Robert A. Heinlein

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Robert Heinlein and his wife on the set of Destination Moon (1950)
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
—Lazarus Long

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) is widely considered one of the most influential and iconic writers of Sci Fi and Speculative Fiction of the Twentieth Century. He is counted as one of the "Big Three" of Science Fiction along with Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. Often the standard to which other Science Fiction writers are compared, although he caught considerable flak for some of his recurring philosophical and political themes. His works range from space adventure YA novels to political manifestos, and generally score towards the "hard" side of Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness.

Heinlein's most notorious and most dividing novel is Stranger in a Strange Land, an Author Tract which contributed hugely to the rise of the hippie movement. However, he's probably best known with the general public for penning Starship Troopers, which was very, very loosely adapted into a film.

Rare exceptions aside, nearly all of his characters are prodigies and geniuses, to the point where this can be considered his authorial trademark.

Works by Robert A. Heinlein

Listed by publication date.


Short fiction

"Future History" short fiction

Other short speculative fiction

At Heinlein's insistence, the three Lyle Monroe stories marked with the symbol '§' were never reissued in a Heinlein anthology during his lifetime.

Other short fiction


  • The Man Who Sold the Moon, 1950 (omnibus of "Let There Be Light", "The Roads Must Roll", "The Man Who Sold the Moon", "Requiem", "Life-Line", and "Blowups Happen")
  • Waldo & Magic, Inc., 1950 (omnibus of "Waldo" & "Magic, Inc."; entire contents included in The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein)
  • The Green Hills of Earth, 1951 (omnibus of "Delilah and the Space Rigger", "Space Jockey", "The Long Watch", "Gentlemen, Be Seated!", "The Black Pits of Luna", "It's Great to Be Back!", "—We Also Walk Dogs", "Ordeal in Space", "The Green Hills of Earth", and "Logic of Empire")
  • Assignment in Eternity, 1953 (omnibus of"Gulf", "Lost Legacy", "Elsewhen", and "Jerry Was a Man")
  • Revolt in 2100, 1953 (omnibus of "If This Goes On—", "Coventry", and "Misfit")
  • The Robert Heinlein Omnibus, 1958
  • The Menace From Earth, 1959 (omnibus of "The Year of the Jackpot", "By His Bootstraps", "Columbus Was a Dope", "The Menace from Earth", "Sky Lift", "Goldfish Bowl", "Project Nightmare", and "Water Is for Washing")
  • The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, 1959 (a.k.a. 6 X H; omnibus of "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag", "The Man Who Traveled in Elephants", "—All You Zombies—", "They", "Our Fair City", and "'—And He Built a Crooked House—'"; entire contents included in The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein)
  • Three by Heinlein, 1965
  • A Robert Heinlein Omnibus, 1966
  • The Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein, 1966 (omnibus of "Free Men", "Blowups Happen", "Searchlight", "Life-Line", and "Solution Unsatisfactory"; entire contents included in Expanded Universe)
  • The Past Through Tomorrow, 1967 (almost-complete Future History collection, missing "Let There Be Light," "Universe," and "Common Sense")
  • The Best of Robert A. Heinlein, 1973
  • Expanded Universe, 1980
  • A Heinlein Trio, 1980 (omnibus of The Puppet Masters, Double Star, and The Door Into Summer)
  • The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein, 1999 (omnibus of Waldo & Magic, Inc. and The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag)
  • Infinite Possibilities, 2003 (omnibus of Tunnel in the Sky, Time for the Stars, and Citizen of the Galaxy)
  • To the Stars, 2004 (omnibus of Between Planets, The Rolling Stones, Starman Jones, and The Star Beast)
  • Off the Main Sequence, 2005 (omnibus of "Successful Operation" (as "Heil"), "Let There Be Light", ""—And He Built a Crooked House—"", "Beyond Doubt", "They", "Solution Unsatisfactory", "Universe", "Elsewhen" (as "Elsewhere"), "Common Sense", "By His Bootstraps", "Lost Legacy" (as "Lost Legion"), "“My Object All Sublime”", "Goldfish Bowl", "Pied Piper", "Free Men", "On the Slopes of Vesuvius", "Columbus Was a Dope", "Jerry Was a Man" (as "Jerry Is a Man"), "Water Is for Washing", "Nothing Ever Happens on the Moon", "Gulf", "Destination Moon", "The Year of the Jackpot", "Project Nightmare", "Sky Lift", "Tenderfoot in Space", and "All You Zombies—")
  • Four Frontiers, 2005 (omnibus of Rocket Ship Galileo, Space Cadet, Red Planet, and Farmer in the Sky)
  • Outward Bound, 2006 (omnibus of Have Space Suit—Will Travel, Starship Troopers, and Podkayne of Mars)

Robert A. Heinlein provides examples of the following tropes:

Heinlein has probably written — and in some cases created — every major form of story in Science Fiction, including:

Heinlein's protagonists are typically geniuses, often with perfect memory and a love for mathematics. They have held opinions covering most of the political spectrum, to the point where the oft-made argument "Heinlein's heroes all have his political opinions!" needs to account for the fact that the sum total of "political opinions held by Heinlein protagonists" includes many mutually contradictory ideas. For that matter, Heinlein himself expounded the merits of wildly different political opinions; several of his earliest books were essentially guided tours through a couple of (non-Marxist) anarcho-socialist future paradises — though said paradises also valued sexual freedom and the right to bear arms. He would later write of a yet another such (alien) paradise in his (in)famous Author Tract Stranger in a Strange Land — and he would reference said paradise throughout much of his future work.

His protagonists can be expected to believe in sexual freedom, the right to bear arms, the death penalty, and private ownership and private enterprise, and to not be shy in expounding on those beliefs. Most believe in hard work and although they often suffer bad luck, in the end it pays off for them. Humans Are Special, a fact often expounded upon by his heroes, who are often, by birthright, training, or sheer openmindedness even "specialer" than regular humans. They also tend to be ridiculously smart. This has lead to some (not always unwarranted) accusations of Sueism in Heinlein's writing. [1] Expect there to be at least one foolish and lazy person to contrast to the heroes. However, smart lazy people are usually respected — see "The Tale of The Man Who Was Too Lazy To Fail" in Time Enough for Love. (Usually, but not always. In The Puppet Masters, the main characters praised engineers but disdained scientists, as the latter merely sit around making up theories without actually building anything.)

Mutual respect and personal autonomy are key themes, and Polyamory is presented as the most rational and reasonable form of partnership. It's also not uncommon for Heinlein's heroes to explore the idea of incest — in any case, family bonds are always very strong. Education (particularly math and linguistics) is a vital (but personal and freely chosen) process, and on occasion there are allusions to naive forms of chaos magic (i.e. mankind's ability to manipulate nature simply by being clever).

In addition to that, throwing rocks at people who don't agree with one's personal beliefs is quite okay when one's personal beliefs are enlightened enough — although Heinlein's heroes tend to bluff rather than use lethal violence. Racism is also always rejected. Heinlein was indirect about it, but many (if not most) of his main characters are implied to be multiracial or at least not white.

His later books valued individual autonomy much more than the earlier ones, and his opinion of government, politics, and politicians changed accordingly. By the end, his opinion appeared to be that there are two types of politician: the Wide-Eyed Idealist who can't be trusted because anyone who can convince him it's for the greater good will get him to abandon a promise, and the Corrupt Politician who can be trusted because he knows he has a reputation to maintain as someone worth buying.

Heinlein's stories are populated by certain stock characters:

  • The Teen Genius: A very common character both in Heinlein's YA novels and in his political work. The genius child is often completely unaware that he or she is a prodigy, and simply dreams of going into space and having wild space adventures. Some of these characters, however, fully know how smart they are, and learn an important lesson about humility. Knowing next to nothing about interstellar politics, they tend to wise up by the end of the story and accept responsibility for their actions. Kip, Max, Peewee, and the twins Cas and Pol embody this, and Valentine Michael Smith is this character type taken to its logical extreme.
  • The Competent Man (sometimes woman): Essentially your classic leading man character, he or she is competent in a reasonably wide range of fields (usually including several languages, sciences and/or technologies), and usually is also The Man (or Woman) Who Learns Better, having learned an important lesson and experienced considerable personal growth by the end of the story. The latter aspect is more prominent in Heinlein's juveniles. This can also be an adult version of the Genius Child who already knows how to deal with adult life, or simply the Genius Child's close friend.
  • The Wise Old Mentor (usually, but not always, male): Professor Bernardo de la Paz, Hazel Meade Stone, Joseph Bonforte, Jubal Harshaw, and of course Lazarus Long, who also falls into the above category.
  • The Gorgeous Woman: Spirited, beautiful and complex. Many of them have red hair, like Heinlein's wife Virginia. In fact, it is often tempting to assume the Gorgeous Woman is essentially Virginia in various guises. Star, in Glory Road, is described as hundreds of women in one body, along with a number of men, and amply describes the more universal version of the character.
  • The Experienced Protagonist: Outside of his juvenile novels, Heinlein strongly favored competent, experienced people for his heroes. Male or female, they were usually proficient in multiple fields of endeavor, experts in their specialties, and often well-versed in many other fields as well.

These characters are best seen in The Puppet Masters, which is also his Alien Invasion plot.

His characters are often very intelligent, highly skilled (or they quickly learn any skills needed), good at math, and sometimes without major mental or physical defect. On this last qualification, there are notable exceptions:

  • Waldo, a physical and emotional cripple in need of redemption.
  • Oscar Gordon, a self-described grunt with a prominent facial scar, whose genius mainly lies in forms of violence and the practical application of personal ethics. After serving his time in the military, he gets recruited from an endless beach vacation by Star.
  • Juan Rico, another grunt, who doesn't have the stuff to join one of the more glamorous organizations but proves to be an above-average officer and the right man at the right time. In film adaptations they tend to forget he's only called "Johnny," not named that.
  • The Protagonist Every character of All You Zombies, a heartless cad with an intersexual condition (and time machine).
  • Manuel Garcia O'Kelly "Mannie" Davis, a one-armed computer engineer (lost the other arm in an accident), who is otherwise the Archetype for a technically competent hero.
  • While Roger Stone is a Competent Man, he freely admits that he's the least intelligent and adaptable person in his entire family, not to mention one of the least so among Heinlein's roster of Competent Men. He yet is the successful leader and moral conscience of the entire Stone family, and is perhaps the only being in the entire multiverse that Heinlein has written winning an argument with Hazel Stone.
  • Hugh Farnham in Farnham's Freehold is not extensively educated or much more intelligent than the norm and his mathematical abilities are unknown, but he does have access to a long list of useful books, which come in handy when he becomes a freeholder.
  • Podkayne Fries in Podkayne of Mars is a naive and optimistic 16-year-old girl who isn't really capable of understanding evil, and thus can't quite comprehend the villains or the seriousness of the political drama in the midst of which she finds herself.
  • Podkayne's brother Clark, who in contrast is a sociopathic PreTeen Genius only barely kept in check by his affection for his older sister — and who is only redeemed by Poddy's (near)-death as a result of the plots in which they've become entangled.
  • Valentine Michael Smith is a human raised on Mars who is intelligent but with No Social Skills (but later becomes a charismatic preacher)). Apparently Heinlein had a bet going with L. Ron Hubbard to see which one could inspire a cult... Heinlein lost, nanu-nanu. (But many people grok that it was a close race for a while there).
  • While not a main character, the Boss (the mentor/competent man archetype) of Friday is a one-eyed cripple, and apparently a former resident of Luna. Friday herself is neurotically insecure as a result of her upbringing.

Heinlein's most notable protagonist is Lazarus Long, a near-immortal rogue and Anti-Hero. Lazarus Long appears across much of Heinlein's work, often being both the Competent Man and the Wise Old Man. He is a strong proponent of the atheistic, Libertarian, Free-Love Future worldview that became a trademark of Heinlein's work, and is a frequent target of criticism for being a Marty Stu and Author Avatar.

Heinlein's approach to female characterization is sometimes controversial. While his female characters are a reasonably varied lot, they tend to have a few things in common: The men spend a lot of time explaining things to them. They rarely end the story un-paired with a man, sometimes even expressing a fear of lesbianism. And they often see motherhood as their highest goal. Many stories feature underage (barely teen-age) girls "bundling" with far older men. It should be considered, however, that at the time he wrote most of his novels an actively dominant female character was an extreme rarity.

Heinlein's adult years were during the Cold War, and he was extremely hawkish, believing that the Soviets were a serious threat to the US, and that a strong military with lots of nuclear missiles was the only sane response. (For example, one of his character regarded the difference between the Soviets and mind-controlling alien slugs as nearly irrelevant). Though his views were not uncommon at the time, given that the Soviet Union folded shortly after Heinlein's death, understanding his Soviet-phobia can be difficult for modern readers but necessary to understanding his work. (Claiming the genocidal hive-minded Bugs from Starship Troopers are stand-ins for the Soviets is not a stretch).

He also invented and explored the concept of Pantheistic Solipsism in his later works, also known as the "World as Myth" philosophy: where powerful writers create universes via the act of writing. He uses this for multiple Crossovers between world lines, including at least one meeting between every major hero he created in a single scene. It's also noted that later characters would call him (as the author) out for the horrible actions his characters suffer if this idea is true.

His impact can be best seen in Larry Niven's short story The Return of William Proxmire where a fictional version of the infamously Luddite U.S. Senator Proxmire — who wishes to prevent the "waste" of the space program — decides to use time travel to cure Heinlein's pulmonary tuberculosis because every scientist and engineer "fanatic" in the space program credits him as being their inspiration. (For the interested, curing Heinlein means he rises to prominence in the Navy and pays attention in 1940 when Goddard tries to warn the military about the potential and dangers of rockets. When Proxmire returns to the present, Admiral Heinlein's Navy-run program has set up lunar colonies, orbital solar power stations, and prevented the Russians from developing ICBMs).

  1. And, well, his book introducing the "World as Myth" concept has every single villain be named with an anagram of Heinlein or his wife's names or pen names.