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Robert Heinlein’s birthday

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We couldn’t very well let the day pass at Blogcritics without noting the birthday of Robert Heinlein, the greatest science fiction writer ever. Born July 7, 1907, today would have been Heinlein’s 96th birthday.

His most popular book has been Stranger in a Strange Land. Surely it ranks as one of the most fun and most consciousness expanding books in the history of literature. If you know a young person needing to have their basic thought processes opened up, you couldn’t do much better than this.

Over time, though, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress has turned out to be my favorite Heinlein book. Stranger is more a work of fantasy. Moon is a more realistic science fiction. The characters thus mean more; they naturally draw out a greater emotional investment from the reader. Also, the themes are more streamlined to address political issues, thus giving stronger intellectual focus and greater depth.

Somehow, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress has done more to make the American revolution real to me than any history book. This story about an uprising for lunar independence was designed as a conscious dramatic parallel to our American struggle for independence. Heinlein really did a good job in communicating what it would mean to pledge your lives, fortunes and sacred honor.

Among his slightly less well known work, dig on Job: A Comedy of Justice. Anyone raised among evangelical Christians should particularly enjoy this religious fantasy. Satan and especially Yahweh become truly superb comic characters.

One thing I don’t understand: the lack of Heinlein movies. There have been only a few half-assed movies made of any kind for an author of such prolificity and long-lived popularity. In particular, no one ever has made even a lame film of any of his major works. Why?

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  • Al, are you forgetting Starship Troopers, with Oberst Doogie Howser, SS Wünderkind? Or does it not count as a major work? It certainly has quite a bit of Heinlein’s opinions on the nature and rationale for war, from the point of view of a soldier.

    I find Heinlein to be problematic for me. I like some of it and I loathe other works. Job didn’t do much for me, but it was the best of his books that I read after I figured out that I really hated Number of the Beast.

    I liked Moon and Stranger, and I agree that Moon is stronger. I think he had a more intriguing take on the story he was telling. I liked Moon better than the Revolt in 2100, which I thought covered the same ground but not as well.

    I get awfully tired of the “wise old voice of the author who, coincidentally, all the girls from age 17-67 insist on sleeping with.” As Heinlein got older, those influences got stronger and creepier. However, Farnham’s Freehold had all the ick factor in 1977.

  • Ken McMullen

    Probably the real reason there has been no “good” movie made of a Heinlein book is his Libertarian outlook. If you read carefully you will see that in his stories there is a strong theme that we are responsible for our actions and that individuals, not the government, create the best societies. While Troopers is a great book, you might want to read “Double Start” where you will get as good a feel for Heinlein’s philosophy as you get in Troopers. You might try reading some his works that were supposed to be aimed at a younger age group: “Star Beast”, “Citizen of the Galaxy”, and “Tunnel in the Sky.” Also read some of his short stories in “Green Hills of Earth” and “The Man Who Sold the Moon.”

  • Michael- Do you really find it creepy that an old dude would like to think that the young hotties still wanted him? Hey, maybe they did.

    Starship Troopers was not particularly his best work, and the movie version was just nothing. There wasn’t much eau de Heinlein left by the time it got to the screen.

  • Starship Troopers was a major film, but it was also awful. That is, it was awful in the sense that it missed the entire point of the book and ended up portraying almost exactly the opposite of the intent of the author.

    Other than that, no, it was great. 🙂

  • The Theory

    I enjoyed Job and Starship Trooper, though never saw the movie. And don’t care to.


  • Al–As I get older, perhaps less so. It didn’t bother me in Job particularly, but then she wasn’t related to him. It so often seems to be tied to a father figure, such as Friday and her boss, Jubal and his entire female staff, etc. Perhaps it’s old guy/young hottie with a parental relationship with old guy. It’s so Woody Allen.

    In Farnham, it was Farnham’s actual daughter, which had too high an squick factor for me to be OK with it.

  • I would have liked a satire of military SF by Verhoeven but I didn’t really know why he decided to make it Starship Troopers. It had some shining moments, but for the most part it couldn’t hold it’s contradictions together. I liked the Ferret.

  • Why didn’t Verhoeven call his film “Bill the Galactic Hero”? Because that’s the book he actually filmed 🙂

    OTOH, Starship Troopers is the only book I’ve thrown across the room in disgust. Not over the militarism, but over his spanking fetish. It felt like being trapped in a lift with Norman Tebbit.

  • Doctor Slack

    Though I did find the militarism pretty chilling, I’m with Tim on the spanking fetish. Just straight-up disturbing. For me, the clincher was the part where we find out that the West went through a major collapse because… gasp… social workers told parents not to spank their children! Easily Heinlein at his least readable.

    I don’t think Heinlein was a “libertarian” strictly speaking, apart from having a similar vague affinity for an imagined “rugged” individualism that both he and the libertarians drew from the wells of American national mythology. This is to his credit — libertarian fiction, a la Rand or, in the SF mode, the likes of James P. Hogan, has always struck me as being astoundingly humourless, caricature-infested and ideologically driven to the point of obvious absurdity. In these ways it’s actually, oddly enough, quite reminiscent of certain other schools of literature we could name.

  • Chad

    I would love to see this book as a movie. I’ve read many anti-utopias over the years and this was the best one ever created. I think it could be one of the best movies of all times. the problem with starship troopers was pure tackyness. had it have had a real feel to it, it could have been a good movie. it was to teenish for me.