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Robert A. Heinlein
Heinlein in 1976
Heinlein in 1976
Born Robert Anson Heinlein
(1907-07-07)July 7, 1907
Butler, Missouri, U.S.
Died May 8, 1988(1988-05-08) (aged 80)
Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, U.S.
Pen name Anson MacDonald
Lyle Monroe
John Riverside
Caleb Saunders
Simon York
  • Author
  • aeronautical engineer
  • lieutenant USN
Alma mater
Period 1939–1988
Genre Science fiction, fantasy
Notable works
  • Stranger in a Strange Land
  • The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
  • Starship Troopers
  • Time Enough for Love
Elinor Curry
(m. 1929; div. 1930)
Leslyn MacDonald
(m. 1932; div. 1947)
Virginia Gerstenfeld
(m. 1948)


Robert Anson Heinlein (/ˈhnln/; July 7, 1907 – May 8, 1988) was an American science fiction author, aeronautical engineer, and naval officer. Sometimes called the "dean of science fiction writers", he was among the first to emphasize scientific accuracy in his fiction, and was thus a pioneer of the subgenre of hard science fiction. His published works, both fiction and non-fiction, express admiration for competence and emphasize the value of critical thinking. His plots often posed provocative situations which challenged conventional social mores. His work continues to have an influence on the science-fiction genre, and on modern culture more generally.

Heinlein became one of the first American science-fiction writers to break into mainstream magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post in the late 1940s. He was one of the best-selling science-fiction novelists for many decades, and he, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke are often considered the "Big Three" of English-language science fiction authors. Notable Heinlein works include Stranger in a Strange Land, Starship Troopers (which helped mold the space marine and mecha archetypes) and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. tent women characters that were formidable, yet often stereotypically feminine—such as Friday.

A writer also of many science-fiction short stories, Heinlein was one of a group of writers who came to prominence under the editorship (1937–1971) of John W. Campbell at Astounding Science Fiction magazine, though Heinlein denied that Campbell influenced his writing to any great degree.

Heinlein used his science fiction as a way to explore provocative social and political ideas and to speculate how progress in science and engineering might shape the future of politics, race, and religion. Within the framework of his science-fiction stories, Heinlein repeatedly addressed certain social themes: the importance of individual liberty and self-reliance, the obligation individuals owe to their societies, the influence of organized religion on culture and government, and the tendency of society to repress nonconformist thought. He also speculated on the influence of space travel on human cultural practices.

Heinlein was named the first Science Fiction Writers Grand Master in 1974. Four of his novels won Hugo Awards. In addition, fifty years after publication, seven of his works were awarded "Retro Hugos"—awards given retrospectively for works that were published before the Hugo Awards came into existence. In his fiction, Heinlein coined terms that have become part of the English language, including grok, waldo and speculative fiction, as well as popularizing existing terms like "TANSTAAFL", "pay it forward", and "space marine". He also anticipated mechanical computer-aided design with "Drafting Dan" and described a modern version of a waterbed in his novel Beyond This Horizon.

Several of Heinlein's works have been adapted for film and television.


RAH 1929 Yearbook
Midshipman Heinlein, from the 1929 U.S. Naval Academy yearbook

Birth, childhood, and early education

Heinlein, born on July 7, 1907, to Rex Ivar Heinlein (an accountant) and Bam Lyle Heinlein, in Butler, Missouri, was the third of seven children. He was a sixth-generation German-American; a family tradition had it that Heinleins fought in every American war, starting with the War of Independence.

He spent his childhood in Kansas City, Missouri. The outlook and values of this time and place (in his own words, "The Bible Belt") had an influence on his fiction, especially in his later works, as he drew heavily upon his childhood in establishing the setting and cultural atmosphere in works like Time Enough for Love and To Sail Beyond the Sunset. The 1910 appearance of Halley's Comet inspired the young child's life-long interest in astronomy.

The family could not afford to send Heinlein to college, so he sought an appointment to a military academy. When Heinlein graduated from Central High School in Kansas City in 1924, he was initially prevented from attending the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis because his older brother Rex was a student there, and regulations discouraged multiple family members from attending the academy simultaneously. He instead matriculated at Kansas City Community College and began vigorously petitioning Missouri Senator James A. Reed for an appointment to the Naval Academy. In part due to the influence of the Pendergast machine, the Naval Academy admitted him in June 1925; Reed later told Heinlein that he had received 100 letters of recommendation for nomination to the Naval Academy, 50 for other candidates and 50 for Heinlein.


Heinlein's experience in the U.S. Navy exerted a strong influence on his character and writing. In 1929, he graduated from the Naval Academy with the equivalent of a bachelor of arts in engineering (the Academy did not at the time confer degrees). He ranked fifth in his class academically but with a class standing of 20th of 243 due to disciplinary demerits. The U.S. Navy commissioned him as an ensign shortly after his graduation. He advanced to lieutenant junior grade in 1931 while serving aboard the new aircraft carrier USS Lexington, where he worked in radio communications—a technology then still in its earlier stages. The captain of this carrier, Ernest J. King, later served as the Chief of Naval Operations and Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet during World War II. Military historians frequently interviewed Heinlein during his later years and asked him about Captain King and his service as the commander of the U.S. Navy's first modern aircraft carrier. Heinlein also served as gunnery officer aboard the destroyer USS Roper in 1933 and 1934, reaching the rank of lieutenant. His brother, Lawrence Heinlein, served in the U.S. Army, the U.S. Air Force, and the Missouri National Guard, reaching the rank of major general in the National Guard.


In 1929, Heinlein married Elinor Curry of Kansas City. However, their marriage lasted only about a year. His second marriage in 1932 to Leslyn MacDonald (1904–1981) lasted for 15 years. MacDonald was, according to the testimony of Heinlein's Navy friend, Rear Admiral Cal Laning, "astonishingly intelligent, widely read, and extremely liberal, though a registered Republican", while Isaac Asimov later recalled that Heinlein was, at the time, "a flaming liberal". (See section: Politics of Robert Heinlein.)

Virginia and Robert Heinlein in a 1952 Popular Mechanics article, titled "A House to Make Life Easy". The Heinleins, both engineers, designed the house for themselves with many innovative features.

At the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard Heinlein met and befriended a chemical engineer named Virginia "Ginny" Gerstenfeld. After the war, her engagement having fallen through, she attended UCLA for doctoral studies in chemistry, and while there reconnected with Heinlein. As his relations with his second wife deteriorated, Heinlein moved out and the couple filed for divorce. Heinlein's friendship with Virginia turned into a relationship and on October 21, 1948—shortly after the decree nisi came through—they married in the town of Raton, New Mexico, shortly after setting up housekeeping in the Broadmoor district of Colorado Springs in a house that Heinlein and his wife (both engineers) designed. As the area was newly developed, they were allowed to choose their own house number, 1776 Mesa Avenue. The design of the house was featured in Popular Mechanics. They remained married until Heinlein's death. In 1965, after various chronic health problems of Virginia's were traced back to altitude sickness, they moved to Santa Cruz, California, which is at sea level. Robert and Virginia designed and built a new residence, circular in shape, in the adjacent village of Bonny Doon.

Heinlein Tahiti 2
Robert and Virginia Heinlein in Tahiti, 1980

Ginny undoubtedly served as a model for many of his intelligent, fiercely independent female characters. She was a chemist and rocket test engineer, and held a higher rank in the Navy than Heinlein himself. She was also an accomplished college athlete, earning four letters. In 1953–1954, the Heinleins voyaged around the world (mostly via ocean liners and cargo liners, as Ginny detested flying), which Heinlein described in Tramp Royale, and which also provided background material for science fiction novels set aboard spaceships on long voyages, such as Podkayne of Mars, Friday and Job: A Comedy of Justice, the latter initially being set on a cruise much as detailed in Tramp Royale. Ginny acted as the first reader of his manuscripts. Isaac Asimov believed that Heinlein made a swing to the right politically at the same time he married Ginny.


In 1934, Heinlein was discharged from the Navy, owing to pulmonary tuberculosis. During a lengthy hospitalization, and inspired by his own experience while bed-ridden, he developed a design for a waterbed.

After his discharge, Heinlein attended a few weeks of graduate classes in mathematics and physics at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), but he soon quit, either because of his ill-health or because of a desire to enter politics.

Heinlein supported himself at several occupations, including real estate sales and silver mining, but for some years found money in short supply. Heinlein was active in Upton Sinclair's socialist End Poverty in California movement (EPIC) in the early 1930s. He was deputy publisher of the EPIC News, which Heinlein noted "recalled a mayor, kicked out a district attorney, replaced the governor with one of our choice." When Sinclair gained the Democratic nomination for Governor of California in 1934, Heinlein worked actively in the campaign. Heinlein himself ran for the California State Assembly in 1938, but was unsuccessful. Heinlein was running as a left-wing Democrat in a conservative district, and he never made it past the Democratic primary.


Robert A. Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, and Isaac Asimov, Philadelphia Navy Yard, 1944

While not destitute after the campaign—he had a small disability pension from the Navy—Heinlein turned to writing to pay off his mortgage. His first published story, "Life-Line", was printed in the August 1939 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Originally written for a contest, he sold it to Astounding for significantly more than the contest's first-prize payoff. Another Future History story, "Misfit", followed in November. Some saw Heinlein's talent and stardom from his first story, and he was quickly acknowledged as a leader of the new movement toward "social" science fiction. In California he hosted the Mañana Literary Society, a 1940–41 series of informal gatherings of new authors. He was the guest of honor at Denvention, the 1941 Worldcon, held in Denver. During World War II, Heinlein was employed by the Navy as a civilian aeronautical engineer at the Navy Aircraft Materials Center at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in Pennsylvania. Heinlein recruited Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp to also work there. While at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyards, Asimov, Heinlein, and de Camp brainstormed unconventional approaches to kamikaze attacks, such as using sound to detect approaching planes.

As the war wound down in 1945, Heinlein began to re-evaluate his career. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, along with the outbreak of the Cold War, galvanized him to write nonfiction on political topics. In addition, he wanted to break into better-paying markets. He published four influential short stories for The Saturday Evening Post magazine, leading off, in February 1947, with "The Green Hills of Earth". That made him the first science fiction writer to break out of the "pulp ghetto". In 1950, the movie Destination Moon—the documentary-like film for which he had written the story and scenario, co-written the script, and invented many of the effects—won an Academy Award for special effects. Also, he embarked on a series of juvenile novels for the Charles Scribner's Sons publishing company that went from 1947 through 1959, at the rate of one book each autumn, in time for Christmas presents to teenagers. He also wrote for Boys' Life in 1952.

Heinlein had used topical materials throughout his juvenile series beginning in 1947, but in 1958 he interrupted work on The Heretic (the working title of Stranger in a Strange Land) to write and publish a book exploring ideas of civic virtue, initially serialized as Starship Soldiers. In 1959, his novel (now entitled Starship Troopers) was considered by the editors and owners of Scribner's to be too controversial and was rejected. Heinlein found another publisher (Putnam), feeling himself released from the constraints of writing novels for children. He had told an interviewer that he did not want to do stories that merely added to categories defined by other works. Rather he wanted to do his own work, stating that: "I want to do my own stuff, my own way". He would go on to write a series of challenging books that redrew the boundaries of science fiction, including Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966).

Later life and death

Beginning in 1970, Heinlein had a series of health crises, broken by strenuous periods of activity in his hobby of stonemasonry: in a private correspondence, he referred to that as his "usual and favorite occupation between books". The decade began with a life-threatening attack of peritonitis, recovery from which required more than two years, and treatment of which required multiple transfusions of Heinlein's rare blood type, A2 negative. As soon as he was well enough to write again, he began work on Time Enough for Love (1973), which introduced many of the themes found in his later fiction.

In the mid-1970s, Heinlein wrote two articles for the Britannica Compton Yearbook. He and Ginny crisscrossed the country helping to reorganize blood donation in the United States in an effort to assist the system which had saved his life. At science fiction conventions to receive his autograph, fans would be asked to co-sign with Heinlein a beautifully embellished pledge form he supplied stating that the recipient agrees that they will donate blood. He was the guest of honor at the Worldcon in 1976 for the third time at MidAmeriCon in Kansas City, Missouri. At that Worldcon, Heinlein hosted a blood drive and donors' reception to thank all those who had helped save lives.

Beginning in 1977, and including an episode while vacationing in Tahiti in early 1978, he had episodes of reversible neurologic dysfunction due to transient ischemic attacks. Over the next few months, he became more and more exhausted, and his health again began to decline. The problem was determined to be a blocked carotid artery, and he had one of the earliest known carotid bypass operations to correct it. Heinlein and Virginia had been smokers, and smoking appears often in his fiction, as do fictitious strikable self-lighting cigarettes.

In 1980, Robert Heinlein was a member of the Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy, chaired by Jerry Pournelle, which met at the home of SF writer Larry Niven to write space policy papers for the incoming Reagan administration. Members included such aerospace industry leaders as former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, General Daniel O. Graham, aerospace engineer Max Hunter and North American Rockwell VP for Space Shuttle development George Merrick. Policy recommendations from the Council included ballistic missile defense concepts which were later transformed into what was called the Strategic Defense Initiative. Heinlein assisted with Council contribution to the Reagan SDI spring 1983 speech.

Asked to appear before a Joint Committee of the United States Congress that year, he testified on his belief that spin-offs from space technology were benefiting the infirm and the elderly. Heinlein's surgical treatment re-energized him, and he wrote five novels from 1980 until he died in his sleep from emphysema and heart failure on May 8, 1988.

At that time, he had been putting together the early notes for another World as Myth novel. Several of his other works have been published posthumously. Based on an outline and notes created by Heinlein in 1955, Spider Robinson wrote the novel Variable Star. Heinlein's posthumously published nonfiction includes a selection of correspondence and notes edited into a somewhat autobiographical examination of his career, published in 1989 under the title Grumbles from the Grave by his wife, Virginia; his book on practical politics written in 1946 published as Take Back Your Government; and a travelogue of their first around-the-world tour in 1954, Tramp Royale. The novels Podkayne of Mars and Red Planet, which were edited against his wishes in their original release, have been reissued in restored editions. Stranger In a Strange Land was originally published in a shorter form, but both the long and short versions are now simultaneously available in print.

Heinlein's archive is housed by the Special Collections department of McHenry Library at the University of California at Santa Cruz. The collection includes manuscript drafts, correspondence, photographs and artifacts. A substantial portion of the archive has been digitized and it is available online through the Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Archives.

Written works

Heinlein published 32 novels, 59 short stories, and 16 collections during his life. Nine films, two television series, several episodes of a radio series, and a board game have been derived more or less directly from his work. He wrote a screenplay for one of the films. Heinlein edited an anthology of other writers' SF short stories.

Three nonfiction books and two poems have been published posthumously. For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs was published posthumously in 2003; Variable Star, written by Spider Robinson based on an extensive outline by Heinlein, was published in September 2006. Four collections have been published posthumously.


Over the course of his career, Heinlein wrote three somewhat overlapping series:

Early work, 1939–1958

Heinlein began his career as a writer of stories for Astounding Science Fiction magazine, which was edited by John Campbell. The science fiction writer Frederik Pohl has described Heinlein as "that greatest of Campbell-era sf writers". Isaac Asimov said that, from the time of his first story, the science fiction world accepted that Heinlein was the best science fiction writer in existence, adding that he would hold this title through his lifetime.

Alexei and Cory Panshin noted that Heinlein's impact was immediately felt. In 1940, the year after selling 'Life-Line' to Campbell, he wrote three short novels, four novelettes, and seven short stories. They went on to say that "No one ever dominated the science fiction field as Bob did in the first few years of his career." Alexei expresses awe in Heinlein's ability to show readers a world so drastically different from the one we live in now, yet have so many similarities. He says that "We find ourselves not only in a world other than our own, but identifying with a living, breathing individual who is operating within its context, and thinking and acting according to its terms."

Two complete science adventure books 1952win n7
Heinlein's 1942 novel Beyond This Horizon was reprinted in Two Complete Science-Adventure Books in 1952, appearing under the "Anson McDonald" byline even though the book edition had been published under Heinlein's own name four years earlier.
Galaxy 195109
The opening installment of The Puppet Masters took the cover of the September 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction.

The first novel that Heinlein wrote, For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs (1939), did not see print during his lifetime, but Robert James tracked down the manuscript and it was published in 2003. Though some regard it as a failure as a novel, considering it little more than a disguised lecture on Heinlein's social theories, some readers took a very different view.

For Us, the Living was intriguing as a window into the development of Heinlein's radical ideas about man as a social animal. The root of many themes found in his later stories can be found in this book. It also contained a large amount of material that could be considered background for his other novels. This included a detailed description of the protagonist's treatment to avoid being banished to Coventry (a lawless land in the Heinlein mythos where unrepentant law-breakers are exiled).

Robert Heinlein Amazing 5304
Heinlein as depicted in Amazing Stories in 1953

It appears that Heinlein at least attempted to live in a manner consistent with these ideals, even in the 1930s, and had an open relationship in his marriage to his second wife, Leslyn. At the height of the Cold War, he built a bomb shelter under his house, like the one featured in Farnham's Freehold.

After For Us, the Living, Heinlein began selling (to magazines) first short stories, then novels, set in a Future History, complete with a time line of significant political, cultural, and technological changes. A chart of the future history was published in the May 1941 issue of Astounding. Over time, Heinlein wrote many novels and short stories that deviated freely from the Future History on some points, while maintaining consistency in some other areas. The Future History was eventually overtaken by actual events. These discrepancies were explained, after a fashion, in his later World as Myth stories.

Heinlein's first novel published as a book, Rocket Ship Galileo, was initially rejected because going to the moon was considered too far-fetched, but he soon found a publisher, Scribner's, that began publishing a Heinlein juvenile once a year for the Christmas season. Eight of these books were illustrated by Clifford Geary in a distinctive white-on-black scratchboard style. Some representative novels of this type are Have Space Suit—Will Travel, Farmer in the Sky, and Starman Jones. Many of these were first published in serial form under other titles, e.g., Farmer in the Sky was published as Satellite Scout in the Boy Scout magazine Boys' Life. There has been speculation that Heinlein's intense obsession with his privacy was due at least in part to the apparent contradiction between his unconventional private life and his career as an author of books for children. However, For Us, the Living explicitly discusses the political importance Heinlein attached to privacy as a matter of principle.

In 1957, James Blish wrote that one reason for Heinlein's success "has been the high grade of machinery which goes, today as always, into his story-telling. Heinlein seems to have known from the beginning, as if instinctively, technical lessons about fiction which other writers must learn the hard way (or often enough, never learn). He does not always operate the machinery to the best advantage, but he always seems to be aware of it."


Heinlein decisively ended his juvenile novels with Starship Troopers (1959). "Starship Troopers is a coming-of-age story about duty, citizenship, and the role of the military in society. The book portrays a society in which suffrage is earned by demonstrated willingness to place society's interests before one's own, at least for a short time and often under onerous circumstances, in government service; in the case of the protagonist, this was military service.

Later, in Expanded Universe, Heinlein said that it was his intention in the novel that service could include positions outside strictly military functions such as teachers, police officers, and other government positions. This is presented in the novel as an outgrowth of the failure of unearned suffrage government and as a very successful arrangement. In addition, the franchise was only awarded after leaving the assigned service; thus those serving their terms—in the military, or any other service—were excluded from exercising any franchise. Career military were completely disenfranchised until retirement.

The name Starship Troopers was licensed for an unrelated B movie script called Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine, which was then retitled to benefit from the book's credibility. The resulting film, entitled Starship Troopers (1997), which was written by Ed Neumeier and directed by Paul Verhoeven, had little relationship to the book beyond the inclusion of character names, the depiction of space marines, and the concept of suffrage earned by military service. Fans of Heinlein were critical of the movie, which they considered a betrayal of Heinlein's philosophy, presenting the society in which the story takes place as fascist. Likewise, the powered armor technology that is not only central to the book but became a standard subgenre of science fiction thereafter, is completely absent in the movie, where the characters use World War II-technology weapons and wear light combat gear little more advanced than that. Verhoeven commented that he had tried to read the book after he had bought the rights to it, in order to add it to his existing movie. However he read only the first two chapters, finding it too boring to continue. He thought it was a bad book and asked Ed Neumeier to tell him the story because he could not read it.

Middle period work, 1961–1973

If 196211
Heinlein's novel Podkayne of Mars was serialized in If, with a cover by Virgil Finlay.

From about 1961 (Stranger in a Strange Land) to 1973 (Time Enough for Love), Heinlein explored some of his most important themes, such as individualism, libertarianism, and free expression of physical and emotional love. Three novels from this period, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and Time Enough for Love, won the Libertarian Futurist Society's Prometheus Hall of Fame Award, designed to honor classic libertarian fiction. Jeff Riggenbach described The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress as "unquestionably one of the three or four most influential libertarian novels of the last century".

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress tells of a war of independence waged by the Lunar penal colonies, with significant comments from a major character, Professor La Paz, regarding the threat posed by government to individual freedom.

Although Heinlein had previously written a few short stories in the fantasy genre, during this period he wrote his first fantasy novel, Glory Road. In Stranger in a Strange Land and I Will Fear No Evil, he began to mix hard science with fantasy, mysticism, and satire of organized religion. Critics William H. Patterson, Jr., and Andrew Thornton believe that this is simply an expression of Heinlein's longstanding philosophical opposition to positivism. Heinlein stated that he was influenced by James Branch Cabell in taking this new literary direction. The penultimate novel of this period, I Will Fear No Evil, is according to critic James Gifford "almost universally regarded as a literary failure" and he attributes its shortcomings to Heinlein's near-death from peritonitis.

Later work, 1980–1987

After a seven-year hiatus brought on by poor health, Heinlein produced five new novels in the period from 1980 (The Number of the Beast) to 1987 (To Sail Beyond the Sunset). These books have a thread of common characters and time and place. Most of the novels from this period are recognized by critics as forming an offshoot from the Future History series and are referred to by the term World as Myth.

The tendency toward authorial self-reference begun in Stranger in a Strange Land and Time Enough for Love becomes even more evident in novels such as The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, whose first-person protagonist is a disabled military veteran who becomes a writer, and finds love with a female character.

The 1982 novel Friday, a more conventional adventure story (borrowing a character and backstory from the earlier short story Gulf, also containing suggestions of connection to The Puppet Masters) continued a Heinlein theme of expecting what he saw as the continued disintegration of Earth's society, to the point where the title character is strongly encouraged to seek a new life off-planet. It concludes with a traditional Heinlein note, as in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress or Time Enough for Love, that freedom is to be found on the frontiers.

The 1984 novel Job: A Comedy of Justice is a sharp satire of organized religion. Heinlein himself was agnostic.

Posthumous publications

Several Heinlein works have been published since his death, including the aforementioned For Us, the Living as well as 1989's Grumbles from the Grave, a collection of letters between Heinlein and his editors and agent; 1992's Tramp Royale, a travelogue of a southern hemisphere tour the Heinleins took in the 1950s; Take Back Your Government, a how-to book about participatory democracy written in 1946 and reflecting his experience as an organizer with the EPIC campaign of 1934 and the movement's aftermath as an important factor in California politics before the Second World War; and a tribute volume called Requiem: Collected Works and Tributes to the Grand Master, containing some additional short works previously unpublished in book form. Off the Main Sequence, published in 2005, includes three short stories never before collected in any Heinlein book (Heinlein called them "stinkeroos").

Spider Robinson, a colleague, friend, and admirer of Heinlein, wrote Variable Star, based on an outline and notes for a novel that Heinlein prepared in 1955. The novel was published as a collaboration, with Heinlein's name above Robinson's on the cover, in 2006.

A complete collection of Heinlein's published work has been published by the Heinlein Prize Trust as the "Virginia Edition", after his wife. See the Complete Works section of Robert A. Heinlein bibliography for details.

On February 1, 2019, Phoenix Pick announced that through a collaboration with the Heinlein Prize Trust, a reconstruction of the full text of an unpublished Heinlein novel had been produced. It was published in March 2020. The reconstructed novel, entitled The Pursuit of the Pankera: A Parallel Novel about Parallel Universes, is an alternative version of The Number of the Beast, with the first one-third of The Pursuit of the Pankera mostly the same as the first one-third of The Number of the Beast but the remainder of The Pursuit of the Pankera deviating entirely from The Number of the Beast, with a completely different story-line. The newly reconstructed novel pays homage to Edgar Rice Burroughs and E. E. “Doc” Smith. It was edited by Patrick Lobrutto. Some reviewers describe the newly reconstructed novel as more in line with the style of a traditional Heinlein novel than was The Number of the Beast. The Pursuit of the Pankera was considered superior to the original version of The Number of the Beast by some reviewers. Both The Pursuit of the Pankera and a new edition of The Number of the Beast were published in March 2020. The new edition of the latter shares the subtitle of The Pursuit of the Pankera, hence entitled The Number of the Beast: A Parallel Novel about Parallel Universes.


Heinlein contributed to the final draft of the script for Destination Moon (1950) and served as a technical adviser for the film. Heinlein also shared screenwriting credit for Project Moonbase (1953).


The primary influence on Heinlein's writing style may have been Rudyard Kipling. Kipling is the first known modern example of "indirect exposition", a writing technique for which Heinlein later became famous. In his famous text on "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction", Heinlein quotes Kipling:

There are nine-and-sixty ways
Of constructing tribal lays
And every single one of them is right

Stranger in a Strange Land originated as a modernized version of Kipling's The Jungle Book. His wife suggested that the child be raised by Martians instead of wolves. Likewise, Citizen of the Galaxy can be seen as a reboot of Kipling's novel Kim.

Poul Anderson once said of Kipling's science fiction story "As Easy as A.B.C.", "a wonderful science fiction yarn, showing the same eye for detail that would later distinguish the work of Robert Heinlein".

Heinlein described himself as also being influenced by George Bernard Shaw, having read most of his plays. Shaw is an example of an earlier author who used the competent man, a favorite Heinlein archetype. He denied, though, any direct influence of Back to Methuselah on Methuselah's Children.

Influence and legacy


Heinlein is usually identified, along with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, as one of the three masters of science fiction to arise in the so-called Golden Age of science fiction, associated with John W. Campbell and his magazine Astounding. In the 1950s he was a leader in bringing science fiction out of the low-paying and less prestigious "pulp ghetto". Most of his works, including short stories, have been continuously in print in many languages since their initial appearance and are still available as new paperbacks decades after his death.

Heinlein crater on Mars

He was at the top of his form during, and himself helped to initiate, the trend toward social science fiction, which went along with a general maturing of the genre away from space opera to a more literary approach touching on adult issues. In reaction to this trend, hard science fiction began to be distinguished as a separate subgenre, but paradoxically Heinlein is also considered a seminal figure in hard science fiction, due to his extensive knowledge of engineering and the careful scientific research demonstrated in his stories. Heinlein himself stated—with obvious pride—that in the days before pocket calculators, he and his wife Virginia once worked for several days on a mathematical equation describing an Earth–Mars rocket orbit, which was then subsumed in a single sentence of the novel Space Cadet.

Writing style

Heinlein is often credited with bringing serious writing techniques to the genre of science fiction. For example, when writing about fictional worlds, previous authors were often limited by the reader's existing knowledge of a typical "space opera" setting, leading to a relatively low creativity level: The same starships, death rays, and horrifying rubbery aliens becoming ubiquitous. This was necessary unless the author was willing to go into long expositions about the setting of the story, at a time when the word count was at a premium in SF.

But Heinlein utilized a technique called "indirect exposition", perhaps first introduced by Rudyard Kipling in his own science fiction venture, the Aerial Board of Control stories. Kipling had picked this up during his time in India, using it to avoid bogging down his stories set in India with explanations for his English readers. This technique—mentioning details in a way that lets the reader infer more about the universe than is actually spelled out became a trademark rhetorical technique of both Heinlein and generation of writers influenced by him. Heinlein was significantly influenced by Kipling beyond this, for example quoting him in "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction".

Likewise, Heinlein's name is often associated with the competent hero, a character archetype who, though he or she may have flaws and limitations, is a strong, accomplished person able to overcome any soluble problem set in their path. They tend to feel confident overall, have a broad life experience and set of skills, and not give up when the going gets tough. This style influenced not only the writing style of a generation of authors, but even their personal character. Harlan Ellison once said, "Very early in life when I read Robert Heinlein I got the thread that runs through his stories—the notion of the competent man ... I've always held that as my ideal. I've tried to be a very competent man."

Rules of writing

When fellow writers, or fans, wrote Heinlein asking for writing advice, he famously gave out his own list of rules for becoming a successful writer:

  1. You must write.
  2. Finish what you start.
  3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
  4. You must put your story on the market.
  5. You must keep it on the market until it has sold.

Heinlein later published an entire article, "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction", which included his rules, and from which the above quote is taken. When he says "anything said above them", he refers to his other guidelines. For example, he describes most stories as fitting into one of a handful of basic categories:

  • The gadget story
  • The human interest story
  • Boy meets girl
  • The Little Tailor
  • The man-who-learned-better

In the article, Heinlein proposes that most stories fit into the either the gadget story or the human interest story, which is itself subdivided into the three latter categories. He also credits L. Ron Hubbard as having identified "The Man-Who-Learned-Better".

Influence among writers

Heinlein has had a pervasive influence on other science fiction writers. In a 1953 poll of leading science fiction authors, he was cited more frequently as an influence than any other modern writer.

Heinlein gave Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle extensive advice on a draft manuscript of The Mote in God's Eye. He contributed a cover blurb "Possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read." Writer David Gerrold, responsible for creating the tribbles in Star Trek, also credited Heinlein as the inspiration for his Dingilliad series of novels. Gregory Benford refers to his novel Jupiter Project as a Heinlein tribute. Similarly, Charles Stross says his Hugo Award-nominated novel Saturn's Children is "a space opera and late-period Robert A. Heinlein tribute", referring to Heinlein's Friday. The theme and plot of Kameron Hurley's novel, The Light Brigade clearly echo those of Heinlein's Starship Troopers.

Words and phrases coined

Even outside the science fiction community, several words and phrases coined or adopted by Heinlein have passed into common English usage:

  • Waldo, protagonist in the eponymous short story "Waldo", whose name came to mean mechanical or robot arms in the real world that are akin to the ones used by the character in the story.
  • Moonbat used in United States politics as a pejorative political epithet referring to progressives or leftists, was originally the name of a space ship in his story "Space Jockey".
  • Grok, a "Martian" word for understanding a thing so fully as to become one with it, from Stranger in a Strange Land, whose root meaning in Martian is "to drink".
  • Space marine, an existing term popularized by Heinlein in short stories, the concept then being made famous by Starship Troopers, though the term "space marine" is not used in that novel.
  • Speculative fiction, a term Heinlein used for the separation of serious, consistent science fiction writing, from the pop "sci fi" of the day.

Inspiring culture and technology

In 1962, Oberon Zell-Ravenheart (then still using his birth name, Tim Zell) founded the Church of All Worlds, a Neopagan religious organization modeled in many ways (including its name) after the treatment of religion in the novel Stranger in a Strange Land. This spiritual path included several ideas from the book, including non-mainstream family structures, social libertarianism, water-sharing rituals, an acceptance of all religious paths by a single tradition, and the use of several terms such as "grok", "Thou art God", and "Never Thirst". Though Heinlein was neither a member nor a promoter of the Church, there was a frequent exchange of correspondence between Zell and Heinlein, and he was a paid subscriber to their magazine, Green Egg. This Church still exists as a 501(C)(3) religious organization incorporated in California, with membership worldwide, and it remains an active part of the neopagan community today. Zell-Ravenheart's wife, Morning Glory coined the term polyamory in 1990, another movement that includes Heinlein concepts among its roots.

Heinlein was influential in making space exploration seem to the public more like a practical possibility. His stories in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post took a matter-of-fact approach to their outer-space setting, rather than the "gee whiz" tone that had previously been common. The documentary-like film Destination Moon advocated a Space Race with an unspecified foreign power almost a decade before such an idea became commonplace, and was promoted by an unprecedented publicity campaign in print publications. Many of the astronauts and others working in the U.S. space program grew up on a diet of the Heinlein juveniles, best evidenced by the naming of a crater on Mars after him, and a tribute interspersed by the Apollo 15 astronauts into their radio conversations while on the moon.

Heinlein was also a guest commentator (along with fellow SF author Arthur C. Clarke) for Walter Cronkite's coverage of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. He remarked to Cronkite during the landing that, "This is the greatest event in human history, up to this time. This is—today is New Year's Day of the Year One."

Heinlein has inspired many transformational figures in business and technology including Lee Felsenstein, the designer of the first mass-produced portable computer, Marc Andreessen, co-author of the first widely-used web browser, and Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and founder of SpaceX.

Heinlein Society

The Heinlein Society was founded by Virginia Heinlein on behalf of her husband, to "pay forward" the legacy of the writer to future generations of "Heinlein's Children". The foundation has programs to:

  • "Promote Heinlein blood drives."
  • "Provide educational materials to educators."
  • "Promote scholarly research and overall discussion of the works and ideas of Robert Anson Heinlein."

The Heinlein society also established the Robert A. Heinlein Award in 2003 "for outstanding published works in science fiction and technical writings to inspire the human exploration of space".


Orbital path of Robert Heinlein's eponymous asteroid

In his lifetime, Heinlein received four Hugo Awards, for Double Star, Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and was nominated for four Nebula Awards, for The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Friday, Time Enough for Love, and Job: A Comedy of Justice. He was also given seven Retro-Hugos: two for best novel: Beyond This Horizon and Farmer in the Sky; three for best novella: If This Goes On..., Waldo, and The Man Who Sold the Moon; one for best novelette: "The Roads Must Roll"; and one for best dramatic presentation: "Destination Moon".

Heinlein was also nominated for six Hugo Awards for the works Have Space Suit: Will Travel, Glory Road, Time Enough for Love, Friday, Job: A Comedy of Justice and Grumbles from the Grave, as well as six Retro Hugo Awards for Magic, Inc., "Requiem", "Coventry", "Blowups Happen", "Goldfish Bowl", and "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag".

The Science Fiction Writers of America named Heinlein its first Grand Master in 1974, presented 1975. Officers and past presidents of the Association select a living writer for lifetime achievement (now annually and including fantasy literature). In 1977, he was awarded the Inkpot Award.

Main-belt asteroid 6312 Robheinlein (1990 RH4), discovered on September 14, 1990, by H. E. Holt at Palomar, was named after him.

There is no lunar feature named explicitly for Heinlein, but in 1994 the International Astronomical Union named Heinlein crater on Mars in his honor.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inducted Heinlein in 1998, its third class of two deceased and two living writers and editors.

In 2001 the United States Naval Academy created the Robert A. Heinlein Chair in Aerospace Engineering.

Heinlein was the Ghost of Honor at the 2008 World Science Fiction Convention in Denver, Colorado, which held several panels on his works; nearly seventy years earlier, he had been a Guest of Honor at the same convention.

In 2016, after an intensive online campaign to win a vote for the opening, Heinlein was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians. His bronze bust, created by Kansas City sculptor E. Spencer Schubert, is on permanent display in the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.

The Libertarian Futurist Society has honored eight of Heinlein's novels and two short stories with their Hall of Fame award. The first two were given during his lifetime for The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land. Five more were awarded posthumously for Red Planet, Methuselah's Children, Time Enough for Love, and the short stories "Requiem" and "Coventry".

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Robert A. Heinlein para niños

  • Robert A. Heinlein bibliography
  • Heinlein Society
    • Robert A. Heinlein Award
    • Heinlein Prize for Advances in Space Commercialization
  • Heinlein Centennial Convention
  • List of Robert A. Heinlein characters
  • "The Return of William Proxmire"
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