There are people out there who have not forgotten what Science Fiction was for.

The late Chris Tame was as avid a reader (and also a notable collector) of SF as I have ever known. My father was one too, but his library of it, which I inherited, only stretched to about 6 yards; Chris’s was five or six times that even years before he died.  Chris preferred what he called “hard SF”; I don’t know if Heinlein would fully qualify there, as he tended to stray into “rocket-opera”, which is always a temptation as it’s popular. But I was reminded of the existence of chris’s huge librray of the stuff, and my smaller one, by this newsgroup posting I got earlier today.

Robert A. Heinlein’s Legacy 

Date: 28/07/2007 15:15:39 GMT Daylight Time

Robert A. Heinlein’s Legacy
As they say on the moon, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch!”

Thursday, July 26, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

Science fiction at one time was despised as vulgar and “populist” by
university English departments. Today, it is just another cultural
artefact to be deconstructed, along with cartoons and People magazine
articles. Yet one could argue that science fiction has had a greater
impact on the way we all live than any other literary genre of the
20th century.

When one looks at the great technological revolutions that have
shaped our lives over the past 50 years, more often than not one
finds that the men and women behind them were avid consumers of what
used to be considered no more than adolescent trash. As Arthur C.
Clarke put it: “Almost every good scientist I know has read science
fiction.” And the greatest writer who produced them was Robert Anson
Heinlein, born in Butler, Mo., 100 years ago this month.

The list of technologies, concepts and events that he anticipated in
his fiction is long and varied. In his 1951 juvenile novel, “Between
Planets,” he described cell phones. In 1940, even before the Manhattan
Project had begun, he chronicled, in the short story “Blowups
Happen,” the destruction of a graphite-regulated nuclear reactor
similar to the one at Chernobyl. And in his 1961
masterpiece, “Stranger in a
Strange Land,” Heinlein–decades before
Ronald and Nancy Reagan moved to the White House–introduced the idea
that a president’s wife might try to guide his actions based on the
advice of her astrologer. One of Heinlein’s best known “inventions”
is the water bed, though he never took out a patent.

Heinlein brought to his work a unique combination of technical savvy–
based largely on the engineering training he’d received at the U.S.
Naval Academy and a career in the Navy cut short by tuberculosis in
1934–and a broad knowledge of history and foreign languages.
Bemoaning the state of U.S. education in the 1970s, he wrote
that “the three-legged stool of understanding is held up by history,
languages and mathematics . . . if you lack any one of them you are
just another ignorant peasant with dung on your boots.” Heinlein was
certainly no ignorant peasant.
Though he later became well known for his anticommunism, Heinlein in
the late 1930s indulged in both leftist and isolationist politics. He
sold his first science-fiction story in 1939 for $70, “and there was
never a chance that I would ever again look for honest work.” After
Pearl Harbor, to his great disappointment, he was not called back
into uniformed service. He ended the war at the Philadelphia Naval
Aircraft Factory, working with fellow writers L. Sprague de Camp and
Isaac Asimov.

From the late ’40s to the late ’50s, Heinlein mostly wrote adventure
stories aimed at boys. Some, such as “Citizen of the Galaxy” (1957)
and “Starman Jones” (1953), examine social and economic status with
as jaundiced an eye as Tom Wolfe’s. Others are comedies like the
delightful “The Rolling Stones” (1952), which helped inspire the
famous Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles.”

In 1958, in response to what he saw as a liberal effort to weaken
America‘s military, he set aside the “Sex and God” book on which he
had been working and wrote “Starship Troopers.” This was probably his
most controversial book. In it he imagines a future society in which
the right to vote must be earned by volunteering for service,
including service in the military. In response to claims that the
book glorifies the military, he wrote: “It does indeed. Specifically,
the P.B.I., the Poor Bloody Infantry, the mudfoot who puts his frail
body between his loved home and the war’s desolation–but is rarely

Afterward, he finished the work he had set aside, and it became his
second and possibly greatest masterpiece, “Stranger in a Strange
Land.” The book tells the story of a human child raised by Martians
who is brought to Earth and discovers religion, lust and love, as
well as politics, interplanetary diplomacy, legal shenanigans and
life in a traveling carnival. The novel introduced the word “grok”
into the vocabulary of the 1960s counterculture and seduced many of
its members into reading some of Heinlein’s other works–writings
that, in some cases, helped them to rethink the assumptions of

His next book was “Glory Road,” another novel on the subject of duty,
heroism and love. The first chapter not only sets up the story but
includes one of the most eloquent and witty denunciations of military
conscription ever written. In “
Glory Road,” his protagonist is
magically transported from Earth, where he had been
fighting “pragmatic Marxists in the jungle,” to a fantasy universe
where, armed only with sword and bow, he would rescue a priceless
treasure. His guide and mentor is a woman of “ageless perfect beauty”
who later turns out to be the Empress of the Twenty Universes. She
explains to the hero that “so far as I know, your culture is the only
semi-civilized one in which love is not recognized as the highest art
and given the serious study it deserves.”

Heinlein’s political beliefs were moving more and more toward the
libertarian side of the spectrum. He supported Barry Goldwater in
1964, and in 1966 he published what many considered his greatest
book, “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress,” the tale of how penal colonists
and their descendants on the Moon successfully revolt against their
Earthly masters. The core of this book, which keeps it near the top
of the libertarians’ reading lists, is the speech by an old
professor, Bernardo de la Paz, to the rebels’ constitutional
convention: “. . . like fire and fusion, government is a dangerous
servant and a terrible master. You now have your freedom–if you can
keep it. But do remember that you can lose this freedom more quickly
to yourselves than to any other tyrant.”
The professor explains: “The power to tax, once conceded, has no
limits; it contains until it destroys. I was not joking when I told
them to dig into their own pouches. It may not be possible to do away
with government–sometimes I think that it is an inescapable disease
of human beings. But it may be possible to keep it small and starved
and inoffensive–and can you think of a better way than by requiring
the governors themselves to pay the costs of their antisocial hobby.”
As they say on the Moon, “TANSTAAFL!”: “There Ain’t No Such Thing as
a Free Lunch!”

Heinlein’s later novels were overshadowed by his failing health, and
he often wrote on medical themes such as brain transplants and
cloning. He was a strong supporter of blood drives and a big
supporter of NASA’s medical research projects. In the ’70s, in a
speech to the midshipmen at the Naval Academy, he said he thought
that “patriotism has lost its grip on a large percentage of our
population. . . . But there is no way to force patriotism on anyone.
Passing a law will not create it, nor can we buy it by appropriating
so many billions of dollars.”

Robert A. Heinlein, who died in 1988, lived a life inspired by two
great loves. One was America and its promise of freedom. As one of
his characters put it: “Your country has a system free enough to let
heroes work at their trade. It should last a long time–unless its
looseness is destroyed from the inside.” And he loved and admired
women–not just his wife, Virginia, who provided the model for the
many strong-minded and highly competent females who populate his
stories, but all of womankind. “Some people disparage the female form
divine, sex is too good for them; they should have been oysters.”

In another hundred years, it will be interesting to see if the
nuclear-powered spaceships and other technological marvels he
predicted are with us. But nothing in his legacy will be more
important than the spirit of liberty he championed and his belief
that “this hairless embryo with the aching oversized brain case and
the opposable thumb, this animal barely up from the apes will endure.
Will endure and spread out to the stars and beyond, carrying with him
his honesty and his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage and
his noble essential decency.” 

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