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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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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