Robert A. Heinlein was born 110 years ago

Robert Heinlein in 1976
Robert Heinlein in 1976

Robert Anson Heinlein (photo ©Dd-b) was born on July 7, 1907 in Butler, Missouri.

After graduating from high school, Robert Heinlein joine the Navy and attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he graduated in 1929. In the same year he married Elinor Curry but their marriage lasted only a year. In 1932 he got married again with Leslyn McDonald but after a short time contracted pulmonary tuberculosis and in 1934 was dismissed from the Navy for health reasons.

Robert Heinlein was forced to spend a period in the hospital and for some time attended the University of California at Los Angeles but dropped out. For some years he tried several jobs, including in politics, even running for the California State Assembly in 1938 but without getting elected. In order to earn some money, he tried to work as a writer but the novel “For Us, The Living” written in 1938 was rejected by the publishers he submitted it to and got published only in 2003.

A prize-winning competition led Robert Heinlein to write “Life-Line” but eventually decided to submit it to the director of the magazine “Astounding Science Fiction” with positive results, selling it and earning more than the value of the competition’s first prize. He became a science fiction writer who occasionally wrote about fantasy themes, for example in the novels “Magic, Inc.” (1940) and “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” (1942).

In the following years, Robert Heinlein published other stories, sometimes with pseudonyms such as Anson MacDonald. Often his stories were included in an ideal future history and in the first version of “Methuselah’s Children” (1941) for the first time the character of Lazarus Long appeared. The novel was expanded and republished in 1958.

When the USA entered World War II, Robert Heinlein returned to work for the Navy, along with fellow writers Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp. After the end of the war resumed his career as a writer but thanks to the fame he found quickly in previous years he expanded his market beyond pulp magazines and published stories in magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post.

In 1947, Robert Heinlein divorced his second wife and in 1948 married Virginia Gerstenfeld, who was also a model for various characters in his subsequent stories.

After signing a contract to writing juveniles, Robert Heinlein began a new phase in his career and also wrote the screenplay for the movie “Destination Moon” (1950). However, some novels were targeted to an adult audience and one of them, “Double Star” (1956), won the Hugo Award.

The themes of the novels that in theory were juveniles pushed more and more the limits of the genre, for example “Starman Jones” (1953). “Starship Troopers” was rejected precisely because it was considered far beyond those limits and was published by another publisher in 1959, ending up winnin the Hugo Award as well. With his 1961 “Stranger in a Strange Land” novel, Robert Heinlein won his third Hugo.

A journey around the world, accomplished mainly by sea, was another source of inspiration for novels such as “Podkayne of Mars“. Published between the end of 1962 and the beginning of 1963, it can be considered his last juvenile, published with an ending different from the one originally written by Heinlein at the publisher’s request.

In the following years, Robert Heinlein kept on writing successful novels, occasionally reviewing old stories such as the two fixed-up in the novel “Orphans of the Sky” in 1963. With “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” (1966) he won his fourth Hugo Award.

During the 1970s, Robert Heinlein was forced to limit his activity due to a series of health problems. That’s why he published only “I Will Fear No Evil” in 1970, “Time Enough For Love” in 1973 and “The Number of the Beast” in 1980.

Things went better for Robert Heinlein in the 1980s and you can see that in novels such as “Friday” (1982). His activity continued up to “To Sail Beyond the Sunset” (1987). He died on May 8, 1988 for the consequences of an emphysema and heart problems.

Robert Heinlein had a huge influence on science fiction and was one of the first writers to publish his works in publications more prestigious than pulp magazines, which at the time didn’t enjoy a great consideration. He was also at the center of several controversies, especially for the ideas contained in “Starship Troopers”.

He had the tendencty to develop some ideas quite to the extreme but in different novels there are different ideas so for example “Starship Troopers” was blamed for militarism or even fascism while “Stranger in a Strange Land” became a point of reference for hippies.

Sometimes Robert Heinlein preached the ideas contained in his works but when he focused on the story the results were really great. His wife Virginia founded the Heinlein Society in 1997 to take care of the author’s enormous legacy. Without him science fiction would be very different.

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