Department header
Bewildering Stories

euhal allen writes about...

Heinlein’s Novels

This essay is part of a continuing discussion with:
Clyde Andrews, in issue 204
Tala Bar, in issue 205
Don Webb, in this issue

I have probably read most everything Robert A. Heinlein wrote, (with the exception of For Us, the Living) and have several of his books that I enjoy going back to and rereading.

I have always just accepted whatever political/social philosophy in the current novel as part of the story, knowing that the story would be radically changed should a different basis be used. Of course, I always picked up on some of the background that Heinlein had, especially when he included military-based thought. Since he had been a naval officer, one must realize that such an influence will come through. Still, it has never bothered me that his stories tend to lean in directions that are, at times, somewhat different from my own.

He was, in each story, creating a world for that story and that world would be consistent in carrying the story forward in an entertaining and plausible manner. Since I never read Heinlein or most other authors for political thought, the particular social precept in each novel was fine as long as it carried the story. Being politically left or right was never a consideration with me, but consistency in the story was.

However, if I were asked to pick out a Heinlein novels that show a special brightness I would list the following three:

1. Tunnel in the Sky: A marvelous story of young persons suddenly faced with the need to, somehow, band together and form a new civilization that would meet the dangers of a strange and somewhat dangerous planet. The political lessons that they had to learn in creating this new community were well thought out and yet practical in making the whole thing work.

2. Double Star is another one that I’ve read and reread. Again we see a society faced with the ever present villains ready to do whatever it takes to hold onto power and get their agenda enforced. We also see a somewhat worthless human being transformed by his situation into a person of worth because he becomes the enemy of those who would be the destroyers of those things strange and misunderstood, something Heinlein himself leaned towards.

3. Citizen of the Galaxy. This is my all-time favorite Heinlein novel. I delve into it several times a year. If I have a doctor’s appointment that is going to mean a long wait I almost always choose this book to read. (Sometimes I will choose a Van Vogt: Slan can be a true treat at times; or a Cherryh book: the Chanur series is my favorite from her; but usually it's Citizen. I rarely get tired of the interactions of Thorby with the various cultures and societies that he must interact with. I find that the characters of Pop and Grandmother come alive with special energy every time I pick up the book.

Heinlein had a gift of making his characters seem real. One does not easily forget the "Motherthing" in Have Spacesuit Will Travel, or Mike in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, or the alien Princess in The Star Beast, or the great Venusian scientist Sir Isaac Newton in Between Planets, or... well, you get the picture. Heinlein's ability to create memorable characters and put them into plausible situations are what makes his books so amusing, as well as entertaining, to read. His ability to create societies where those characters and situations could function was another reason why his name shines in the SF writers’ pantheon.

If there was a political agenda, as many believe there was — well, who cares? Some of us just read them because they are fun, and with this crazy world that surrounds us, we take our fun where ever we can get it.


Copyright © 2006 by euhal allen

Home Page