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Robert A. Heinlein is generally recognized as the most important American science fiction writer of the 20th century. This is the first detailed critical examination of his entire career. It is not a biography--that is being done in a two-volume work by William Patterson. Instead, this book looks at each piece of fiction (and a few pieces of sf-related nonfiction) that Hei Robert A. Heinlein is generally recognized as the most important American science fiction writer of the 20th century. This is the first detailed critical examination of his entire career. It is not a biography--that is being done in a two-volume work by William Patterson. Instead, this book looks at each piece of fiction (and a few pieces of sf-related nonfiction) that Heinlein wrote, chronologically by date of publication, in order to consider what each contributes to his overall accomplishment. The aim is to be fair, to look clearly at the strengths and weaknesses of the writings that have inspired generations of readers and writers.


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Robert A. Heinlein is generally recognized as the most important American science fiction writer of the 20th century. This is the first detailed critical examination of his entire career. It is not a biography--that is being done in a two-volume work by William Patterson. Instead, this book looks at each piece of fiction (and a few pieces of sf-related nonfiction) that Hei Robert A. Heinlein is generally recognized as the most important American science fiction writer of the 20th century. This is the first detailed critical examination of his entire career. It is not a biography--that is being done in a two-volume work by William Patterson. Instead, this book looks at each piece of fiction (and a few pieces of sf-related nonfiction) that Heinlein wrote, chronologically by date of publication, in order to consider what each contributes to his overall accomplishment. The aim is to be fair, to look clearly at the strengths and weaknesses of the writings that have inspired generations of readers and writers.

39 review for The Heritage of Heinlein: A Critical Reading of the Fiction: 42

  1. 4 out of 5

    Karl Bunker

    This book stands both as an alternative and an adjunct to William Patterson's recent and massive two-volume biography of Robert Heinlein. For those who are more interested in Heinlein's work than in the minutia of his life (as I am), this book represents a tremendously welcome alternative to that biography. And for those who -- for reasons of fandom or academic interest -- are eager to learn more about Heinlein's works, it's an essential further contribution to the field. As its subtitle states, This book stands both as an alternative and an adjunct to William Patterson's recent and massive two-volume biography of Robert Heinlein. For those who are more interested in Heinlein's work than in the minutia of his life (as I am), this book represents a tremendously welcome alternative to that biography. And for those who -- for reasons of fandom or academic interest -- are eager to learn more about Heinlein's works, it's an essential further contribution to the field. As its subtitle states, The Heritage of Heinlein is a critical reading of Heinlein's fiction. All of his novels and many of his short stories are discussed in some detail and in chronological order. Unlike the case with many such books, the authors do not confine themselves to their own thoughts and interpretations regarding their subject. Rather, Clareson and Sanders frequently quote the opinions of many other science fiction scholars and critics. To give just one small example, in discussing Heinlein's Rocket Ship Galileo they write: "Peter Nicholls dismisses it in a single sentence: 'Rocket Ship Galileo never recovers from the silliness of its first half' while even [Jack] Williamson calls it 'a sometimes fumbling experiment [that] does no more than suggest the bright appeal of the later titles'." Considering that Heinlein was one of the most controversial authors in the history of SF, this book would be glaringly flawed if it *didn't* quote from a range of sources. In fact, I think it's a small weakness in the volume that it doesn't seem to fully acknowledge the degree to which Heinlein was a center of contention and dispute. With regard to Heinlein's novel Farnham's Freehold, for example, although the authors quote Thomas M. Disch's characterization of the book as "the most reprehended work of a writer who has been much reprehended," I don't think they fully portray the degree of vitriol the novel inspired. They don't go on to quote Disch's opinion that Farnham's Freehold "celebrates nuclear war," and the fact that some have read the novel as profoundly racist is given only passing mention. The fullest discussion of Heinlein as a center of controversy comes near the end of the book in a subchapter titled "Heinlein and His Readers." Here the authors discuss critics' reaction to Heinlein, Heinlein's reactions to critics, and Heinlein's feelings about his own writings. This becomes a fascinating discussion of the range of responses to Heinlein's work, both as a whole and with regard to different periods of his life and specific novels and stories. We learn that Heinlein was fiercely impatient with the idea of readers trying to deduce his actual beliefs by reading his fiction, but also that his work invited this sort of interpretation. Thus, to quote Clareson and Sanders, "readers took the opinions expressed in Heinlein's novels as Heinlein's own." Clareson and Sanders own opinion of Heinlein is moderate; they state at one point, "Overall, however, he is more balanced, less dogmatic than his reputation would suggest." Perhaps this view led them to downplay the many extreme opinions about Heinlein and his work, or perhaps they simply felt that greater coverage of that subject was beyond the purpose of their book. But this is a small quibble about a book that overall is quite excellent. In it you will find very clear, complete, well-reasoned and well-written discussions of all of Heinlein's major works, as well as many of his lesser efforts. The volume is an easy and engaging read throughout, and contains a wealth of information, opinion, and analysis. Given Heinlein's vast influence on the history of science fiction, I'd say this book is a must-have not only for his fans, but for anyone making a serious study of science fiction.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Eamonn Murphy

    Having read all of Robert A. Heinlein’s Science Fiction and most of it twice over the years, I am at least familiar with the background material to this volume. As a mere book reviewer, as opposed to a literary critic, I may not be best qualified to judge its worth as an analysis of Heinlein but I can assess its entertainment value. Coincidentally, I recently read Damon Knight’s ‘love letter’ about Heinlein in ‘In Search Of Wonder’ so this may be a good contrast. I have also read Alexei Panshin Having read all of Robert A. Heinlein’s Science Fiction and most of it twice over the years, I am at least familiar with the background material to this volume. As a mere book reviewer, as opposed to a literary critic, I may not be best qualified to judge its worth as an analysis of Heinlein but I can assess its entertainment value. Coincidentally, I recently read Damon Knight’s ‘love letter’ about Heinlein in ‘In Search Of Wonder’ so this may be a good contrast. I have also read Alexei Panshin book ‘Heinlein In Dimension’. An interesting foreword by Frederick Pohl sets the stage. Pohl was a friend to many authors when he was involved in the early days of Science Fiction magazines. He even edited a couple of cheap ones and bought the stories of both Heinlein and Asimov that were rejected by John W. Campbell over at ‘Astounding Science Fiction’. Later, he edited ‘Galaxy’ and ‘Worlds Of If’ and bought a few Heinlein novels to run as serials prior to their book publication. He is also a well respected Science Fiction author in his own right (write?). As I recall from his memoirs, Fred is a registered Democrat and took some part in politics. Like many early associates of Heinlein, he did not appreciate that author’s shift from left of centre to far right political views after he married Virginia Gerstenfeld. They remained friends, however. A preface by author Joe Sanders explains that much of the original work for the book was done by Thomas D. Clareson (1926-1993) and he finished it up at the request of Clareson’s wife, though he had an interest in Heinlein already. Then follows the main text of the book, which first considers ‘For Us The Living’, Heinlein’s unsold novel. It goes on to look at the early professional work, the Scribners juveniles, and then the classics of the fifties. ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’ gets a chapter all of its own and an analysis of the final period is followed by a summing up. Heinlein started writing for money. Pensioned off on half-pay from the US Navy with tuberculosis, he had to earn a living. He never lost sight of this objective and always wanted to be a professional but he had other aims, too. He wanted to write fiction that was better than the standard action /adventure pulp stories then appearing in magazines. He wanted to sell to more general markets and he was always ambitious, declaring he was going to go up in the business but never down and out. He quit writing for a while when Campbell rejected ‘Goldfish Bowl’. So he was never a hack, contented to bang out thousands of words a day of trash as long as he got paid. Certain themes emerge in his fiction right from the start but they are all related to one central issue: what makes life worthwhile? What’s the point of it all? Felix Hamilton asks the question in ‘Beyond This Horizon’. There’s no one answer but several possible options are explored in Heinlein‘s work. Live a long time and see what turns up, like Lazarus Long in ‘Time Enough For Love’. Devote yourself to some duty you see as worthwhile like the heroes of ‘Double Star’, ‘Space Cadet’, ‘Starship Troopers’ and ‘Gulf’. All these questions are raised in regard to intelligent, superior humans as Heinlein didn’t write about any other kind. What do the competent men do about the common herd? Ignore them or take care of them? In the earlier works, the superior man definitely had a duty of care. Later, Heinlein seems to think that the best course of action was for the elites to look after number one, make themselves rich and have lots of sex while being smug about their superiority. It’s a point of view. Everybody loves the Heinlein juveniles in which optimistic, competent clean-cut American lads enthusiastically get involved in space travel and colonising new worlds. One ‘gag’ Heinlein pulled a couple of times was to reveal somewhere near the end, usually by a bit of conversation, that a lead character was not of white Anglo-Saxon ethnicity. In any case, they struggled through adversity in the name of a worthwhile goal and more than one reader of those books went on to join the space race in real life. The adult novels of the fifties have also stood the test of time, such titles as ‘The Man Who Sold The Moon’, ‘The Door Into Summer’, ‘Double Star’ and ‘The Puppet Masters’. Interestingly, the definitive text for ‘The Puppet Masters’ was not published until 1990. Horace Gold mangled the version published in ‘Galaxy’ and the first book version wasn’t the original manuscript neither. The later books are generally seen as less worthwhile but Clareson and Sanders have a different take on them. Solipsism is present in much of Heinlein’s writing, most obviously in the short stories ‘They’ and ‘All You Zombies’. The authors think that Heinlein saw himself as more intelligent than those around him and wondered about how to relate to them. He was certainly an enthusiast for sex and decided that it’s the best way for people to get acquainted. This is the reason for all that talk about it in many books, though the act itself is never described. Carson and Sanders also believe he was experimenting with narrative techniques in the later books and having fun, too, which is why they depart from conventional plot driven storytelling. Their main point is that he knew exactly what he was doing whereas other critics think he had lost control. It’s all very interesting. Heinlein hated critics and valued engineers much more highly than professors of literature, as the authors admit. However, they seem to like and admire his work, unlike some, who take the position that it’s simple-minded because it’s easy to read. Certain New Age Science Fiction writers, arts graduates who revelled in pessimism and opaque prose, often lambasted Heinlein and the scientist authors of the Golden Age. Clareson and Sanders don’t do that so the analyses and ponderings here indubitably enhance one’s enjoyment of the works. Of course, reading the stories is the main thing. Personally, I’d recommend the early short stories, the juveniles and the ‘classics‘, both of which were written in the fifties. From the sixties, ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’ is interesting, ‘Farnham’s Freehold’ is open to misinterpretation, ‘The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress’ is a masterpiece. Any Heinlein book is extremely readable because his chatty prose voice is so alluring, which is why he sold so much. This criticism is also very readable and usefully thought-provoking. Worth getting if you’re a Heinlein enthusiast and want a bit more insight into the work. Eamonn Murphy This review first appeared at https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/

  3. 4 out of 5

    Larry

    Nice review of books read many years ago.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    Thorough and engrossing though it does give much less attention to Heinlein's later works as is common with retrospectives of artists with long careers. Surprisingly complimentary of some works not well thought of and deeply insightful regarding what the authors (and myself so it may just be bias) his best work, Citizen of the Galaxy. If Heinlein was one of your formative influences, this is definitely worth your time to read. Thorough and engrossing though it does give much less attention to Heinlein's later works as is common with retrospectives of artists with long careers. Surprisingly complimentary of some works not well thought of and deeply insightful regarding what the authors (and myself so it may just be bias) his best work, Citizen of the Galaxy. If Heinlein was one of your formative influences, this is definitely worth your time to read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Todd

    Not for the Heinlein neophyte, though the authors do a good job with the synopsis of each short story and novel. As a later period Heinlein partisan, I applaud the even handedness with which those novels were examined. This book is a must for any fan.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Simon Spiegel

  7. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brianna

  9. 5 out of 5

    Les

  10. 5 out of 5

    Forrest Norvell

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bjørn Olav Listog

  12. 4 out of 5

    Katie King

  13. 5 out of 5

    Franny Moore-kyle

  14. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne

  15. 5 out of 5

    OTIS

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mike Hungerford

  17. 5 out of 5

    David

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

  19. 5 out of 5

    joseph gangi

  20. 5 out of 5

    Richard

  21. 5 out of 5

    Will

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tia

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jim

  24. 5 out of 5

    Eric Hart

  25. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Sipila

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nikolai Pynev

  27. 4 out of 5

    Megan

  28. 5 out of 5

    Eldorankin

  29. 4 out of 5

    Carl Nastav

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mark Bult

  31. 5 out of 5

    Lou

  32. 4 out of 5

    David Whovian

  33. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  34. 4 out of 5

    rêveur d'art

  35. 5 out of 5

    Tawnya Fugate

  36. 5 out of 5

    Donna Dulo

  37. 5 out of 5

    Terry Cox

  38. 4 out of 5

    Mark

  39. 4 out of 5

    Davorin Horak

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