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Old Aug 24, 2007, 03:51 PM   #1
HighWiredSith
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Robert A. Heinlein

So yeah, we need a thread dedicated to Science Fiction's most prolific blue collar writer.

My favorite RAH novel - hands down Stranger in a Strange Land. Also one of my favorite Iron Maiden songs!

Great article in this month's Locus Magazine:

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Old Aug 24, 2007, 03:52 PM   #2
HighWiredSith
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Re: Robert A. Heinlein

BTW - what in the hell does he have on? A bathrobe?
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Old Aug 24, 2007, 05:59 PM   #3
Nexus
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Re: Robert A. Heinlein

I've never read any of his stuff...I know I will someday because it's inevitable...but at the moment, his books don't sound too intriguing to me.
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Old Aug 24, 2007, 08:44 PM   #4
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Re: Robert A. Heinlein

Quote:
Originally Posted by HighWiredSith
BTW - what in the hell does he have on? A bathrobe?


could be a buddhist monk robe

I have to agree, I love Stranger in a Strange Land. I managed to pick up the 30th anniversary uncut hardcover edition at a secondhand book store a few months ago. I love replacing my paperbacks.
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Old Aug 27, 2007, 02:25 PM   #5
HighWiredSith
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Re: Robert A. Heinlein

Buddhist monk eh. Kind of L. Ron Hubbardish looking. In fact, the whole thing looks kinda weird, like a bad photoshop session gone bad. Is that really the best the can do? Looks like somebody used Paint to cut and paste onto a background.
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Old Aug 28, 2007, 01:45 PM   #6
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Re: Robert A. Heinlein

Here's a quote from the "Heinlein at 100 Years" article I thought was interesting:
Quote:
I want to open with a conclusion we all seem to share: all modern science fiction is based on Heinlein. He's the elephant in the room. It doesn't matter if anyone's reading him now; he set the course of modern science fiction.

Agree? Disagree?

It would depend on you define modern science fiction.

Here's more:
Quote:
Excerpts from the discussion:
CNB: I want to open with a conclusion we all seem to share: all modern science fiction is based on Heinlein. He's the elephant in the room. It doesn't matter if anyone's reading him now; he set the course of modern science fiction.
GKW: I don't think he's the elephant in the room so much as the room around the elephant. He's the person who invented the language of modern SF. Look at SF and fantasy -- in terms of genre history -- as a housing development: Some people build frames and platforms, and other people build on those platforms. You can go back to earlier platforms such as the Gernsbackian technology tale, or even the utopian tale, which I see as kind of a gray facade without many features. But the platform modern science fiction is built on is essentially what Heinlein gave us in the early '40s, so he's the room we're in.
JC: I agree. We don't even know we're reading Heinlein because traditional and contemporary science fiction is so imbued with Heinlein he's invisible. His influence was pervasive and authoritative, and so unanswerable that it became the way we talked. Then there's the drama of his career and writing and life, far more telling than, say, Jack Williamson, whose life in a biological sense encompasses the entire field and whose death marked a symbolic terminus. Heinlein's creation of modern science fiction was a venture into the various ways it could be told, various markets it could be told in, and then we had to witness his gradual disillusionment and departure from a field that he'd created for advocacy and that could no longer advocate what he wished because the world didn't go that way.
GS: Writing my piece for this issue of Locus was odd and very difficult. The responses to Heinlein are so polarized. Either he's a fascist, and we hate him for that reason, or he's the founder of many of the virtues we adhere to, and anyone who says otherwise just doesn't get him. There's also the sense of personalization of response. Many people who've read Heinlein and like him couch themselves as -- one of the subtitles of the Heinlein Centennial that's going on this weekend -- Heinlein's Children. People who read Heinlein and get him have such a personal response. AB: In terms of the elephant in the room, and the room around the elephant: it's not only that, it's the operating system by which science fiction is read and written.
*

GKW: Heinlein sold the reader on a very convincing future: it was lived-in; it was achievable; you could understand how it worked. In order to be in this cool future he invented, we had to listen to him talk to us. Eventually the talking overcame the future; there's nothing very interesting about the future in his later novels. There was no framework on which to hang the ideas; the ideas just hung.
JC: He thought by 1959 his influence was starting to wane for all sorts of reasons; one of them being that the course of history was not the course of enablement that he'd thought was appropriate. I think he thought that the contract he'd enforced upon himself had been broken by the field itself. The last novels, certainly from 1970 on, are novels that are repudiations of the whole world that he'd created over the years of his commercial success. History broke its contract with Heinlein, so he had nothing to talk about but exfoliations of Heinlein in those later stories. It wasn't solipsism; it was filling up the void history had left. His eventual departure from the field came through these interminable iterations of departure, disillusionment, and of real hatred; a kind of death long before he actually died. It's an astonishing representation of part of our model of SF itself.
GKW: In his 1957 University of Chicago lecture he said, as the writer, you have a contract with the reader to place the reader in this universe, but if you have to stop the narrative in order to explain what the universe is, you've violated that contract. From a writing point of view, that's Heinlein as a set of techniques, what Amelia told us is called "Heinleining" in SF writers' workshops. That is something you need to do in an SF story, something you usually don't need in a non-science fiction story, and something you might do historical fiction. Bruce Sterling was one of those writers who internalized Heinlein at a very early age. You look at a Sterling story, say "The Blemmye's Stratagem" (set in North Africa in the 12th century), and it's technically developed like a Heinlein story. He puts you into this universe, but he doesn't explain anything about it. Also Gene Wolfe's Soldier of Sidon books: Gene Wolfe has internalized Heinlein to the extent that when he sets out to write a historical fantasy, he introduces the setting in the way Heinlein would have. What Gene did, particularly in Shadow of the Torturer, was to take the Jack Vance future and "Heinlein" it -- in effect, providing the archaeology that enables you to see how this radically alienated future came about. Which makes Gene Wolfe the bastard son of Heinlein and Jack Vance. And Damon Knight was the midwife.
*

GS: The distinguishing thing about Heinlein is this axiom that the universe can be made sense of, that there is one set of answers to the questions we have, and someone who's smart enough and works hard enough can get somewhere by using those answers. Ultimately, this is philosophically a positivist point of view, as opposed to, say, modernism or postmodernism, in which there are no answers or multiple answers. You can see the latter point of view in someone like Gibson, with the idea that there may well be answers on how to manipulate the world of cyberspace, accessible to people with power and money, but we're not concerned with them. And certainly, in the world of slipstream, say, there are no answers at all; there's no way out of the maze. One of the clearest divides to me in modern science fiction is between people who adhere to some form of that positivist doctrine, that you can find answers, and those who don't. GKW: You're describing an engineer's view of the world, essentially. Heinlein was a pioneer of engineering fiction. There's remarkably little science in his writing at all -- there are a lot of clever devices and stalwart engineers solving problems in society, building the future he wanted to build, but they're not speculatively adventurous. One example of how these don't work in the modern world is the various efforts within the last 20 years to resurrect the Heinlein juveniles. Heinlein juveniles worked amazingly well for their period, but you look at the attempt of reviving these on the part of Jerry Pournelle and Charles Sheffield, and they're basically awful. They don't address reality as perceived by young people today.
*

CNB: Heinlein was subversive. He talked about how he wrote Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land at the same time and kept moving scenes from one to the other, where they would fit better. The two books are interchangeable, two sides of the argument about freedom. When Heinlein had to go into the hospital for surgery, his wife, Virginia, had I Will Fear No Evil published even though Heinlein wanted to cut it more. It's the only Heinlein book he ever talked about. He told me, "If I hadn't gotten sick, I'd have rewritten the book, and what makes you think the protagonist survived the first operation?" His argument was that it wasn't a science fiction book; it was "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce (1890). The lead character dies in the first scene, and none of the brain transplants ever happen.
GS: The author is absolutely the last person to believe. The word I tend to use for what people like Heinlein do is deniability. You get extreme material presented, but in a way where the author has enough elbow room to say, "Actually, I don't believe it, and you were a fool for thinking I might." At the same time, it certainly looks like this is very close to the voice of the author. With Heinlein there's a sufficient amount of biographical and political stuff outside of the novels that one can start to triangulate him, and the fiction, and the political views expressed outside the fiction.
JC: Maybe the most negative thing that I'd say about Heinlein is that after being bullied by bent syllogisms that demonstrate things I don't believe, the author says, "You mean you believed that? You went through all this ugliness believing that I meant it?" Well, he did mean it; he wrote it! I don't think anyone will ever convince me that you can read a Heinlein novel without having at one point been, as it were, stunned into a belief that you did not wish to hold, and you felt you'd been euchred by it. Someone like David Brin does it all the time. If he asks you a question, you know your answer will be to a punishing conclusion about your lack of understanding. That is pure Heinlein. GS: He'll be one of those authors remembered in bits and pieces. Heinlein said that the three core books are Moon, Stranger, and Starship Troopers, and a fit reader would see that they represent one consistent worldview; all of them about freedom and responsibility. To which there are several responses, the first being, as I said, that taking an author's estimation of his own work is the last thing any reader should do.

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Old Aug 28, 2007, 02:09 PM   #7
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Re: Robert A. Heinlein

Quote:
I want to open with a conclusion we all seem to share: all modern science fiction is based on Heinlein. He's the elephant in the room. It doesn't matter if anyone's reading him now; he set the course of modern science fiction.

Well, I never knew that. I thought it was Frank Herbert who was responsible. I suppose I should try out one of his books immediately now.
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Old Sep 28, 2008, 10:52 AM   #8
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Re: Robert A. Heinlein

Quote:
I want to open with a conclusion we all seem to share: all modern science fiction is based on Heinlein.
I'm sorry, but no. No one since HG Wells has had even nearly that much influence on the genre. Though I have much respect for some of Heinlein's work, he is one of the most overrated science fiction writers that I can think of. Not as overrated as near meritless hacks like Alfred Bester, but mightily overrated never the less. His style had some influence in his time, yes- but I think that the influence of Philip K. Dick's work for example is far more visible today.

It seems to me that some of the innovations that were collectively developed by the Golden Age writers seem to be credited solely to Heinlein whenever anyone is assigned one of these god damned eulogistic retrospectives.
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Old Nov 21, 2008, 09:42 AM   #9
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Re: Robert A. Heinlein

You knew I had to disagree, although only partially. You mention the influence of PKD and I certainly agree that a great deal of today's SF literature was influenced by his ideas, but the most prevalent and obvious medium where we see PKD's influence is in film (how many films have been based on his stories and novels now, 8 at least). And yet with the sole exception of Blade Runner, every film based on a PKD work, from Total Recall to Paycheck to Minority Report has been little more than a PKD idea shoved into an action/sci-fi film. In that sense, Robert Heinlein has influenced PKD because Heinlein is the father of SF/Action. Most of Heinlein’s works were little more than military/war/action stories set in a Science Fiction settings, bugs instead of Nazis, space fighters for fighter planes, etc. I think Heinlein was the first to take Science Fiction out of the realm of heavy science or heavy-handed futuristic idealism (or horror) and set it firmly in this sub-genre. In way, he influenced Star Wars, Alien a hundred other SF/Action pieces. So yes, and no would be my answer.
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Old Nov 21, 2008, 09:58 AM   #10
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Re: Robert A. Heinlein

Quote:
Originally Posted by HighWiredSith
Heinlein is the father of SF/Action.
No, "SF/Action" dates way back to the pre-golden age pulp days.
Quote:
Most of Heinlein’s works were little more than military/war/action stories set in a Science Fiction settings, bugs instead of Nazis, space fighters for fighter planes, etc. I think Heinlein was the first to take Science Fiction out of the realm of heavy science or heavy-handed futuristic idealism (or horror) and set it firmly in this sub-genre.
Again, I believe that taking a 'genre' (western, jungle, hardboiled detective, sea adventure, etc) story and changing the setting and terminology around ("cattle rustlers" become "space pirates," "The Old X Ranch" becomes "Planet X") was established practice amongst pulp hacks when Heinlein came onto the scene. By their very nature these stories were not particularly utopian, distopian or hard science focused.
Quote:
but the most prevalent and obvious medium where we see PKD's influence is in film
He influenced literature no less, I assure you. Especially the cyberpunk sub genre; of which he is basically the grandfather. Thus by extension everything that has been influenced by cyberpunk bears PKD's mark.

Last edited by SF_not_Sci-Fi : Nov 21, 2008 at 10:04 AM.
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Old Nov 21, 2008, 10:27 AM   #11
HighWiredSith
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Re: Robert A. Heinlein

Films too - little argument that his ideals influenced an entire generation of Japanese anime, not to mention The Matrix films - PKD I mean.

And true, the action SF does date back to Flash Gordan and pulp mags, I suppose I was thinking in the realm of literature.
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Old Nov 21, 2008, 10:34 AM   #12
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Re: Robert A. Heinlein

True, Heinlein was probably the best writer amongst the people writing "Action/SF" stories for the pulps in his day, but this is a far cry from the vast stylistic and conceptual leaps that he has been credited with.

And if we're talking about golden age SF literature, we are most certainly talking about the "pulp mags." Where do you think these guys got their short stories published and their novels serialized?
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Old Feb 1, 2009, 07:39 PM   #13
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Re: Robert A. Heinlein

I have to say I'm a Heinlein fan, primarily because of the detail he goes into when creating worlds. I've said before now I'd love to live in the world he creates for Starship Troopers.

What annoys me is that my tutor is always going on at me about how I love to use my entire word limit for a story excercise in just creating a world, when he's a bigger Heinlein fan than me!
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Old Jun 15, 2010, 12:22 PM   #14
HighWiredSith
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Re: Robert A. Heinlein

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sharky
I've said before now I'd love to live in the world he creates for Starship Troopers.

Really? Is it the idea of being publicly flogged?

But lets face it, the world of Starship Troopers is a leftist nightmare, an ultra-conservative, military based culture where citizenship is a product of completed military service, where justice is swift and absolute, and morals are about as unambiguous as you can possibly get. I never figured out, in multiple readings, if RAH was creating a world he envisioned as ideal, something reflective of his own ideologies or if the entire work was satirical. Certainly Verhooven's film assumed the latter but having read nearly the sum of Heinlein's body of work I'm not sure I agree.
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Old Jun 15, 2010, 03:01 PM   #15
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Re: Robert A. Heinlein

I do not think that Verhooven so much read the content of the novel as satirical as he satirized the content of the novel. He simply brought out the ambient absurdity of the thing- an absurdity that Heinlein presented in all sincerity as a viable and desirable social/political program.

It was however neither the deepest nor the most astute satire and it left the depths of Heinlein's political absurdity largely unexplored. It is actually here (i.e his bizarre politics) that a great deal of Heinlein's true influence on the genre lies- I believe that it was RAH who popularized Randism in SF circles.
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