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Robert A. Heinlein

July 7, 1907, marks the birthday of science fiction writer Robert Heinlein.  Born in Butler, Missouri, the third son of Rex Ivar Heinlein and the former Bam Lyle, Heinlein spent the first few months of his life with his maternal grandfather, Alva Lyle, M.D.  Shortly after, the family moved from Butler to Kansas City, where Heinlein grew up.

Although far from a perfect student, Heinlein soon developed a passion for astronomy spurred by the 1910 sighting of Halley's Comet.  By the time he entered Kansas City's Central High School in 1920, he had already read every book on astronomy in the Kansas City Public Library.

Heinlein entered the Naval Academy in June 1925 with the intent of making the military his career.  Four years later, he was graduated twentieth in rank overall (fifth academically) out of a class of 243 and was commissioned with the rank of Ensign.  Following a tour on the Lexington in mid-1932, he was assigned to the destroyer U. S. S. Roper.  The Roper was a smaller vessel than the Lexington and considerably less stable.  The constant rolling caused Heinlein untold bouts of seasickness.  In late 1933, he contracted pulmonary tuberculosis as a result of his weakened condition.  After recovering the following year, he was retired with the rank of Lieutenant J. G.  And he suddenly found himself without a career.

Heinlein entered U. C. L. A. for several weeks before dropping out in 1938 to enter politics.  He ran as an EPIC-endorsed candidate for the 59th Assembly District seat (Hollywood) and lost overwhelmingly.  The failed campaign was a pivotal event in his adult life.  That Fall found him broke, with a new mortgage hanging over his head, and his political career in tatters.  Casting around for some way to support himself would eventually lead him to his third--and final--career opportunity. 

When Heinlein saw that Thrilling Wonder Stories was running a competition for short science fiction, he set out to write Life-Line.  When it was complete, he decided instead to send it to John W. Campbell, Jr., at Astounding Science-Fiction.  It was published in 1939, and Heinlein's career as a writer of pulp science fiction was off.

In October 1948, Heinlein married his long-time assistant, Virginia Gerstenfeld, whom he had met while working as a civilian aviation engineer during the war.  Shortly afterward, the couple moved to Colorado Springs, just south of Denver. 

One of the projects Heinlein had begun was the Mowgli satire that he and his new wife had come up with in 1948.  He continued to collect notes and drafts of fragments well into 1952.  He tried again to write it in 1953 but wasn't satisfied with the result and shelved the project.  In 1955, he was 43,000 words into the manuscript that he now called A Martian Named Smith, but it simply failed to jell.

On April 5, 1958, Heinlein was again working on the Mowgli story when a full-page ad appeared in the local newspaper.  It was from the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, and it urged the United States to suspend nuclear testing unilaterally.  Outraged by what they considered a major blunder in the Cold War's international brinksmanship, the Heinleins jointly prepared a responsive full-page counter-ad, the text of which Heinlein preserved in Expanded Universe as "Who Are the Heirs of Patrick Henry," and encouraged others around the country to do the same.  Heinlein found himself attacked by his colleagues in the science fiction community for excessive conservatism.

Following the Patrick Henry campaign, he went back to writing, but not the Mowgli piece.  Instead, he cranked out Starship Troopers, with its strong anti-communist message, and Heinlein once again shocked the science fiction community.  The book won for the author his second Hugo Award.

After that, Heinlein went back to work on The Man from Mars.  By this time, it had become a huge book of 800 pages and 220,000 words.  It was unlike anything he had let ever written before, an amazingly iconoclastic and complex satire of sex and religion, with clever name games and private jokes embedded within the story.  Heinlein realized that it might be difficult to market.  In fact, he knew it might not sell at all.

Agent Lurton Blassingame sent The Man From Mars first to Putnam's because they had an option on Heinlein's next novel.  They agreed to publish it , but without the sex and religion.  What would have been left, Heinlein insisted, was an unpublishable book. Eventually, Putnam's backed down and agreed to accept the kind of book that Heinlein had written. 

The author edited the manuscript down to 160,000 words, and it was published in 1961 as Stranger in a Strange Land, the story of a boy who is born during the first manned mission to Mars.  He's raised by Martians before returning to earth to found a church, where he preaches free love.  It sold only moderately well until 1963, when the counterculture discovered it.  Sales skyrocketed, and Heinlein was an "overnight" sensation.  The book went on to win the author his third Hugo Award.

In 1965, the Heinleins moved from Colorado to a rural farm near Santa Cruz, California, where Heinlein continued cranking out novels--some adult, some juvenile--for the next two decades, despite several serious health problems.  In 1982, he published Friday, which was immediately hailed as a return to the master storytelling of his adventure-writing days.  The book is a powerful and complex examination of prejudice on several different levels.

In 1983, the Heinleins took a long-delayed trip to Antarctica, the only continent they had not yet visited. When they returned, Heinlein penned Job: A Comedy of Justice, a major departure from the bulk of his work.  His next two novels were crafted from the discoveries and inventions of The Number Of The Beast.

Throughout the years, Heinlein continued his association with the U. S. space movement.  On December 8, 1984, he attended a Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy held at the home of science fiction writer Larry Niven in Tarzana, California, to discuss the Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars").

On Heinlein's 80th birthday, June 7, 1987, Putnam's published what would turn out to be Heinlein's last novel, appropriately entitled To Sail Beyond the Sunset.  The author's health had been deteriorating over the years.  By 1987, he needed quick access to advanced medical facilities, so he and his wife moved to Carmel, where Heinlein was in and out of the hospital four times in one year.

Finally, on May 8, 1988, a remarkable literary career came to an end.  Robert A. Heinlein died peacefully during his morning nap.  His body was cremated, and his ashes were strewn in the Pacific from the deck of a warship.

During a literary career that spanned four decades, Heinlein wrote more than fifty novels and collections of short stories.  He is best known for Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), which today is a cult classic.

He liked to call his books "speculative fiction" rather than "science fiction," in the tradition of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, because he tried to write about events that could actually happen, taking into consideration everything science knew about the natural laws of the universe at the time.

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