of Robert A. Heinlein. Saturday marks the Centennial Anniversary of Heinlein’s birth. A lot of people I know will be at one or another SF Convention (I’ll be at convergence) taking place this weekend, including a gathering in Missouri celebrating Heinlein.

Heinlein attended the U.S. Naval Academy, but was later discharged from the navy for medical reasons.

Probably the first of his novels that I read, at least that I recall, was Have Space Suit, Will Travel, which was one of his novels for teenagers. I was hooked, and that marked the beginning of my entry into SF Fandom.

There are several themes that run throughout his works, most specifically into the social habits of man. Many of his best (and most memorable) characters are rugged individualists, like Lazarus Long (Methuselah’s Children, Time Enough for Love, and others), who strive to maintain their independence.

He also explored human sexuality in many of his books beginning with Stranger in a Strange Land, which he continued to touch on in numerous other stories throughout the rest of his life. This reflected a certain attitude to the concept of “free love” and sex without strings or consequences that some believe Heinlein embraced. He even touched on numerous sexual themes that were taboo at the time he was writing about them, and some remain taboo even today.

Heinlein is probably the one writer most responsible for the development of Military SF as a sub-genre with his novel Starship Troopers. It is more social commentary using the character of Juan Rico as the voice to get across many ideas he had on society and the Cold War. The novel was written in response to Eisenhower’s signing a ban on nuclear testing with the Soviet Union, an agreement that Heinlein (correctly) predicted would not be honored by the U.S.S.R.

Starship Troopers has been criticized as being militaristic and worse, which only means that such critics have missed the finer points in Heinlein’s story. In it, Heinlein promoted an all-volunteer military (actually Federal Service, which is far more expansive) in a world where only those with Federal Service (which could mean just about anything under the sun) were granted citizenship. Basically, there were three classes of people: citizens, civilians, and people on active duty. Only citizens have the right to vote or hold public office. It is also one of the few science fiction novels that regularly appear on the reading lists of the Armed Services

Another interesting theme Heinlein uses in several of his writings is the technology used by colonists of new worlds. In both Time Enough For Love and . Heinlein describes the colonists as being reliant on roughly 19th century technology: horse-drawn Conestoga wagons, no electricity, etc. This reinforces the rugged individualist character types that Heinlein prefers. They have to be able to survive in hostile environments with what would be considered primitive tools even by today’s standards, let alone what could be available several hundred years from now.

Many consider Heinlein to be a Libertarian rather than a Conservative, probably as a result of his later writings that covered many different sexual themes. He was a Goldwater supporter and signed a magazine ad supporting the Vietnam War (Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader’s Companion). Heinlein was also a staunch anti-Communist.

There is no doubt that Heinlein is one of the Grand Masters of Science Fiction. He has always been one of my favorite writers.

Happy Birthday, RAH. We miss you.

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