Douglas Adams

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ADAMS, DOUGLAS (1952–2001), Great Britain

“Douglas Adams began his career in SF in the seventies as a scriptwriter for various television and radio series for the BBC, including some now-classic episodes of DR WHO.”

It was the success of his comic radio series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (originally broadcast in 1978) that prompted Adams to rework the script into a novelization that retained the same title and was published in 1979.

Dark and caustic, but nevertheless brimming with satirical humour, the novel has become a classic of modern COMIC SF.

The book opens with its chief protagonist, Arthur Dent, narrowly escaping the destruction of the Earth. He is smuggled aboard an alien craft that has arrived to aid the demolition of the planet to make way for a ‘bypass’ in space. Once aboard, we follow Arthur’s progress as he goes on to encounter many strange and surreal people and situations.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy spawned a number of sequels that, although often hilarious, are less consistent in quality than their predecessor. They are The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980), Life, the Universe and Everything (1982), So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984) and Mostly Harmless (1992). Together they comprise Adams’s ‘trilogy in five parts’.

Throughout the series Adams’s humour darkens, and by Mostly Harmless it is clear that he views the human condition through particularly uncharitable eyes. However, this sharpens the overall tone of the series; the books are enhanced by Adams’s keen observations.

It is easy to see from where many later works, including the comic television series RED DWARF, have drawn their inspiration.

A second and less well-known sequence of novels by Adams follows the activities of Dirk Gently, a private eye whose adventures contain elements of the fantastic cross-fertilized with pulp crime. The books in this series are Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (1987), The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul (1988) and the projected Salmon of Doubt. Before his death on 11 May, 2001 Adams was rumoured to be working on a new instalment in the Dirk Gently sequence. This was perhaps one of the most anticipated of genre novels – it now remains to be seen whether it will ever see publication.

In the meantime, the other incarnations of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (it has also been filmed by the BBC) and its sequels continue to entertain the many fans of COMIC SF.”

See Also

COMIC SF

Recommended Further Reading

  • The Stainless Steel Rat (1961) or Bill, the Galactic Hero (1965) by HARRY HARRISON
  • Strata (1981) by TERRY PRATCHETT; Untouched by Human Hands (1954) by ROBERT SHECKLEY

Bibliography

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Brave New World

See also Science Fiction Authors, SciFi Bibliography.

  • Brave New World
Brave New World is a dystopian novel written in 1931 by English author Aldous Huxley, and published in 1932. Largely set in a futuristic World State of genetically modified citizens and an intelligence-based social hierarchy, the novel anticipates huge scientific developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning that are combined to make a utopian society that goes challenged only by a single outsider.

Aldous Huxley

See also Science Fiction Authors, SciFi Bibliography.

  • Brave New World
Brave New World is a dystopian novel written in 1931 by English author Aldous Huxley, and published in 1932. Largely set in a futuristic World State of genetically modified citizens and an intelligence-based social hierarchy, the novel anticipates huge scientific developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning that are combined to make a utopian society that goes challenged only by a single outsider.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

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By Stanley Kubrick (1928–99)

See also:

Arthur C. Clarke, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg

Bibliography

  • Agel, J. (1970) The Making of Kubrick’s 2001, New York: New American Library.
  • Baxter, J. (1997) Stanley Kubrick: a biography, New York: Carroll & Graf.
  • Chion, M. (2001) Kubrick’s Cinema Odyssey, trans. C. Gorbman, London: BFI.
  • Clarke, A.C. (1972) The Lost Worlds of 2001, New York: New American Library.
  • Freedman, C. (1996) “Kubrick’s 2001 and the Possibility of a Science-Fiction Cinema,” Science Fiction Studies, 25(2): 300–17.
  • Kolker, R. (ed.) (2006) Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey: new essays, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • McDougal, S.Y. (ed.) (2003) Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Naremore, J. (2007) On Kubrick, London: BFI.
  • Schwam, S. (2000) The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, New York: The Modern Library.

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Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

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By Stanley Kubrick (1928–99)

See also:

Arthur C. Clarke, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg

Bibliography

  • Agel, J. (1970) The Making of Kubrick’s 2001, New York: New American Library.
  • Baxter, J. (1997) Stanley Kubrick: a biography, New York: Carroll & Graf.
  • Chion, M. (2001) Kubrick’s Cinema Odyssey, trans. C. Gorbman, London: BFI.
  • Clarke, A.C. (1972) The Lost Worlds of 2001, New York: New American Library.
  • Freedman, C. (1996) “Kubrick’s 2001 and the Possibility of a Science-Fiction Cinema,” Science Fiction Studies, 25(2): 300–17.
  • Kolker, R. (ed.) (2006) Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey: new essays, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • McDougal, S.Y. (ed.) (2003) Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Naremore, J. (2007) On Kubrick, London: BFI.
  • Schwam, S. (2000) The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, New York: The Modern Library.

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Stanley Kubrick

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STANLEY KUBRICK (1928–99)

US filmmaker, cinematographer, screenwriter, film editor, and photographer, based for much of his career in Britain.

“After working as a photographer for Look magazine and as a documentary filmmaker, Stanley Kubrick began directing feature films with the self-funded war film Fear and Desire (1953) and Killer’s Kiss (1955), about a washed-up boxer involved with petty criminals. His first professional feature, the heist movie The Killing (1956), brought him to the attention of Hollywood, where he directed the anti-war Paths of Glory (1957), starring Kirk Douglas, who then brought Kubrick in to replace Anthony Mann as director of Spartacus (1960). The experience of working on such a major picture left Kubrick unhappy with Hollywood. When he moved to the UK to film Lolita (1962), his relocation became permanent. He spent the next decade making three sf films: Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and A Clockwork Orange (1971). Kubrick’s long pre-production process, and several abandoned projects, meant he would direct only four more films: Barry Lyndon (1975), which recounts the picaresque rise and fall of an eighteenth-century adventurer; The Shining (1980), about a haunted hotel, madness, and patriarchal violence; the Vietnam war movie Full Metal Jacket (1987); and the oddly muted erotic thriller Eyes Wide Shut (1999). In 1982 Kubrick optioned Brian Aldiss’s “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” (1969), which was in development for 18 years, with story input from Ian Watson (and, uncredited, Arthur C. Clarke and Bob Shaw), while waiting for necessary advances in special effects technologies. On Kubrick’s death, the project became Steven Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001).

If Dr Strangelove had been faithfully adapted from Peter George’s straight-faced thriller Two Hours to Doom (1958), it would have been just another in the cycle of well-crafted liberal melodramas about nuclear war which included On the Beach (Kramer 1959), Fail-Safe (Lumet 1964), and The Bedford Incident (Harris 1965). However, while writing the script, Kubrick began to find the rhetoric of nuclear deterrence and the strategies for waging and surviving nuclear war increasingly absurd, pushing the film toward black comedy. Paranoid General Jack D. Ripper orders nuclear bombers under his command to strike Soviet targets, hoping to force President Merkin Muffley into launching a full-scale attack before the USSR can retaliate. Over the protests of General Buck Turgidson (modeled on General Curtis LeMay), Muffley instead liaises with Premier Kissoff to bring down the planes if they cannot be recalled. The USSR, however, has a Doomsday Device: an automated system that will wipe out life on Earth and make the planet uninhabitable for a century if a single atomic bomb explodes on Soviet soil. A lone bomber, the Leper’s Colony, commanded by Major “King” Kong, evades all attempts to stop it. As nuclear annihilation looms, Muffley’s scientific advisor, Dr Strangelove (based on Americanized Nazi rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, the RAND corporation’s Herman Kahn, and Rotwang, the mad scientist from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927)), argues that they need to establish shelters in deep mineshafts, with ten sexually stimulating women to every man, so as to breed a massive population capable of defeating any surviving Soviets in the postapocalyptic world.

Kubrick’s satire has four main thrusts. The first concerns modes of thinking rendered inappropriate by the nuclear age: the Leper’s Colony enters Soviet airspace to the Civil War tune “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” (1863); climactic nuclear war is accompanied by Vera Lynn’s recording of Second World War morale-booster “We’ll Meet Again” (1939). The second focuses on strategic planning’s tendency to normalize the incomprehensible and insupportable: Turgidson urges an all-out attack because calculations suggest that it would produce an acceptable loss of only 20 million, rather than 150 million, Americans. The third is concerned with our subordination to arbitrary systems. Procedures which dictate future actions are set in place even though they cannot anticipate every possible circumstance: when the damaged Leper Colony abandons its mission in favor of a target of opportunity, the bomber cannot be located. Kubrick’s use of sets with ceilings and of wide-angle lenses, which extend the depth of field and horizontal plane of action, leaving figures isolated in immense surroundings, accentuates this sense of entrapment within systems. The fourth identifies the infantile phallic sexuality of the arms race: the celebrated opening sequence, spoofing the technoeroticism of flag-wavers like Strategic Air Command (Mann 1955), depicts a B-52’s mid-air refueling as a seductive dance between planes, to the tune of “Try a Little Tenderness” (1932), and as an act of penetration; the War Room staff quickly seize upon the sexual opportunities presented by Strangelove’s mineshaft proposal; Ripper launches his attack because he can feel the communist conspiracy to fluoridate water sapping his purity of essence. These and other psychosexual revelations trouble the supposed rationality of nuclear strategy – just as punning character names and outrageous performances push against surface realism, and as the transitions from formal compositions to verité-style camerawork disrupt the sense of a single dominant aesthetic.

One draft of Strangelove’s screenplay depicted aliens trying to reconstruct the events that led to the Earth’s destruction. Retained in Peter George’s novelization, this framing device resonates with the final act of A.I. and with Kubrick’s next film, 2001. Inspired by several of Arthur C. Clarke’s short stories, especially “The Sentinel” (1951), it was initially conceptualized as a Hollywood historical epic – a space-age version of How the West Was Won (Ford, Hathaway, Marshall, Thorpe 1962). Kubrick developed the script over several years with Clarke, beginning with a coauthored draft of a novel that could be used to raise funding and upon which the screenplay – and ultimately Clarke’s own novel – could then be based. Unlike Clarke, who despite transcendentalist impulses typically explains everything in his fiction, Kubrick, who generally favored voice-over narration, removed all such exposition late in production, rendering his film all the more challenging and elusive.

A mysterious black monolith appears on a prehistoric African plain and apparently teaches prehuman apes to use bones as tools. Four million years later humans unearth a similar monolith on the moon. When sunlight strikes its surface, it beams a powerful radio signal toward Jupiter. Eighteen months later, the Discovery is en route to the gas giant when its infallible computer, HAL 9000, suffers a psychological breakdown and murders all but one of the crew. Venturing out toward a giant monolith orbiting Jupiter, astronaut Dave Bowman falls into a tunnel of lights, races over alien landscapes, and eventually – it seems – dies and is reborn as hyper-evolved posthuman Starchild, who returns to Earth.

Kubrick’s future is equally an extrapolation from and a satire on 1960s corporate America, its banal inhumanity emphasized by the stilted conversations of depthless characters, many of whose exchanges are constrained by political agendas, checklists, and other predetermined procedures. The remorseless blandness of this futurologically scrupulous world is further demonstrated by Kubrick’s muted eroticization of technologies, here a commentary on the gestation and birth of posthumanity rather than an opportunity for tittering. His wide-angle cinematography makes the various immaculate built environments even more unhomely: characters pass through such spaces, as emphasized by the astronauts’ endless jogging around the Discovery, rather than inhabit them, and human characters never exchange conventional shot/reverse-shot sequences. Despite this element of critique, 2001’s countercultural status has long been attributed instead to the trippy-ness of the psychedelic “Stargate” sequence.

2001’s significance for the development of sf lies in its formal and technical achievements. Few, if any, prior sf films exhibited its artistic ambition. For example, when Kubrick matched images of docking spacecraft to Johann Strauss II’s Blue Danube Waltz (1867), he returned film to the possibilities that opened up with the coming of sound before its relationship with the image became merely explicatory. Kubrick sections the soundtrack so that extra-diegetic music never accompanies dialogue scenes, leaving the audience bereft of normative emotional cues. This sense of being adrift in front of ambiguous images is captured in the film itself when a screen in Bowman’s space-pod, tracking Poole’s drifting corpse, imposes a three-dimensional Cartesian grid over space which we have repeatedly been shown has no fixed vertical or horizontal planes.

Half of the shots in 2001 are effects shots. They cost over half the budget and involved the development or invention of new techniques and equipment. Indeed, Kubrick’s greatest influence on the genre was, arguably, to fuel the desire to produce a spectacular cinema of attractions. This can be seen in the career of Douglas Trumbull. A key member of 2001’s effects team, he became one of the most influential figures in special effects, working on The Andromeda Strain (Wise 1971), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg 1977), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Wise 1979), and Blade Runner (Scott 1982), as well as directing Silent Running (1972) and Brainstorm (1983). Since the 1980s he has concentrated on developing exhibition technologies and theme park rides. It is also evident in the shortcomings of the films which attempt to ape 2001’s aspirations, such as The Black Hole (Nelson 1979), Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Contact (Zemeckis 1997), and Mission to Mars (De Palma 2000). Often visually stunning, they are every bit as banal as the future 2001 depicts.

A Clockwork Orange, adapted from Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel about juvenile delinquency, original sin, and free-will, begins with a slow zoom out from the protagonist’s eye and down the entire length of the Korova Milk Bar. This might lead one to expect another measured and stately film. But if 2001 abandoned Strangelove’s ribaldry to emphasize oppressive orderliness, A Clockwork Orange instead delights in bawdiness, vulgarity, and violence. Alex beats up tramps and rapes women for fun, but when he alienates his gang, they abandon him to the police. In exchange for his freedom, he volunteers for behavioral conditioning, which renders him incapable of stomaching violence. It also destroys his ability to listen to his beloved Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (1824). Former victims use this music to force Alex to attempt suicide, causing a political scandal. Alex’s brainwashing is reversed in exchange for his endorsement of the government.

Kubrick’s exuberant, disorienting handheld camera symbolizes the chaotic energy of the amoral, self-knowing but unashamed Alex, who himself represents for the state all that which must be suppressed. Like Alex in his over-the-top dress sense and performance of violence, Kubrick refuses restraint, peopling his film with stereotypes and grotesques, music-hall and sitcom humor, and a childish fixation on sexual organs, especially breasts. He joyously exhibits the filmmaking craft: a montage sequence that makes a row of porcelain Jesuses seem to dance; the gleefully artificial back-projection and fast-motion threesome; the tendency to present scenes rather than create more conventionalized spaces and character interactions; the excessive pop-art mise-en-scène; the badly done and utterly inappropriate images (religious and prehistoric epics, vampire films, orgiastic excesses) Alex envisions when he hears Beethoven or reads the Bible. While sf films such as Wild in the Streets (Shear 1968) celebrated the hopefulness of the counterculture, and Privilege (Watkins 1967) critiqued its complicity with structures of power, A Clockwork Orange’s irreverence and self-conscious poor taste sounded a warning of the backlash to come. Although Kubrick made only three sf films, they are all among the most highly regarded in the genre. Probably only Andrei Tarkovsky, the rather more meditative director of Solaris (1972), Stalker (1979), and The Sacrifice (1986), equals or exceeds this achievement.”

See also:

Arthur C. Clarke, David Cronenberg, Fritz Lang, George Lucas, Oshii Mamoru, and Steven Spielberg

Bibliography

  • Agel, J. (1970) The Making of Kubrick’s 2001, New York: New American Library.
  • Baxter, J. (1997) Stanley Kubrick: a biography, New York: Carroll & Graf.
  • Chion, M. (2001) Kubrick’s Cinema Odyssey, trans. C. Gorbman, London: BFI.
  • Clarke, A.C. (1972) The Lost Worlds of 2001, New York: New American Library.
  • Freedman, C. (1996) “Kubrick’s 2001 and the Possibility of a Science-Fiction Cinema,” Science Fiction Studies, 25(2): 300–17.
  • Kolker, R. (ed.) (2006) Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey: new essays, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • McDougal, S.Y. (ed.) (2003) Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Naremore, J. (2007) On Kubrick, London: BFI.
  • Schwam, S. (2000) The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, New York: The Modern Library.

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Robert A. Heinlein

See also Science Fiction Authors, SciFi Bibliography, SciFi, Artificial Intelligence, AI Bibliography, Robotics

ROBERT A[NSON] HEINLEIN (1907–88)

US novelist and short-story writer.

“Arguably the most important figure – because of both his pivotal popular successes and his aesthetic innovations – in the modern history of the genre, Robert A. Heinlein produced 12 collections of short fiction and 32 novels; posthumous publications have included essays, letters, unexpurgated editions of some novels, and his unpublished first novel, For Us, the Living: a comedy of customs (2004), written in 1939.”

“Heinlein was first and foremost an entertaining storyteller. Common wisdom divides his career into two, three, or perhaps even four distinct phases. Insofar as he wrote different kinds of fiction, his work divides into four overlapping stages. Although he never stopped writing short fiction, the first phase was primarily comprised of short stories, most of them following common pulp formulas and published, sometimes pseudonymously, in genre magazines, principally John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science-Fiction (1937–71). While many were gadget tales or boys’ adventures built around an engineer paradigm, most were what Heinlein called “human interest stories,” especially those written after the Second World War, when he sold pieces to “slick” magazines, such as the Saturday Evening Post (1921–69), printed on high-quality paper and read outside genre conventions. Many stories of this period contributed to his “Future History,” an ambitious attempt to create an interlocking series that provided one unified conception of the future stages of human history.”

“Starting in 1947 with Rocket Ship Galileo and continuing through the early 1960s, Heinlein published “juveniles,” adventure novels for what now are called “young adults.” All were broadly optimistic concerning how science, technology, and engineering would transform human life in important, positive, even surprising ways. Like the stories, these books understood sf along the lines sketched out by Hugo Gernsback and Campbell: they should not only be original but also teach scientific and mathematical rigor, dramatizing these in ways that might excite a fourteen-year-old boy; their heroes reason scientifically, and their enemies illustrate the ignorant prejudices of rigid traditions rather than enlightened rationality. All present space travel in desirably realistic terms. The juveniles were modestly successful and over the past 50 years most have remained in print. While Heinlein certainly did not invent sf for young adults, he did vest it with a level of intellectual sophistication and literary intelligence that has deeply influenced writers since. In an essay drafted in 1957, Heinlein remarked that an adequate definition of sf might be “realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of scientific method” (Heinlein 1959: 22). These are the most common traits of his work – at least until the final period.”

“Alongside his work for adults, these juveniles continued until the publisher rejected the thirteenth – the militaristic anti-communist allegory Starship Troopers (1959) – as too violent and too adult for young readers. Although he would publish two further juveniles, this marked the beginning of what is generally thought Heinlein’s third or “mature” phase, and identifies the one major change in his aesthetic strategy (see James and Patterson 2006). Before Starship Troopers, Heinlein generally perfected strategies inherited from others; after, he generally invented new forms and directions. Virtually all of these books sparked controversies, since they foregrounded heterodox political and social theorizing, often amid shocking violence or violations of bourgeois taboos. Starship Troopers was both denounced as fascist fantasy and praised as the morally sound realization of the American tradition of duty and self-sacrifice. Except for its messianic main character, a human brought upby Martians, the satirical fantasy Stranger in a Strange Land (1961; unexpurgated 1990) contains no overt sf elements. Instead, its social commentary and quirky iconoclasm preach the pleasures of communal living, free love, and anarchic individualism – and precipitate a cascade of contradictions about contemporary alienation (see Franklin 1980: 136–42). Sometimes called the most controversial sf novel ever written, Farnham’s Freehold (magazine serialization and book 1964) is a survivalist’s postapocalyptic nightmare of race war, cannibalism, and the consequences, both good and bad, of “rugged individualism.” The last important work of this phase is The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (magazine serialization 1965–66, book 1966), a vividly entertaining re-enactment of the American revolution but an equally harsh indictment of mob democracy, bureaucratic government, and American economic policy.'”

“A final phase began with I Will Fear No Evil (1970), followed by Time Enough for Love (1973) and Job: a comedy of justice (1984). These and other titles returned to the Future History but also developed several “world-as-myth” stories, with characters moving between the parallel worlds of other writers’ fictional universes. With the partial exception of Friday (1982), these books are marked and frequently marred by the sort of “tedious sociological sermonizing” (Heinlein 1969: 37) Heinlein had earlier disparaged. They are increasingly self-indulgent, bloated by cantankerous didacta, and finally solipsistic. They “are also, paradoxically, … the largest selling segment of Heinlein’s oeuvre” (James and Patterson 2006: 14).”

“The late decay of his talents, perhaps precipitated by a sharp decline in his health, is neither unprecedented nor unexpected; very few writers have continually produced valuable work across a period as long as 48 years. However, his influence and importance remain undeniable, and perhaps cannot be overstated, especially his effect on mid-twentieth-century anglophone sf. Most significantly, he is the writer most responsible for the literary forms – the underlying generic grammar – of modern sf: “Later writers and readers have internalized that grammar, that set of rules that generates a particular kind of science fiction story, which is still probably the central kind of science fiction story” (Brown et al. 2007: 51b).”

“Three features identify that aesthetic architecture. First is the “naturalness” of Heinlein’s imaginative contrivances. Following another of Campbell’s lessons, Heinlein excelled at constructing narrative worlds that felt “lived-in”; stylistically, this effect comes from crafting a narrative voice that achieves a comfortable intimacy with readers, who are configured as fellow travelers and participants rather than passive consumers or voyeurs. In this sense, Heinlein assumes a familiarity with the created world’s subtle differences, which produces two key effects: first, he is able to avoid the expository “infodumps” that so frequently bloat sf and awkwardly subvert the narrative momentum; second, readers experience a far more uncanny sense of wonder than in fiction where they remain an outsider merely gawking from afar at the extraordinary changes. A famous example of this latter effect concerns the door that “dilates” in Beyond this Horizon (magazine serialization 1942, book 1948). Rather than belaboring the point that a future society’s technology differs in minute and pervasive ways, Heinlein simply embeds the difference as a quotidian fact, allowing us to experience it and so estrange us cognitively – this is both wonderfully economical expression and the essential sense of wonder that specifically characterizes sf.”

“Second, instead of making characters solely the vehicles for the transmission of some scientific datum, the stories were based on the characters’ feelings and thoughts as they encountered novel conditions and future changes. His commitment to the human-interest story can be seen in “On the Writing of Speculative Fiction” (1947) and in his preference for the word “speculative,” which does not dismiss science so much as subordinate it to human problems (Heinlein 1964: 17). Such character-driven fiction more closely aligns with so-called “mainstream” literary fiction, but Heinlein never abandoned the genre’s dedication to exploring science and technology. Assuming a world and focusing on human experience allowed Heinlein to sinuously integrate the “hard” natural sciences of physics, mathematics, and space engineering with the “soft” social sciences of political theory, sociology, and economics.”

“A third feature concerned literary style. Heinlein’s prose was uncluttered and economical, carefully balanced and highly adept at elegant transitions between the technical vocabularies of science and the casual idioms of common American speech, both making complexities accessible and presenting them in a richer, more literary prose than had been common among genre writers. Neither Isaac Asimov nor Arthur C. Clarke was ever as stylistically proficient, neither ever wove together the natural and social sciences with the same seamless simplicity, and neither ever experimented so with generic convention.”

“Although justly lauded for inventing the grammar of modern sf, Heinlein’s dominance is frequently lamented, even derided. Concerning that influence, Samuel R. Delany once echoed André Gide’s quip about the poet Victor Hugo. Who is the greatest sf writer of the twentieth century? “Robert Heinlein, alas” (Delany 1977: 149). Delany neatly captures the sense of ambivalence or disappointment that sometimes seems Heinlein’s legacy. With the exception of some of the final books, the brilliance of his achievement is undeniable, but the positions he took remain very controversial.”

“Yet discussions of Heinlein too often neatly divide into cultish hagiography or contemptuous dismissal. In my view there are as many things to disparage as to admire, but also as many to admire as to disparage. To paraphrase Thomas M. Disch, no one so engages yet enrages the liberal imagination as Heinlein. The sharp wit, bold power, and eccentric iconoclasm of his views liberate; though the didacta, delivered so often by a seemingly omniscient man, actually subordinate in subtle, powerful ways.”

“Almost all of the ideological interpretive controversies concern the difference between what the fictions explicitly say and what they implicitly confirm. It might appear hard to reconcile the explicit positions that many of the novels take, but implicitly the fiction is a coherent, unified whole. Explicitly, many characters and texts seem radically distinct. For example, the government in Starship Troopers is a sort of fascist dictatorship, one that is always right and functions flawlessly, while in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress the political position advocated is “rational anarchism,” an extreme form of libertarianism that postulates all governments as hopelessly inefficient and suggests that only the single self, or the nuclear family, can be trusted. In the former novel, bureaucracy is our friend, in the latter it is our enemy. So – explicitly – the two novels have no unified view.”

“But all of Heinlein’s work seems unified by its implicit features. In addition to the aesthetic architecture mentioned above, the fiction privileges a conception of maximal individual liberty and personal freedom; meritocracy dominated by accomplished elites; a critique of complacent acceptance of the status quo, chiefly its mores and myths; a belief in human progress brought about through science, technology, and particularly space travel; a commitment to mid-century Midwestern conceptions of personal honor, civic duty, and public courtesy; but all ultimately subordinated to the authority of a single great man, a benevolent intellectual hero who is not afraid to act, violently if need be, to shape history for the good of all.”

“Whatever one’s conclusion concerning his politics, Heinlein’s prominence and importance cannot be questioned, nor should they be forgotten. His influence was immediate, authentically profound, and lasting. No one can claim to know twentieth-century sf without a close encounter with Robert A. Heinlein.”

See also:

Isaac Asimov, Greg Bear, Alfred Bester, Leigh Brackett, Octavia Butler, Arthur C. Clarke, Samuel R. Delany, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, Frank Herbert, L. Ron Hubbard, Ursula K. Le Guin, C.L. Moore, Kim Stanley Robinson, Joanna Russ, Neal Stephenson, Sheri S. Tepper, James Tiptree Jr, and Gene Wolfe

Bibliography

  • Brown, C., Beamer, A., Clute, J., Sleight, G., and Wolfe, G.K. (2007) “Heinlein at 100: roundtable discussion with Charles Brown, Amelia Beamer, John Clute, Graham Sleight, and Gary K. Wolfe,” Locus, August: 51–54.
  • Delany, S.R. (1977) The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: notes on the language of science fiction, Elizabethtown, NY: Dragon Press.
  • Franklin, H.B. (1980) Robert A. Heinlein: America as science fiction, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Heinlein, R.A. (1959) “Science Fiction: its nature, faults and virtues,” in B. Davenport (ed.) The Science Fiction Novel: imagination and social criticism, Chicago: Advent.
  • (1964) “On the Writing of Speculative Fiction,” in L.A. Eshbach (ed.) Of Worlds beyond: the science of science fiction writing, Chicago: Advent.
  • James, R. and Patterson Jr, W.H. (2006) “Re-visioning Robert Heinlein’s Career,” Foundation, 97: 11–27.
  • Panshin, A. (1968) Heinlein in Dimension: a critical analysis, Chicago: Advent.
  • Patterson Jr, W.H. (n.d.) “Robert A. Heinlein – a biography,” The Heinlein Society webpage. Online. Available: http://www.heinleinsociety.org/rah/biographies.html (accessed 1 January 2009).

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