A Heinlein Child Pays Homage to the Master

By Price, Cynthia | ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, October 2007 | Go to article overview

A Heinlein Child Pays Homage to the Master


Price, Cynthia, ETC.: A Review of General Semantics


SOME SCHOLARS ARGUE that Robert A. Heinlein was the most influential writer of the 20th Century. There is no argument Heinlein was the greatest influence on my life. Long before I heard the phrase "Heinlein's Children" I considered myself such a child--a competent person raised on the principles espoused by the Grand Master of Science-Fiction.

Two major facets of my life resulted from reading Heinlein's works: I became a writer, and I became involved in space exploration--in both the US governmental space agency (NASA) and in private commercial space ventures.

When one Heinlein fan meets another, the question arises, "When did you first read Heinlein?" My answer is: When I was about 12 years old my sister gave me Heinlein's juvenile book Have Spacesuit-Will Travel. I was immediately captivated by the highly imaginative space travels of the children, Kip and Peewee, and by the gentle reassurances of the cat-like alien Mother Thing when their space adventures became scary and threatening.

From there I devoured all of Heinlein's other juvenile books, and then as an older teenager graduated to his adult novels such as Stranger in a Strange Land. After I read all his books, I looked for his writings in old issues of Boys Life, and then re-read his books. I tried reading other science-fiction authors (Heinlein preferred the tag "speculative fiction"), but their works didn't inspire me the way Heinlein's writing did. I found myself explaining to other readers, "I don't read science-fiction; I read Robert Heinlein."

It was my continued search for more Heinlein to read that caused me to discover the 2006 book Variable Star co-authored by Heinlein (who died in 1988) and Spider Robinson. Robinson, himself a Hugo award winner, was tasked with completing the 1955 novel Heinlein started to write after his original notes and manuscript outline were discovered a few years ago.

Robinson succeeded brilliantly with Variable Star, keeping true to Heinlein's original voice and didactic intentions while updating the story with modern references such as Googling and the Beatles songs in the future becoming classical music. Since Heinlein's death I had been searching for another Heinleinesque writer, and I had found him in Spider Robinson.

While searching Spider's website for more of his books, I came across the link to the Heinlein Centennial gala to be held on the anniversary of Heinlein's 100th birthday--July 7, 2007--in Kansas City. I signed up immediately.

Trying to explain to non-Heinlein muggles why I had to go to the Heinlein Centennial was challenging. To my aerospace employer and to my magazine publisher I simply stated I was "going to a writers' conference in Kansas City." My husband, who knew of Heinlein's impact on me, but who was not a Heinlein child, understood that I wanted to pay my respects to the great writer. I told him, "If there was a t-shirt that said Everything I Needed to Know About Life, I Learned From Robert Heinlein, I would wear it."

Reading Heinlein through most of my life had given me a perspective, points of reference, a paradigm, and life lessons I learned from Heinlein's fictional characters, who had already traveled through the final frontier of space/time and colonized and prevailed and survived. They had taken risks, not always fearlessly, and built new worlds with new societies and new social norms to be contemplated and considered as adaptable to my own 20th-21st Century existence. As the actual future unfolded with its new technologies and moral dilemmas, it was as if I had already lived a virtual dress rehearsal through Heinlein's writings. I greet the always-arriving future, not with the fear of the unknown, but with the warm embrace and familiarity of an old friend. I've been here before.

To a Heinlein child, much happens in our modern world for which there is a Heinlein reference. For example, during the Clinton administration, the FBI expressed concern about the capabilities of the newfangled Internet. …

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