The Robert A. Heinlein
Frequently Asked Questions List
(FAQ)


Version 3.21 - Last Updated: 29 March 2005
Author: James Gifford
www.nitrosyncretic.com/rah/


I believe this to be the most complete general reference to Heinlein and his work you'll find on the web. This FAQ is intended to answer most of the common questions asked about Heinlein and his works.

A FAQ is inherently a repository of short, discrete questions and answers and not a smoothly comprehensive document. The other items in the Archives provide broader context in the form of biographies, complete bibliographies, and the like. This document is intended to supplement those foundation elements and provide a place for all the odd little questions that are commonly asked and which don't fit into a continuous account.

I have elected to keep this document in one file. While a multi-file format has its advantages, it also makes duplication and printing much more difficult. The primary disadvantage - slow loading time - is not really a problem compared to the disadvantages of having to maintain a large number of files and their related links.

With this revision (3.0) I have elected to go to a more traditional legal-numbering format. It is more difficult to maintain, but should be easier to use as a lookup document.

This file may be copied and mirrored to any web site as long as it remains unmodified. (You may add your own bracketing information if you like, but please don't modify the core document.) I would strongly prefer that you include a link to this page instead, so that updates and corrections will be instantaneous. There are several very outdated copies of the FAQ out there and I'd like to limit the degree of misinformation.

The Motto Every FAQ Should Have

"What are the facts? Again and again and again - what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what 'the stars foretell,' avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable 'verdict of history' - what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your only clue. Get the facts!"

- Lazarus Long
The Notebooks of Lazarus Long


FAQ Directory


1 - Robert A. Heinlein

1.1 - Biographical Details: Robert A. Heinlein

There are a number of short biographies of Robert Heinlein in print and on the web, including the one on this site. There are also full-length biographies being written. It is quite possible to write millions of words on Heinlein's life, but there is a place for a very short summary of his life details, and this would be the place:

  • Born: 7 July 1907, Butler, Missouri, in the home of his physician maternal grandfather Alva E. Lyle. Third of seven children (three brothers, three sisters).
  • Lived: Butler, Missouri until about 7; Kansas City, Missouri until about 18; Annapolis, Maryland 1925-1929; New York City (ca. 1930, briefly); Los Angeles, California 1935-1942 & 1945-1949; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1942-1945, Colorado Springs, Colorado 1950-1966; Santa Cruz (Bonny Doon), California 1966-1986; Carmel, California 1986-1988.
  • Education: Central High School, Kansas City, 1920-1925; Junior College, Kansas City, 1925; United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, 1925-1929 (Naval commission but no degree awarded, as was then the practice); UCLA, Los Angeles, California, ca. 1935 (withdrew).
  • Military Service: United States Navy, Annapolis cadet 1925-1929, service 1929-1934. Invalided out (with rank of Lieutenant j.g.) as permanently disabled due to tuberculosis.
  • First Marriage: ca. 1930, details unknown but lasted less than a year, ending in divorce.
  • Second Marriage: Leslyn MacDonald, 1932. Divorced 1947.
  • Third Marriage: Virginia Doris Gerstenfeld, 1948. Lasted until his death in 1988.
  • Died: 8 May 1988, Carmel, California, of emphysema and congestive heart failure.
  • Burial Place: Ashes scattered into the Pacific Ocean near Santa Cruz.
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1.2 - How do you pronounce "Heinlein"?

The correct pronunciation is "hine-line," with more or less equal emphasis on both syllables, although it is often slurred a bit to "hine'-line" or "hine'-len."

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1.3 - Was Heinlein a Mason?

According to Virginia Heinlein, no. He was interested as a young man, but could not afford to become a member. By the time he could afford it, he "had moved on to other things."

He had Masonic friends from his Navy days onward, from whom he probably picked up the basic "secrets" and language that appear in many early short stories. However, he was never a member of the order, nor of any other fraternal group.

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1.4 - Was Heinlein a Mormon?

No. While Mormons and Mormonism make a number of appearances in Heinlein's work (and are nearly always referred to in very favorable terms), Heinlein was not a member of the LDS church.

He was raised a strict Methodist, but by all accounts abandoned formal religion in his early teens. His exact beliefs are not clearly known, but some facets can be inferred from comments in interviews and other direct sources.

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1.5 - Heinlein's Illnesses

It is commonly known that Heinlein was seriously ill several times in his life. Were it not for these illnesses, Heinlein might never have become a science fiction writer.

He spent the largest part of his Navy career on the first purpose-built US aircraft carrier, the USS Lexington. Against his and his commanding officer's wishes, he was transferred to the destroyer USS Roper. The continual roll of the smaller ship caused Heinlein to be seasick a large part of the time, and eventually he weakened and contracted tuberculosis. He was invalided out as 'permanently disabled' in 1934. The need to support his wife and pay off a heavy mortgage led directly to the start of his writing career in 1939.

Thus, one serious illness resulted in the founding of his career. Later illnesses changed its direction more than once.

In 1970, he was stricken with a serious case of peritonitis that very nearly ended his life. He was unable to write for almost two full years following. At the time he was hospitalized, he had just completed the first draft of I Will Fear No Evil. With Heinlein gravely ill and unable to make business decisions, his wife and agent elected to publish the book in its unedited form. The result is a rather rambling and murky story line that almost certainly would have been shortened and tightened up considerably had Heinlein been able to edit the draft before publication.

In the mid-1970's, Heinlein was suffering from a serious blockage of the carotid artery that reduced blood flow to his brain. In his own words, he "slept 16 hours a day and wasn't worth a hoot the other eight." During this period, he wrote one novel that, on the advice of his wife, was never published.

In 1977, he had a stroke precursor (a transient ischemic attack - not a stroke as is sometimes stated) that resulted in surgery to correct the carotid blockage. When he recovered, he was in better mental shape than he had been for several years. He retained his normal mental acuity until his death in 1988 from emphysema and related disabilities.

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1.6 - Did Heinlein have any children?

No. Heinlein fathered no children during his lifetime, and none of his three wives ever had children (by him or anyone else). Nor did Heinlein ever adopt any children.

The evidence is that Heinlein was infertile or perhaps subfertile, perhaps due to poor childhood nutrition. Even in an era more given to having children and with an ingrained family history of wanting and rearing children, only one of his three brothers fathered children. Although the others adopted, this indicates that there may have been a genetic or developmental problem common to Heinlein's siblings.

(There have been various people claiming to be Robert Heinlein's children over the years. They are all poseurs whose claimed dates fail to match realistic possibilities and who are suspiciously ignorant of basic names, dates, and places.)

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2 - Virginia Heinlein

2.1 - Biographical Details: Virginia Heinlein

The details of Virginia Heinlein's life have not previously been widely known. I am indebted to Bill Patterson's lengthy biographical sketch, which appeared in Issue 13 of The Heinlein Journal, for this information:

  • Born: 22 April 1916, Brooklyn, New York. One younger brother.
  • Lived: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1942-1945, Los Angeles, California 1945-1949; Colorado Springs, Colorado 1950-1966; Santa Cruz (Bonny Doon), California 1966-1986; Carmel, California 1986-1989; Jacksonville, Florida 1989-2003.
  • Education: B.S., Chemistry & Psychology, NYU, 1937.
  • Military Service: United States Navy, WAVES, 1943-1946; Naval Reserves, 1946-1955.
  • Marriage: Robert Anson Heinlein, 1948. Lasted until his death in 1988.
  • Died: 18 January 2003, Jacksonville, Florida, while hospitalized for a broken hip.
  • Burial Place: Ashes scattered into the Pacific Ocean near San Diego.
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2.2 - Why is Virginia Heinlein Important?

Readers who have not read the autobiographical material in Expanded Universe and Grumbles from the Grave can be excused for wondering why Virginia Heinlein is of any interest and importance to fans of Robert Heinlein's work.

Even that somewhat sketchy material does not fully convey what recent biographical research has shown: That Mrs. Heinlein, while not participating in the actual writing of any of Robert Heinlein's works, was essential to their creation and development. From the time of their marriage in 1948, Virginia Heinlein acted as her husband's business manager, secretary, story idea collaborator, and "first reader." More than any person besides Robert Heinlein himself, she is responsible for his postwar and later work "being as it is" - and in some cases, being at all.

She was essential in providing readers with at least seven published novels, in that she kept Robert Heinlein alive and healthy for nearly two decades longer than he might have lived without her loving care and companionship. Heinlein fans owe "Ginny" a debt of thanks and respect nearly equal to that they owe her husband.

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2.3 - Who is "Ticky"?

Virginia Heinlein's father nicknamed her "Ticky" as a child, from the Kipling story "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi." It was Robert Heinlein's pet name for her, and appeared in Tramp Royale.

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3 - Robert Heinlein: Writer

3.1 - What are Heinlein's "Rules for Writing?"

These oft-quoted and -referenced rules appeared in the 1947 essay "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction." They are, for the most part, as germane today as they were then.

Heinlein's Rules for Writing
  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
  4. You must put the work on the market.
  5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

 

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3.2 - What pseudonyms did Heinlein use, and why?

Heinlein is known to have published fiction under the following names:

  • Robert A. Heinlein (Most work)
  • R.A. Heinlein (Two girls' stories in 1949-50)
  • Anson MacDonald (several pre-war stories)
  • Lyle Monroe (Several pre-war stories)
  • John Riverside (One pre-war fantasy novella)
  • Caleb Saunders (One pre-war sf-fantasy short story)
  • Simon York (One post-war detective story)

In addition, the pseudonym "Leslie Keith" is mentioned in correspondence, but was apparently never used on a published work.

"Anson MacDonald" was a pseudonym created by proud Scot John W. Campbell Jr., the editor of ASF who nurtured Heinlein's early career. (Campbell himself wrote much of his early fiction as "Don A. Stuart," and other works under "Arthur McCann.")

"Anson" came from Heinlein's middle name, while "Macdonald" was taken from his second wife's maiden name, Leslyn Macdonald. (Campbell later borrowed her first name for his daughter. The "Don A." in his own pseudonym came from his wife's first name, Doņa.)

"Macdonald" was generally used for Heinlein's first-rate stories that did not fit into the Future History. It also allowed Campbell to fit more than one Heinlein story into each issue of ASF while still presenting a diverse contents page. (It was not uncommon for issues of ASF in 1940-41 to feature stories by 'both' writers.)

Campbell's editorials and other magazine features referred to Macdonald and Heinlein as separate writers (as well as to "Stuart" and "McCann" as individual entities). However, he slipped by announcing one forthcoming story as by Heinlein and running it as an Anson Macdonald piece.

"Lyle Monroe" was a pseudonym created by Heinlein for his lesser-grade short stories, those rejected by Campbell and sold to second-rate pulps such as Astonishing Stories and Future. He originally kept the name a close secret, with a separate mailing address, to keep the Monroe stories from polluting his image. ("Lyle" is taken from his mother's maiden name, Bam Lyle. "Monroe" is another ancestral name, with direct connections to the US President of that name.)

"Caleb Saunders" was the only other pseudonym to appear in ASF, on the rather substandard short story "Elsewhen" (published as "Elsewhere.") "Caleb" is probably derived from his Annapolis classmate and lifelong friend Caleb Laning.

"John Riverside" was used for the fantasy/horror novella "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathon Hoag" in Unknown. Heinlein may have taken the last name from Riverside, California, or from the Hudson River in New York City, where he wrote the story.

"Simon York" is the only pseudonym to be used after World War II, for the pulp detective story "They Do It with Mirrors." This story was known by rumor among sf fans from the time it was published, and the pseudonym was exposed at about the same time, but this story lay undiscovered until Heinlein included it in Expanded Universe in 1980.

Note: The two girls' stories ("Cliff and the Calories" and "Poor Daddy") were long believed to have been written under a pseudonym. They were not, and it is amusing/amazing that no one discovered them prior to Heinlein's inclusion of the first in Expanded Universe.

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3.3 - Are there any distinct periods or eras in Heinlein's career?

Some claim to see distinct chronological periods in Heinlein's work. The notion that Heinlein has distinct eras in his writing probably originated with Alexei Panshin, who sharply delineated three periods: the pre-war work, the post-war work through about 1958, and the (then-)later work from Starship Troopers through The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

These divisions are arbitrary and superficial. It may possible to divide Heinlein's work into categories by era, but no two readers or scholars are likely to choose the same division points. Heinlein was a more complex writer than most casual critics give credit for. No matter where you place the markers, you will find anomalous works in other "eras."

The view held by most current Heinlein scholars is that any writer whose output spans five decades is likely to write differently as time passes (certain tightly-genred writers excepted). Heinlein grew more experimental as his success ensured sales, but traces and forerunners of even his most "extreme" works can be found throughout his career, even (and perhaps especially) in his earliest works. And, despite the much-discussed "differences" between Heinlein eras, the careful reader will note that his writing shows substantial consistency of thought and style throughout his career. In short, it was less Heinlein who changed than his markets and opportunities.

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3.4 - What awards did Heinlein win for his work?

Heinlein won four Hugo awards for best novel (an unmatched record), the first Grand Master Nebula ever awarded, the Sequoyah award for best novel for young people, and was nominated for a dozen more major awards.

All of his awards and nominations were for novels; his short-fiction days largely predated the major science fiction awards. However, some awards for past years are now being issued (the "Retro Hugos," for example) and Heinlein's list of awards has continued to grow.

The Hugo awards are nominated and voted for by fans, the members of each year's Worldcon. Heinlein's Hugo nominations and awards (and Nebula nominations) are as follows:

  • Double Star (Hugo award, 1956)
  • Have Space Suit - Will Travel (Hugo nominee, 1958)
  • Starship Troopers (Hugo award, 1959)
  • Stranger in a Strange Land (Hugo award, 1961)
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Hugo award, 1966)
  • Time Enough for Love (Hugo & Nebula nominee, 1973)
  • Friday (Hugo & Nebula nominee, 1982)
  • Job: A Comedy of Justice (Hugo & Nebula nominee, 1984)

Heinlein never won a Nebula award (voted by the members of the Science Fiction Writers of America) for any specific work. However, in 1976 he was awarded the first-ever Grand Master Nebula for Lifetime Achievement. Although some feel that too many GM Nebulas have now been handed out, there is no argument that Heinlein stood first in line to receive one.

Heinlein was also awarded the Sequoyah Award, voted by the children of Oklahoma, for Have Space Suit - Will Travel as the best young person's novel of 1958.

At Millennium Philcon in 2001, Heinlein was nominated for three "Retro-Hugos" for works in the year 1951. He won all three categories:

  • Best Novel: Farmer in the Sky
  • Best Novella: "The Man Who Sold the Moon"
  • Best Dramatic Presentation: "Destination Moon"

3.5 - Who owns and controls Robert Heinlein's work?

Before his death, Heinlein transferred most of his works to a trust managed by he and Virginia. Upon his death, she continued to manage the trust and control the works' rights.

With Mrs. Heinlein's death in January 2003, control of the trust was turned over to three respected confidants and agents of the Heinlein estate, all of whom have long association with the Heinlein legacy. The rights and income to many of the works were assigned to various charitable organizations and trusts. For example, sales of a selection of the juvenile novels benefit the Butler, Missouri library; other works and trust assets have gone to found the Heinlein Chair of Aerospace at Annapolis and the Heinlein Prize for commercial development of space.

Information about the rights to any Heinlein property can be obtained from the current agents, listed on the Links & Addresses page.

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4 - The Works of Robert Heinlein

4.1 - What is the Future History?

The Future History is a carefully-structured history of the human race from approximately World War II through the first explorers to the planets and beyond. It is mostly comprised of short stories and novellas written between 1939-1942 and 1946-1950, although one very minor addition was written in 1962, and the massive 1973 novel Time Enough for Love loosely caps off the History.

It is important to note that Heinlein, even early on, carefully called it "a history" and not "the history" of the future.

Although there are few characters that continue from story to story, the general background of events, inventions and technology is a consistent curve throughout the History. Several key stories remain unwritten, although Heinlein published brief descriptions of their plots in 1950.

The complete list of stories making up the Future History, in internal chronological order, is as follows:

  • "Life-Line"
  • "'Let There Be Light'"
  • "The Roads Must Roll"
  • "Blowups Happen"
  • "The Man Who Sold the Moon"
  • "Delilah and the Space-Rigger"
  • "Space Jockey"
  • "Requiem"
  • "The Long Watch"
  • "Gentlemen, Be Seated"
  • "The Black Pits of Luna"
  • "'It's Great to Be Back!'"
  • "'--We Also Walk Dogs'"
  • "Searchlight"
  • "Ordeal in Space"
  • "The Green Hills of Earth"
  • "Logic of Empire"
  • "The Menace from Earth"
  • "'If This Goes On--'"
  • "Coventry"
  • "Misfit"
  • "Methuselah's Children"
  • "Universe"
  • "Common Sense"
  • Time Enough for Love

The novels The Number of the Beast, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, and To Sail Beyond the Sunset continue in the same historical continuum, but even Time Enough for Love has only the loosest connections to the earlier History.

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4.2 - What is the World-as-Myth?

The World-as-Myth stories include most of Heinlein's later novels, from The Number of the Beast through To Sail Beyond the Sunset. A number of continuing characters, most notably Lazarus Long and his extended family, appear in all of them.

The "World as Myth" concept revolves around the idea that there are a nearly infinite number of universes, many shaped by "fabulists" or writers in other universes. In the course of the stories, characters visit universes "created" by L. Frank Baum (Oz), E.E. "Doc" Smith, and Lewis Carroll.

The complete list of stories is:

  • Time Enough for Love
  • The Number of the Beast
  • The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
  • To Sail Beyond the Sunset

Although the World-as-Myth works appeared at the end of Heinlein's career, the ideas and elements behind them can be traced as far back as his Naval Academy days.

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4.3 - What are the Lazarus Long stories?

Woodrow Wilson Smith, aka Lazarus Long, first appears in the novella "Methuselah's Children" (later enlarged slightly into a short novel). After a hiatus of some thirty years, Heinlein continued his life story in the massive novel Time Enough for Love. "Woody" and his ever-extending family and clan then appear in the subsequent novels.

The complete list of stories is:

  • Methuselah's Children
  • Time Enough for Love
  • The Number of the Beast
  • The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
  • To Sail Beyond the Sunset

In the first two sequel works, Lazarus's appearance is something of a surprise. Heinlein, in fact, asked reviewers of The Number of the Beast not to reveal Lazarus's appearance near the end of the book. The last novel is in many ways a retelling of Time Enough for Love from a different viewpoint.

It is interesting to note that when Lazarus is the protagonist and viewpoint character, he is a likeable, admirable figure... but when he appears in another viewpoint character's eyes, he comes across as a stubborn, selfish bastard.

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4.4 - Are there any unpublished works by Heinlein?

The short answer is "yes," but in meaningful terms, no - all of the Heinlein works worth publishing are in print, or have been.

With the publication of For Us, the Living in 2004, the last significant item of unpublished Heinlein reached print. Of the remaining unpublished works, most are short nonfiction works that would be of little interest to most readers.

Perhaps the most significant remaining unpublished item is the original version of The Number of the Beast, written in 1975. This was at the nadir of Heinlein's battle with the carotid blockage that was interfering with his mental acuity, so it is not surprising that Virginia Heinlein's recommendation was not to publish it. After Heinlein recovered from the corrective surgery described in "Spinoff," he mined the manuscript for the basic elements that went into the rewritten and subsequently published version of the novel. Comments by those who have reviewed the original manuscript indicate that it is largely the same story, but that most of the latter half takes place in John Carter's Barsoom and in Doc Smith's Lensman universe. It is unlikely that this manuscript will ever be published.

(Heinlein did leave behind notes for planned works ranging from a few jotted notes on a card to complete files of preparatory work. One of the most complete set of notes was released to Spider Robinson, who is developing it into a finished novel. It is unlikely that any more of these ideas will be farmed out to posthumous coauthors... and, to be honest, it would be my hope that they are not. Whatever the results are, they won't be Heinlein, and it's unfair to his memory, his legacy, and his fans to label it such.)

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4.5 - What is the difference between Heinlein's juvenile and adult works?

Very little. Most of the so-called juveniles are read with complete satisfaction by adults, and most of the adult works are accessible and enjoyable to teens and even pre-adolescents. The primary difference is that the twelve juvenile novels and handful of stories written for Boys' Life magazine have no explicit sexual references and somewhat simplified moral issues.

There is very little reason for drawing any distinction between the two categories, especially with respect to the novels.

In fact, Starship Troopers was written as a juvenile, rejected by Scribner's, and published by Putnam as an adult novel. Podkayne of Mars was written as an adult novel but is usually classified as a juvenile by the publisher because of its teenage female protagonist.

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4.6 - What are the "stinkeroos"?

The so-called "stinkeroos" (Heinlein's own term for them) are three short stories, all dating from the first phase of his writing career, prior to World War II. With one exception, they have never been reprinted since their original pulp appearances. Heinlein refused reprint requests and never included them in any of his own collections, and his literary executors continue this policy. It is unlikely that any of them will ever be reprinted.

The stinkeroos are:

  • "Beyond Doubt" (Astonishing Stories, Apr 1941)
  • "'My Object All Sublime'" (Future, Feb 1942)
  • "Pied Piper" (Astonishing, Mar 1942)

For a taste of the stinkers, read "Successful Operation." The postwar short "Our Fair City" is a better story, but retains much of the stinkeroos' tone and feel.

(And yes, the stinkeroos earned their epithet. They're pretty poor, strained work.)

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4.7 - What are the "uncut" versions of various Heinlein novels that have appeared in recent years?

Many of Heinlein's novels were cut significantly before their initial publication. Some (Red Planet, Podkayne of Mars) were cut because an editor objected to certain material or story elements. Stranger in a Strange Land was cut drastically, mostly at RAH's own discretion, to bring it down to what was regarded as a salable length. The Puppet Masters was hacked up by the original magazine editor, and then shortened for book appearance by Heinlein himself.

With his death, many publishing contracts and options were terminated, and Virginia Heinlein was free to renegotiate terms. In the case of each of the novels named above, she chose to have the original, uncut versions of the manuscripts published. In general, ny edition published before 1990 is the "original" book version; any version from 1990 on is the "uncut" or "restored" edition. Most of the latter carry a blurb on their covers trumpeting their complete nature.

(Virginia Heinlein's death changed things yet again, and some works that were blocked from publication - such as the newly issued For Us, the Living - have started to appear.)

Serious readers will want to read both versions of each of these works. Generally, readers seem to prefer the restored versions, but not always. Especially in the case of Stranger, opinion is divided as to which version is the "best."

The older, "cut" versions are all out of print but easy to find in used book stores. The exception is Stranger, which remains in print in both editions - a nearly unique situation in the literary world.

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4.8 - Is there any particular order in which I should read Heinlein's stories? Will reading them out of order spoil anything?

On the whole, you can read Heinlein's novels and short stories in any order you like. Heinlein wrote no sequels or multi-part novels in the usual sense, although many stories work together to build a consistent and progressive picture. (There are actually several sets of connected stories, the most famous and distinct of which is the Future History.)

New readers must understand that every Heinlein work has its fans and detractors, so any suggested reading list will generate mixed opinions. I have tried to keep my recommendations here neutral; follow or ignore them as you wish.

The following novels form a significantly continuous history, and should probably be read in order after reading Time Enough for Love:

  • The Number of the Beast
  • The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
  • To Sail Beyond the Sunset

The following novels should probably be put off until you have read at least a few other Heinlein books, because they are of relatively inferior quality or are not representative of Heinlein's work as a whole. Reading these books early on have soured some would-be Heinlein fans:

  • I Will Fear No Evil
  • Sixth Column
  • Beyond This Horizon

In addition, new Heinlein readers are warned that Stranger in a Strange Land can be an off-putting book. Many readers have discovered Heinlein and his work through this work, often because the book was on a required reading list, but quite a few end up being turned off and are reluctant to read any more Heinlein. You won't be hurt by reading a handful of the other novels first; you might be soured by reading Stranger too early. (Stranger is, for good or bad, unique in Heinlein's body of work. He wrote nothing else quite like it.)

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4.9 - Which of Heinlein's works should I read first?

There is no consensus on which novels and shorter works are the best for a new or novice reader. However, most serious Heinlein fans would find little to argue with in the following list of "recommended starters":

  • The Past Through Tomorrow (Future History short stories)
  • Citizen of the Galaxy
  • Have Space Suit--Will Travel
  • Double Star
  • The Door into Summer

Almost anyone who's going to like Heinlein as a whole will like most or all of these books.

A good set of "second round" starters might be the following. These books are hailed by many as some of Heinlein's best works, but each has a significant number of detractors as well. If you don't like one in this list, put it back on the shelf and try another. They're all very different, and just because one tastes bad to you does not mean the others will.

  • Starship Troopers
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
  • Friday
  • Glory Road
  • Stranger in a Strange Land
  • Time Enough for Love

After that, you're on your own. Read on knowing you are deeply envied by the legions for having mountains of fresh, undiscovered Heinlein to read.

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4.10 - What films have been made from Heinlein's works?

The number of films and television works made from Heinlein's stories is slowly growing. However, the quality seems to be devolving. The complete list is as follows:

  • "Destination Moon" (1950)
    This George Pal-produced classic, directed by Irving Pichel, was one of the very first realistic space movies, which is fitting, since Heinlein was the technical advisor and the great Chesley Bonestell was the scenic artist. Semi-documentary in style, it has a hokey moment or two but overall still stands as a landmark of science fiction filmmaking.
  • Unfortunately, it was not a financial success for the Heinleins, in part because typical Hollywood bookkeeping caused the film to be a net loser. It was also undercut by a quick-buck flick, Rocketship X-M, made hastily and released just in advance of the well-publicized "Destination Moon".
  • "Project Moonbase" (1953)
    This short (63-minute) movie has a peculiar history. In the early 1950's, Heinlein was working with producer Jack Seaman to create a new science fiction television show aimed at adults (the first-- all the others of the era were aimed at kids). The series was to be an anthology-style one like the later Twilight Zone and Outer Limits programs. Heinlein co-scripted some thirteen episodes, nine of which were based on some of his best-known short stories.

  • The script for the pilot, "Ring Around the Moon," was an original. After it had been filmed at its one hour broadcast length (47 minutes), Seamans decided to capitalize on the sudden boom in science fiction movies (started by, among others, "Destination Moon"). Without Heinlein's foreknowledge or approval, Seamans went back and filmed an additional 16 minutes, extending a thin TV-grade story into an even thinner movie. Released as "Project Moonbase," it did poorly and was disavowed by Heinlein.
  • "The Brain Eaters" (1956)
    This cheesy mid-50's schlock movie was a patent ripoff of Heinlein's The Puppet Masters until he took them to court. In an out of court settlement, Heinlein obtained financial compensation and the right to demand that certain material (the most identifiable RAH stuff) be cut from the movie. It is not clear if any of these cuts were ever made, but what's left has identifiable elements of Puppet Masters in it. The most interesting aspect of this film for some viewers may be the bit role of Leonard Nimoy.

  • "Starship Troopers" ("Uchu no senshi") (1989)
    This Japanimation/anime version of Heinlein's novel adheres only loosely to the book. (Comments and additional data are solicited from anyone who's actually seen this...)
  • "Robert A. Heinlein's Red Planet" (1994)
    This three-part Saturday-morning cartoon miniseries begins with a very loose adherence to the novel, then goes its own silly and pointless way with killer robots and ecological correctness. Not recommended. (The portrayal of Doctor MacRae is interesting in that it makes him resemble Lazarus Long more than any other Heinlein character.)
  • "Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters" (1994)
    The slightly clumsy title of this movie was necessitated by an existing movie series titled "The Puppet Master." This movie is a fairly high-budget adaptation that begins well. The initial dialogue and setup is recognizable from the novel and Donald Sutherland does a frighteningly good job as the Old Man. Even the changes seem acceptable as necessary techniques to translate the story from 1953 novel to 1994 movie. Then it all goes to hell about halfway through.
  • "Starship Troopers" (1997)
    Filmed by Tri-Star Pictures with a budget said to be in the neighborhood of $90 million, and directed by Paul Verhoeven. It manages to faintly resemble the action elements of the novel while missing almost the entire point. What elements of the political and social issues make it into the film are so distorted (a clearly fascist government, Sergeant Zim as a sadistic bully) as to make fans of the novel cry in their popcorn. A wretched mess, best summarized as "Bughunt 90210."

  • A sequel is in preparation for release this year (2004). Its budget is $6 million, a fraction of the first film's, and none of the major actors is reprising their role. This does not indicate that a jump in quality can be expected.
  • "Roughnecks: The Starship Trooper Chronicles" (2000)
    An interesting CGI-animation half-hour television series. Although based on the movie in many respects, the producers have clearly read the original and managed to filter in a surprising "Heinlein juvenile" feel. Despite the kidvid limitations, the characters are well developed and the storyline sometimes surprising. Worth a look if it comes your way on cable. There's a semi-official (also apparently semi-abandoned, but who am I to talk) web site worth looking at as well.

And just to forestall the inquires, no, there are no plans for a Stranger in a Strange Land movie starring Tom Hanks and/or Sean Connery. Such a project has been discussed for almost two decades, but there is no evidence that it was ever any serious effort.

There have been more options and plans in the last few years - most notably, Steven Spielberg was said to have seriously considered a film version of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Right now, there are rumors that a version of Have Space Suit -- Will Travel is heading to the silver screen. Since the script has "Oscar" as an old Apollo space suit haunted by a space alien, I can hardly wait.

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4.11 - What are the "Notebooks of Lazarus Long"?

The "Notebooks" are a collection of maxims and sayings contained in their entirety in the two "Intermission" chapters of Time Enough for Love. They were also printed in their entirety in the June 1973 Analog, and in abbreviated form in the August 1979 Omni.

They were also reprinted as a separate book, titled The Notebooks of Lazarus Long, with many of the sayings represented as full-page illuminated panels by D.F. Vassallo. This book was long out of print until it was reprinted by an artbooks publisher in a nicer edition. This edition is now also out of print. Copies can be found on any of the used book search sites, such as ABEbooks and Bookfinder.

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4.12 - Why are there multiple versions of the short story "Let There Be Light"?

There are two basic versions of the short story "Let There Be Light" in print, as well as a third minor variant. The short story was published in Super Science Stories as originally written. This version, known as the "raunchy" or "dirty" version, is more adult in tone and fairly risque for the venue and era.

When this story was collected in The Man Who Sold the Moon, it was first included in original form. For reasons that have never been made completely clear, a second version of this collection was later published with the Foreword and two works omitted. "Let There Be Light" was included in the shorter edition, but in a cleaned-up version of uncertain origin. (The changes are numerous but slight, and along the lines of cutting "figure like a strip-dancer" to "figure like a dancer.")

The three versions can be identified by locating the reference to the celebrity to whom Dr. Martin is compared. The "raunchy" version compares her to Sally Rand, a noted fan-dancer with whom Heinlein shared a hometown and a slight acquaintance; the "clean" version compares her to Betty Grable... and a later updated of the "clean" version, with no other changes, compares her to Marilyn Monroe.

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4.13 - Why are there anomalies in the contents of The Past Through Tomorrow?

The collection The Past Through Tomorrow is supposed to be an omnibus edition of the prior Future History collections. However, it has two anomalies that are noticed by astute readers.

First, the short story "Let There Be Light" (see FAQ entry 4.12) is omitted from this omnibus, despite it being a crucial early work that establishes the development of the Douglas-Martin sunscreens used in several subsequent works. It was included in the first FH collection, The Man Who Sold the Moon, but omitted from the omnibus edition. The only explanation I have been able to turn up is that the editor of the volume disliked it. It is a relatively inferior-quality story, but it is at least as good as - and far more important to the History than - "Life-Line."

The other anomaly, which traces back to the second FH collection The Green Hills of Earth, is the short story "--We Also Walk Dogs." This work was not written as a Future History entry and was shoehorned for unknown reasons into GHOE. It is a poor fit with the FH at best.

The first story may have been omitted because of editorial dislike, perhaps coupled with Heinlein's dislike, or perhaps a disagreement about which version of the story to include - see FAQ item 4.12 for details. It may also have been a publishing issue; perhaps omitting one short work put the volume into fewer book signatures and reduced printing costs.

The inclusion of the second work may be for similar reasons: perhaps there was room for one more short work to make GHOE a more salable length or to fill out a printing signature. Or perhaps Heinlein decided to squeeze it in, having no other suitable collection in mind for it.

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5 - Miscellany

5.1 - What was the gadget that Heinlein supposedly invented during World War II?

No one knows. In the 1947 essay "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction," Heinlein mentions that he invented a fictional gadget for a story. Supposedly, a Navy colleague read the description and had a jury-rigged version of the gadget in service before the second half of the story was published, and it went into common use during WWII.

Despite much research, especially by Ed Wysocki, no one has been able to pin down the story, the gadget, or the truth. The closest guess is that Heinlein was referring to the dead-reckoning tracker described in "If This Goes On--" and was otherwise polishing up the story (thus obscuring its roots), as was his sometime practice.

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5.2 - What does "E.F. or F.F.?" mean?

This phrase appears several times in Time Enough for Love, most notably in the "Dora story." It means, simply, "Eat first, or f**k first?" and is believed to be old Navy slang (perhaps shorthand for "You wanna get some real food or some tail first?" on first hitting dirt for shore leave).

Dora's reply of "Both!" might confuse some readers, but is completely in character, if you think about it - and has a couple of alternate meanings, as well.

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5.3 - In Starship Troopers, what is Juan Rico's race?

At the end of the book, Rico makes reference to [Ramon] Magsaysay, a great Filipino hero, and mentions that his family's native tongue is Tagalog (the principal language of the Phillipines). Many Filipinos have Spanish names. Q.E.D. Rico is Filipino.

(While we're here, no, Rico does not die at the end of the book. The slightly ambiguous transition from "The Ballad of Rodger Young" being played to Rico's Roughnecks to the short biography of Rodger Young has led some readers to infer that Rico himself dies.)

5.4 - In I Will Fear No Evil, what is Joan Eunice Smith's (Eunice Evans Branca's) race?

One answer is that Joan Eunice's race is indeterminate, and deliberately so. There is no explicit evidence in the book that she is either black or white. It is believed that Heinlein deliberately made her race a cipher, and is known to have worked on the book with two photos of beautiful women in front of him - one blonde, one black.

However, Heinlein later made explicit references in correspondence to Joan Eunice as being black. The careful reader is invited to judge for him/herself.

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5.5 - Did Heinlein write "Specialization is for insects"? Where can I find it?

Yes, Heinlein wrote this long maxim as one of the sayings of Lazarus Long. It can be found in the "Intermissions" of Time Enough for Love, and in the separately published Notebooks of Lazarus Long.

Click Here for a lovely calligraphic rendition of the maxim. (Opens in a separate browser window.)

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- Copyright 1995-2004 by James Gifford. All Rights Reserved.

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