Robert Heinlein

SCIENCE FICTION WRITER

“Always listen to experts. They’ll tell you what can’t be done and why.
Then do it.”
—Robert Heinlein

Robert Heinlein’s name may not be recognizable to most people, but those who know his works regard him as a great. Heinlein was a prolific author with a contingent of science fiction fans who hung on his every word and couldn’t wait for his next story to be published. There have been few like him in the history of publishing, earning him the title “Dean of Science Fiction Writers.”

THE EARLY YEARS

Robert Anson Heinlein was born on July 7, 1907, in the small town of Butler. He and his six brothers and sisters moved to Kansas City when he was about three and lived there throughout his childhood. He had an amazing interest in astronomy as a child that was stimulated in 1910 with the appearance of Halley’s Comet. He was only three when the comet raced past the earth, but from that point on he was hooked on space.

He graduated from Central High School in 1925 and was eventually accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy. A case of tuberculosis led to a discharge from the Navy, which allowed him to study physics and mathematics at UCLA. He also became interested in politics during this time following the “EPIC” (Ending Poverty In California) political movement. He was so inspired by the movement that he ran for the California legislature.

RISE TO FAME

After his election defeat, he turned his attention to writing. In 1939, Life-Line was published in a magazine and earned him seventy dollars. The book was a product of Heinlein’s imagination about the political movements of the day. It seemed like easy money because he was simply writing about a topic in which he was well versed.  From that time on, he churned out an amazing number of stories, often under different names so he could have multiple stories appear in a single issue of magazines. One of the defining characteristics of his stories was a precise understanding of astronomy and science, which he wove in and out of the storylines.

World War II forced him to put writing on hold for a few years, but the job he took during the war expanded his understanding of space even more. He worked as an aircraft engineer at the Naval Aircraft Factory near Philadelphia where he designed high altitude space suits, which were later incorporated into his books. After the war, he resumed his writing and produced some of the best works in science fiction history.

SHOW ME SUCCESS

Juvenile science fiction books was one area that Heinlein expanded. These books were much like his earlier works except the heroes were younger and the stories lacked the sexual content. He published Starship Troopers in 1959 in the juvenile science fiction genre, which many people consider his best work. The book made him a star and was adapted for numerous movies including the 1997 version that was a big hit with audiences.

Despite his success, Heinlein was frustrated with publishers because they often carved up his storylines to make them more sellable. So he decided to write a book titled Stranger in a Strange Land, where he satirized the religious, political, and sexual attitudes of the day. The timing of the book was perfect because America was on the verge of the turbulent 1960s, and he captured the controversial issues in the science fiction realm. Stranger in a Strange Land became a cult classic and the best-selling book in science fiction history. The success of that book finally gave him the freedom to write stories the way he wanted without worrying what editors would do to the manuscript.

Over the course of his writing, Heinlein won a total of four Hugo Awards for best novel of the year and was the first recipient of the Grand Master Nebula Award by the Science Fiction Writers of America. Over his six decades of writing, he was able to make science fiction mainstream and is still regarded by many as the man who paved the way for widespread acceptance of stories like Star Wars and Star Trek.

EXTRA, EXTRA!

*Heinlein published his last novel on his eightieth birthday.

*Heinlein was cremated and his ashes thrown from the deck of a warship in the Pacific Ocean near Santa Cruz.

*He was a college fencing champion while in the Naval Academy.

 

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