L. Neil Smith's
Number 248, November 23, 2003

The Elvis of Science Fiction

Robert A. Heinlein 15 Years Later
by Ron Beatty

Exclusive to TLE

Fifteen years ago, America and the world lost one of the greatest philosophers, writers, and patriots of the Twentieth Century. Born in 1907, Robert A. Heinlein planned to make the Navy his career, but ill-health changed his plans. Medically discharged, considered totally disabled, and with no way of earning a living, in the middle of the Great Depression, Heinlein tried many things. Finally, he decided to write a story. That story, and the many that followed, changed this country and the world forever.

First famous for his juvenile science fiction, Heinlein played a trick on the world, forcing us to grow and think. In one of his juvenile novels, "Space Cadet", he describes a student discussion group called "Doubt". The premise of the group was that conventional ideas, legal, social, and moral, were questioned, and the students had to come up with a reason to support the status quo or conventional wisdom. Shortly after this, Mr. Heinlein began to publish his adult novels, and with the first of them, "Stranger in a Strange Land", he began to play "Doubt" with the world.

Mr. Heinlein questioned religion, government, sexual stereotypes, marriage (in it's conventional form), and almost anything else you can think of. In effect, this one man, considered disabled by the US government, became the driving force behind much of the social and technological change that occurred in the second half of the Twentieth Century.

Not so much in himself, but in the ideas that he wrote about, he became the guru of the free love movement. Stranger in a Strange Land questions religion, government, sexual morality, education. Almost every major interest group, in a social sense, was gored by this one book, and the outcry was tremendous.

In "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress", Heinlein continued to lay out his philosophy of government, in the process becoming a patron of the Libertarian movement.

There are too many examples to list them all, but just a short listing of the ideas he explored in his writing is educational: Group or corporate marriage, contract marriage (already becoming a reality, with pre-nuptial agreements, etc), personal, INDIVIDUAL responsibility for self, and for the consequences of actions, sexual equality in all things, freedom, education, and religious and moral codes are just the beginning.

In many ways, Heinlein was the Elvis of the science fiction era. Look hard and long, you will find few, if any, science fiction writers, or even scientists, who were not influenced to some degree by his writings, his ideas, and his dreams. Fortunately for all of us, his works continue to be re-issued periodically, and need to be reviewed. Don't use the movie treatments of his work as an idea of what the man wrote, they are almost diametrically opposite.

I encourage all of you, read Heinlein. THINK about what he was saying. Most importantly, don't let the ideas of this great American philosopher die.

The author of this article forgot to tell us what his name is. Tisk.


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