This Day In Literary History
On July 7th, 1907, the legendary American science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein was born in Butler, Missouri. He grew up in Kansas City, and growing up in the "Bible belt" (a phrase Heinlein coined) would have a strong effect on his writings and personal philosophy.
In 1929, Heinlein entered the Naval Academy and later served as an officer in the U.S. Navy - another experience that would have a strong effect on him. Three years later, he married his second wife, Leslyn MacDonald, (his first marriage lasted only a year) who was a radical leftist.
He told his friend and fellow writer Isaac Asimov that he was "a flaming liberal" like his wife, but that would change dramatically by the end of World War II. In the 1930s, Heinlein was active in writer Upton Sinclair's "End Poverty in California" socialist movement.
When Sinclair became the Democratic candidate for Governor of California in 1934, Heinlein worked for his campaign. Sinclair lost the election by 200,000 votes, thanks in part to slanderous propaganda shorts produced by Hollywood studios.
The studios were determined to destroy Sinclair because part of his plan for economic recovery called for increased taxes on Hollywood studios and the creation of independent public studios where struggling filmmakers could make movies free of Hollywood's influence.
Heinlein was discharged from the Navy that same year due to tuberculosis. During his recovery, he came up with the concept of a water bed, and later included his designs in three of his books.
When water beds became common in the 1960s, Heinlein was able to block a company's attempt at securing a patent because their designs infringed on the ones he had published decades before.
Heinlein first took up writing as a means of paying his bills, as all he had to live on at the time was a small pension from the Navy. His first novel, For Us The Living: A Comedy Of Customs (1939) wasn't published during his lifetime, but the manuscript was discovered and published in 2003.
Heinlein began selling short stories and then serialized science fiction novels to magazines. His first novel published in book form, Rocket Ship Galileo (1947) was initially rejected because its concept - the first manned space flight to the moon - was considered too far out.
He began writing juvenile science fiction, and found a publisher, Scribner's, who agreed to publish one of his juvenile novels per year, for the Christmas season. These novels, now referred to as "the Heinlein Juveniles" dealt with adolescent and adult themes.
The protagonists were often very intelligent teenagers trying to deal with an adult world that made little sense to them. His novel Red Planet (1949), for example, is set at a boarding school in a colony on Mars where the students join in a revolution against the colonial authorities.
During World War II, Heinlein worked as an aeronautical engineer for the Navy and recruited his friends Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp to work at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. After the war ended, Heinlein began to reevaluate his life and work.
He and his second wife divorced in 1947, and a year later, he married his third wife, Virginia "Ginny" Gerstenfeld, whom he remained with for forty years, until his death. His political beliefs took a dramatic shift to the far right.
During the Cold War, he defended the anti-Communist witch hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy, and when anti-nuclear proliferation activists prostest the development and testing of nuclear weapons, Heinlein decried their aims as "Communist-line goals concealed in idealistic sounding nonsense."
He and his wife Ginny formed a conservative group called The Patrick Henry League and later worked for the Barry Goldwater campaign. His friend Isaac Asimov believed that Heinlein's abrupt and dramatic political shift was his wife's fault.
Ginny was both a ferocious arch conservative and a determined, intelligent feminist whom Heinlein modeled some of his female characters after. Despite his drastic political change, Heinlein wasn't your typical arch conservative.
Although a staunch advocate of militarism and rabidly anti-communist, he was also opposed to racism and an advocate of personal and sexual liberation. He was a nudist and a believer in what the 1960s American counterculture would call "free love."
Heinlein also opposed the encroachment of religion on the government and culture of America. He blasted Christianity in his 1984 novel Job: A Comedy Of Justice, the savagely funny tale of Alex, a pious Christian political activist.
Alex is seduced and corrupted by a pagan cruise ship hostess - and loves every minute of it. His lover Margrethe is a Danish woman who worships Odin, the Norse father god. Alex maintains his Christian faith. Their life together is a series of misfortunes.
Alex compares himself to Job from the Bible. He and Margrethe are eventually separated by the Rapture; while Alex goes to Heaven as a reward for his faith, he finds it worthless without her - a boring place ruled by snooty angels.
Meanwhile, Margrethe goes to Hell for being a pagan. She finds that eternity in Hell is wonderful at best and productive at worst. Alex decides to leave Heaven and search for his lost love.
During the early years of the Cold War, Robert Heinlein broke out of juvenile fiction and became a major novelist. His novel The Puppet Masters (1951) was an allegory of the anti-communist hysteria of the time, on a par with Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, though Heinlein's novel is set over 50 years in the future.
Despite the technological advances of the time, Earth finds itself in a horrendous battle with slug-like alien parasites that invade the bodies of humans and control their minds.
The novel was plagiarized as a 1958 science fiction film called The Brain Eaters. Heinlein sued the producers and won a settlement. In 1994, an official adaptation of The Puppet Masters was released.
Heinlein's 1959 novel, Starship Troopers, was both controversial and a classic. Chronicling the exploits of Juan "Johnnie" Rico, a young soldier in a futuristic military unit called the Mobile Infantry, Starship Troopers was supposed to be published as a juvenile science fiction novel, but it was rejected as too militaristic - if not pro-fascist.
In the distant future, Earth and its allies are engaged in an interstellar war against spider-like aliens called "the Bugs." Despite the objections of his wealthy father, after graduating high school, Johnnie Rico joins the military instead of going to Harvard.
As he serves in the Mobile Infantry, we see Johnnie progress from recruit to officer. Some have called the novel pro-fascist because in the futuristic Earth setting, war is depicted as a glorious adventure and only veterans have the right to vote.
Only veterans are allowed to teach history in the schools, and have full citizenship. Civilians are denied full citizenship and can't vote or teach history. Another criticism of the book is that it proclaims the morality of capital punishment.
Defenders of Starship Troopers point out that while democracy is limited, there is still freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and personal liberty. The political system and military are both comprised of people of various races and religions, and men and women are considered equal. There is no draft.
Starship Troopers was adapted as a feature film in 1997. It received mixed reviews from critics and fans, as it differed greatly from the novel in terms of themes and plot, as director Paul Verhoven was a prominent critic of the book, which won its author a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1960.
In 1961, Heinlein published what is considered to be one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time, Stranger In A Strange Land. It told the story of Valentine Michael Smith, the son of two astronauts who were part of an ill-fated expedition to Mars.
After the crew dies, Smith is orphaned and raised by Martians, becoming integrated with their advanced minds. Years later, he is discovered by another crew on a second Martian expedition and brought home to Earth.
On Earth, Smith is imprisoned in a hospital by the Federation of Free States (the successor to the United Nations) who want him to renounce any rights he may have to the ownership of Mars.
As Smith becomes a pawn in a feud between Federation factions, he adjusts to Earth's gravity and acquires supernatural powers and superhuman intelligence. Smith escapes the hospital with the help of a nurse, Gillian Boardman.
He becomes a celebrity and is approached by the leader of the Fosterites - a huge Christian fundamentalist order with its own TV network and businesses. They also have a Spirit-In-Action League comprised of teenagers and young adults.
League members are trained to physically attack members of other religions and anyone else who disagrees with their religious beliefs. Smith is introduced to Fosterite Bishop Digby, whom he ends up killing.
Moved by the fact that there's so much misery on Earth, Smith founds his own religion, a "Church Of All Worlds" based on Martian teachings. He teaches his followers how to rise above suffering such as "pain and sickness and hunger and fighting." He also teaches them the Martian language.
Soon, Smith's followers begin to acquire powers like his and become superhuman. Smith's core teaching that "Thou art God," and his church's practices of communal living and group sex outrage the Fosterites, who accuse him of blasphemy.
The novel ends with Smith allowing himself to be brutally assassinated. His last words, spoken to a grasshopper, are "I love you" and "Thou art God." Smith is resurrected and ascends to a higher plane of existence, similar to Heaven.
Stranger In A Strange Land won a Hugo Award and later became a classic of the 1960s American counterculture. Heinlein's original, completed manuscript clocked in at 220,000 words. His publisher, Putnam, made him cut 60,000 words and remove some elements that were considered too shocking for readers in 1961.
After his death in 1988, his wife Ginny arranged for an uncut version of the novel to be published, and it was released in 1991. Critics are still debating which version is the best.
When Robert A. Heinlein died in 1988 at the age of 80, he had published over 30 novels, almost 60 short stories, and 16 collections, establishing himself as one of the greatest, most prolific science fiction writers of all time.
Quote Of The Day
"Take sex away from people. Make it forbidden, evil. Limit it to ritualistic breeding. Force it to back up into suppressed sadism. Then hand the people a scapegoat to hate. Let them kill a scapegoat occasionally for cathartic release. The mechanism is ages old. Tyrants used it centuries before the word psychology was ever invented. It works, too." - Robert A. Heinlein
Today's video features a complete reading of Robert A. Heinlein's classic novel, Stranger In A Strange Land. Enjoy!