Authors: Robert A. Heinlein

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

American novelist and short-story writer.

July 7, 1907

Butler, Missouri

May 8, 1988

Carmel, California

Biography

Robert Anson Heinlein was one of the leading figures—many would say the leading figure—in the development of American science fiction. He was born in 1907 in Butler, Missouri, to Bam Lyle and Rex Ivar Heinlein, and grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. As an undergraduate, he attended the University of Missouri, but he yearned to see more of the world and eventually transferred to the United States Naval Academy. After graduating in 1929, he served five years as a naval officer but was forced to retire for reasons of ill health in 1934. After doing graduate work in physics at the University of California, Los Angeles, he served during World War II as an engineer at the Naval Air Experimental Station in Philadelphia. This strong background in science and engineering, coupled with firsthand knowledge of the military, is reflected in Heinlein’s stories, novels, and other writings and gives them a credibility that has appealed to generations of readers. Heinlein was married three times: to Elinor Curry, from 1929 to 1930; to Leslyn MacDonald, from 1932 to 1947; and to Virginia Doris Gerstenfeld, known as Ginny, from 1948 until his death in 1988. He had no children.

Robert A. Heinlein.

CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/), via Wikimedia Commons

Heinlein began his long and impressive career as a published science-fiction writer with the appearance of his short story “Life-Line” in the popular magazine Astounding Science-Fiction in 1939. Thereafter, he published numerous short stories in various magazines, most often Astounding Science-Fiction, writing not only under his own name but also under the pseudonyms Anson MacDonald, Lyle Monroe, Caleb Saunders, and John Riverside (some of which he reused as character names in later works). In 1941, in Astounding Science-Fiction, Heinlein first defined his Future History series (of which “Life-Line” was the first), a device for tying together disparate stories that was thereafter widely imitated by other writers of the genre. Many of these stories were eventually collected and published in such highly successful books as The Man Who Sold the Moon (1950), The Green Hills of Earth (1951), Revolt in 2100 (1953), and The Past through Tomorrow (1967), among others.

With his novel Rocket Ship Galileo, published in 1947, Heinlein initiated a series of works intended primarily for young adult readers. Works such as Space Cadet (1948), Between Planets (1951), and especially Red Planet (1949) elevated him to arguably the most important science-fiction writer for this audience. Heinlein’s best young-adult fiction also developed a strong adult following and is among his best work. Rocket Ship Galileo became the basis for the George Pal film Destination Moon (1950), for which Heinlein wrote a screenplay that stressed scientific accuracy throughout. This film led to a boom in science-fiction films in the 1950s and early 1960s.

In 1956 Heinlein won his first Hugo Award for the year’s best science-fiction novel, for Double Star (1956); he would later win three more Hugo Awards for best novel, for Starship Troopers (1959), Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966). In 1975, Heinlein was the inaugural recipient of the Grand Master Nebula Award for lifetime achievement, given by the Science Fiction Writers of America (now the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). By the time of his death in 1988, in Carmel, California, Heinlein’s books had sold more than forty million copies.

Heinlein grew up reading the works of Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Hugo Gernsback, the founder of modern American science fiction. Early in his career, Heinlein was also influenced by John W. Campbell Jr., the longtime editor of Astounding Science-Fiction, who was the first to publish him and who gave him ideas to develop into stories. Heinlein mastered a powerful, deceptively simple style that combined technological language with slang and an often irreverent, folksy wit. He created people-centered stories, usually featuring strong, well-rounded male heroes, though his attempts to create equally strong women heroes, as in Podkayne of Mars (1963), I Will Fear No Evil (1970), and Friday (1982), usually fell short. The last two of these books also reflect the preoccupation with sex that marked his later years, a topic to which his writing seemed ill suited. He was more successful with such alien types as Willis the Martian in Red Planet, Joe-Jim the two-headed human mutant in Orphans of the Sky (1963), and Mike the computer in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Starship Troopers, which became the basis for a popular military simulation game of the same name, earned for Heinlein a reputation as a neofascist and a militarist, yet his most popular novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, became a counterculture favorite in the 1960s. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, the story of a successful computer-run revolution on the moon, became the joy of the New Right in the United States for its promotion of libertarian politics.

Heinlein’s science fiction is grounded in good science. As in the case of his short story “Waldo” (1942), with the protagonist’s remote-controlled limbs—the real versions of which were developed in 1945 and were commonly referred to as “waldoes,” in reference to the story—Heinlein’s fiction often anticipated later scientific and technological advances. Despite the major controversies generated by his later novels, Robert A. Heinlein left his mark permanently on science fiction and, along with figures such as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, is universally acknowledged as one of the pioneers of the genre.

Author Works Long Fiction: Sixth Column, 1941 (serial), 1949 (book; also known as The Day after Tomorrow, 1951) Methuselah’s Children, 1941 (serial), 1958 (book) Universe, 1941 (magazine), 1951 (book; novella) Beyond This Horizon, 1942 (serial), 1948 (book) Rocket Ship Galileo, 1947 Space Cadet, 1948 Red Planet, 1949 Farmer in the Sky, 1950 Between Planets, 1951 The Puppet Masters, 1951 The Rolling Stones, 1952 (published in UK as Space Family Stone, 1969) Starman Jones, 1953 The Star Beast, 1954 Tunnel in the Sky, 1955 Double Star, 1956 Time for the Stars, 1956 The Door into Summer, 1956 (serial), 1957 (book) Citizen of the Galaxy, 1957 Have Space Suit—Will Travel, 1958 Starship Troopers, 1959 Stranger in a Strange Land, 1961 Podkayne of Mars, 1962–63 (serial), 1963 (book) Glory Road, 1963 Orphans of the Sky, 1963 (revision and expansion of Universe) Farnham’s Freehold, 1964 The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, 1965–66 (serial), 1966 (book) I Will Fear No Evil, 1970 Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long, 1973 The Notebooks of Lazarus Long, 1978 The Number of the Beast, 1979 (serial), 1980 (book) Friday, 1982 Job: A Comedy of Justice, 1984 The Cat Who Walks through Walls, 1985 To Sail beyond the Sunset, 1987 Short Fiction: The Man Who Sold the Moon, 1950 Waldo and Magic, Inc., 1950 The Green Hills of Earth, 1951 Assignment in Eternity, 1953 Revolt in 2100, 1953 (also known as Misfit, 1990) The Robert Heinlein Omnibus, 1958 The Menace from Earth, 1959 The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, 1959 (also known as 6×H, 1961) Three by Heinlein, 1965 (published in UK as A Heinlein Triad, 1966) A Robert Heinlein Omnibus, 1966 The Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein, 1966 The Past through Tomorrow, 1967 The Best of Robert Heinlein, 1973 (Angus Wells, editor) Destination Moon, 1979 (David G. Hartwell, editor) A Heinlein Trio, 1980 Expanded Universe: The New Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein, 1980 Ordeal in Space, 1988 The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein, 1999 Screenplays: Destination Moon, 1950 (with Rip Van Ronkel and James O’Hanlon) Project Moonbase, 1953 (with Jack Seaman) Nonfiction: Of Worlds Beyond: The Science of Science Fiction Writing, 1947 (with others) The Science Fiction Novel: Imagination and Social Criticism, 1959 (with others) Grumbles from the Grave, 1989 (Virginia Heinlein, editor) Take Back Your Government! A Practical Handbook for the Private Citizen Who Wants Democracy to Work, 1992 (written in 1946 as How to Be a Politician) Tramp Royale, 1992 Bibliography Aldiss, Brian W., and David Wingrove. Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. 1973. Atheneum, 1986. A general survey of the history of science fiction that includes a discussion of several of Heinlein’s works. The focus is on Heinlein’s novels, but comments also provide useful insights into the short stories and place them in a historical perspective. Includes an index. Franklin, Howard Bruce. Robert A. Heinlein: America as Science Fiction. Oxford UP, 1980. A full-length scholarly study of Heinlein’s work that assesses Heinlein’s important themes and discusses his libertarian politics from the point of view of an academic Marxist. Gifford, J. Daniel. Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader’s Companion. Nitrosyncretic Press, 2000. Includes bibliographical references and indexes. Hantke, Steffen. “Surgical Strikes and Prosthetic Warriors: The Soldier’s Body in Contemporary Science Fiction.” Science-Fiction Studies, vol. 25, no. 3, 1998, pp. 495–509. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=1270032&site=ehost-live. Accessed 2 Aug. 2017. Discusses how the technologically augmented body in the science fiction of Heinlein and others raises issues of what it means to be male or female, or even human, since the use of prosthetics to heal or strengthen the body is accompanied by the dissolution of the body. Heinlein, Robert A. Grumbles from the Grave. Edited by Virginia Heinlein, Ballantine Books, 1989. Hull, Elizabeth Anne. “Heinlein, Robert A(nson).” Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers, edited by Curtis C. Smith, 2nd ed., St. James Press, 1986. Provides an overview that focuses on Heinlein's novels. Supplemented by a bibliography of Heinlein’s works and a critical bibliography. McGiveron, Rafeeq O. “Heinlein’s Inhabited Solar System, 1940–1952.” Science-Fiction Studies, vol. 23, no. 2, 1996, pp. 245–52. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9611050086&site=ehost-live. Accessed 2 Aug. 2017. Discusses Heinlein’s population of a solar system in his early work by four different extraterrestrial civilizations, which serve the purpose of humbling the brash young human species. Nicholls, Peter. “Robert A. Heinlein.” Science Fiction Writers: Critical Studies of the Major Authors from the Early Nineteenth Century to the Present Day, edited by E. F. Bleiler, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1982. A long introductory overview of Heinlein’s work, focused on the novels but with useful comments for looking at the short stories as well. Also discusses Heinlein’s politics. Contains a Heinlein bibliography and a critical bibliography. Olander, Joseph D., and Martin Harry Greenberg, editors. Robert A. Heinlein. Paul Harris, 1978. Collects a number of essays on Heinlein by various writers. Includes discussions of sexuality, politics, and social Darwinism in Heinlein’s work, as well as an essay on Heinlein’s “Future History” series. Complemented by a critical bibliography. Slusser, George Edgar, and Daniele Chatelain. “Spacetime Geometries: Time Travel and the Modern Geometrical Narrative.” Science-Fiction Studies, vol. 22, no. 2, 1995, pp. 161–86. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9508090556&site=ehost-live. Accessed 2 Aug. 2017. Compares time travel narratives with modernist geometrical narratives, arguing that in both, plot is reduced to a game of logic and traditional story space-time is transposed into the realm of temporal paradox. Compares Jorge Luis Borges’s “Death and the Compass” with Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps.” Williams, Donna Glee. “The Moons of Le Guin and Heinlein.” Science-Fiction Studies, vol. 21, no. 2, 1994, pp. 164–72. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9502011048&site=ehost-live. Accessed 2 Aug. 2017. Compares Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress with Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed; in both cases, selective immigration, harsh new environment, and enforced isolation from the decaying parent culture dictate new social patterns.

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