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Heinlein Reinvented 
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Heinlein Nexus
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Post Heinlein Reinvented
In another thread on pastiches I commented that it would be interesting to document just where in Heinlein's output he transcended himself, i.e., extended his repertoire in some new direction, and how. This is really addressing where Heinlein went off in a new direction, something that wasn't predictable or an extrapolation of what had come before. He did this quite a bit.

So let's have a go at it. I'll get the ball rolling with something quick and dirty. I'm not feeling very articulate today and this list consists mainly of topics, but that's this exercise isn't about topics, it's about writing ability. I just don't have better words at the moment. It's not about writing style - any decent hack can switch between styles at the drop of a pen like an actor switching between Lear and Falstaff.

  • Methuselah's Children: Practical immortality.
  • Jerry was a Man: Identity and meaning of being human.
  • The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag: Mystical alternate interpretations of reality.
  • Delilah and the Space Rigger: Female equality.
  • SIASL: Sex, religion, life after death. Probably his biggest shift in a single book.
  • Glory Road: Sword-and-sorcery fantasy. Turned out to be an evolutionary dead end. (But was it just an extension of Magic, Inc?)
  • TMIAHM: Politics as central theme.
  • TNOTB: The Multiverse.


Mon May 04, 2009 8:02 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein Reinvented
Peter Scott wrote:
  • Methuselah's Children: Practical immortality.
  • Jerry was a Man: Identity and meaning of being human.
  • The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag: Mystical alternate interpretations of reality.
  • Delilah and the Space Rigger: Female equality.
  • SIASL: Sex, religion, life after death. Probably his biggest shift in a single book.
  • Glory Road: Sword-and-sorcery fantasy. Turned out to be an evolutionary dead end. (But was it just an extension of Magic, Inc?)
  • TMIAHM: Politics as central theme.
  • TNOTB: The Multiverse.

Good list and good concept to chew on. Some added thoughts:

If there's one thing of value that Bill's work has produced, it's the clear portrait of how LITTLE Heinlein changed over time. Nearly every concept in his idea-book can be found in some form right back to the earliest days - and this applies to politics and world-think as well as fiction. So while we can point out shifts in his writing, it's well to remember that they almost certainly do not represent shifts in his theory, thinking or philosophies. (If anything, it's a little disconcerting at how consistent Heinlein was from his 20s onward - and no, this is far from the only thing Bill's produced; I just think it may be the single most important facet.)

I think you can find traces of "identity and meaning of being human" in nearly every Heinlein work - submerged in some, prominent in others. Even "Life-Line" has it in some good measure.

"Mystical alternate interpretations of reality" - ditto. But long before Hoag. "Life-Line," "Elsewhen," "Lost Legacy," "Magic, Inc." and most especially "They" all predate Hoag. Many of those also presage the Multiverse in shadowy form.

Female equality? Right back to "Let There Be Light" and heavy elsewhere before Delilah.

Glory Road could be a Multiverse tale. So Jake invented a scientificky 'traption that crudely replicated Star's older, more integral tools - which were perhaps limited to a subset of the Universes.

Politics as central theme - you've skipped Double Star and the many stories where political wrangling becomes a central obstacle, if not necessarily central. Stranger, for one.

Hmm. I think any attempt to point out places where "Heinlein went off in a new direction" will turn out to show a more subtle shift than you're implying. It might be more productive to trace each of these ideas from their seeds in both his published work and what we know of his underlying ideas to the first efflorescence of the idea - which I think you've come close to nailing in your list.

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Tue May 05, 2009 7:35 am
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Post Re: Heinlein Reinvented
Very interesting and fresh topic that should generate a good discussion. It can be approached from a variety of angles.

When I think of changes or new directions in Heinlein's writing over his career, I picture him aiming his writing at new audiences. Whether he did this primarily as a means to access additional revenue sources (logical given his practical approach to the writing craft) or because he wanted to show off his versatility I don't know. It is apparent that Heinlein grew bored writing for a particular market and frequently changed course. His success in doing this opened new fields for science fiction that had previously been closed. He wasn't always artistically or practically successful in his first attempts to reach new audiences, but he was persistent and he learned fast.

Some examples:

1. Breaking into and then upgrading the quality of pulp science fiction - his first known serious attempt (FUTL) was aborted, but then he broke in with Life-Line, a very good but not great short story. Within a year, his really good stuff (Requiem, If This Goes On, The Roads Must Roll, Coventry etc.) began rolling out in torrents.
2. After mastering the pulp world, he grew bored (Well, WWII intervened as well but I think he used it partially as an excuse) and he walked away from it. His next foray was two-pronged - writing both short fiction and non-fiction pieces for publication in the mainstream slick magazines and starting his juvenile novels. Since his short fiction for the slicks was not materially different from his pulp output that was an easier market for him. He had much less success with his pontificating non-fiction. His first attempt at long form juvenile fiction was successful commercially but not so much artistically IMO. Within two years though, he wrote Red Planet.
3. Next Heinlein wanted to reach the adult novel audience. His first three published adult novels were basically re-works and extensions of his early pulp work, but then by 1951 he had Puppet Masters, and he began plotting Stranger. By then, except for increasing levels of commercial success, Heinlein had reached all his intended audiences, and had them hooked for life.

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Tue May 05, 2009 8:16 am
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Post Re: Heinlein Reinvented
James Gifford wrote:
If there's one thing of value that Bill's work has produced, it's the clear portrait of how LITTLE Heinlein changed over time. Nearly every concept in his idea-book can be found in some form right back to the earliest days - and this applies to politics and world-think as well as fiction. So while we can point out shifts in his writing, it's well to remember that they almost certainly do not represent shifts in his theory, thinking or philosophies. (If anything, it's a little disconcerting at how consistent Heinlein was from his 20s onward - and no, this is far from the only thing Bill's produced; I just think it may be the single most important facet.)


This is hard to frame coherent thoughts about. My central quest is, where did Heinlein break his own mold and grow as a writer. And framed thus, I am as certain that he did so as I am inadequate to describe how he did so.

As soon as Bill sees this discussion I predict he will be immensely frustrated with his other commitments because I'm sure he could and would like to slay entire forests on this topic.

I retract my topic list as a red herring. Yes, it is possible to look back and forward in Heinlein's oeuvre and find echoes all along the continuum - FUTL proved that startlingly well - but that doesn't mean Heinlein emerged in 1939 fully-fledged from the forehead of Zeus with only incremental improvements in phraseology, structuring, and other literary nuts and bolts. But Heinlein more than any other writer was capable of transcending himself, and dammit - I know he did that in at least the World as Myth series, even if I can't explain how. (Not that I was happy with the result, but chacon a son gout.) Equally, I assert that anyone who had read Heinlein's output before SIASL could not have predicted that book, even if it did contain highly familiar elements such as Martians. But I am only an egg when it comes to elucidating it.


Tue May 05, 2009 12:33 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein Reinvented
Peter Scott wrote:
But Heinlein more than any other writer was capable of transcending himself, and dammit - I know he did that in at least the World as Myth series, even if I can't explain how. (Not that I was happy with the result, but chacon a son gout.) Equally, I assert that anyone who had read Heinlein's output before SIASL could not have predicted that book, even if it did contain highly familiar elements such as Martians. But I am only an egg when it comes to elucidating it.


SIASL, my favorite by far of all Heinlein's works, indeed could not have been predicted prior to its publication. However, since the book had been in the gestation stage for a decade before publication, it quite possibly could have entered the oeuvre earlier. In fact (and Bill can verify whether this is true) the book always read to me like it had been written in two parts, with the first part prior to Mike leaving Jubal's home having been written years before the rest of the book. It's almost as if the story starts anew with Mike and Jill in the carnival. I always thought that Heinlein could not decide where to take the story from the point of Mike's departure, and so he set it aside for awhile. Ginny's explanation that Heinlein was waiting for society's mores to evolve before daring to release the book lends weight to that. I'd love to know the whole backstory to SIASL's creation.

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Tue May 05, 2009 12:55 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein Reinvented
[quote="Peter Scott"]As soon as Bill sees this discussion I predict he will be immensely frustrated with his other commitments because I'm sure he could and would like to slay entire forests on this topic.
quote] Well, yeah, but one of those other topics is the writing of a critical study, so I will be slaying entire forests on this topic, one way or another.

One of the interesting notions my co-author, Robert James, came up with is that those visible places where Heinlein zigged when others were zagging are largely illusory. The "standard picture," which Panshin used, is that Heinlein wrote pulp and then abandoned it and then decayed for the last 25 or so years of his life into a "period of Alienation."

Robert says, no, it's not linear like that at all: Heinlein started out with this complex and demanding agenda, visible in FUTL, which he had to stop down and disguise to fit into the taboos of pulp fiction, and then he stopped himself down further in order to write for children. In 1959 he said, "enough!" and returned to his original agenda, to write "my own stuff, my own way" after Starship Troopers. (Whether or not that book could be published as a juvenile, it was written as one, so ST falls into the old self-suppression agenda in which he said he felt tied down with a thousand strings, like Gulliver among the Liliputians; Stranger, however, is the first book of the original-revived agenda. Heinlein wrote experiments and explorations and then found something like his true calling in the World as Myth books.

So the obvious changes in direction might represent nothing more than exploiting new markets as they opened up -- the kind of superficial technical competence of a wordsmith rather than any fundamental change in Heinlein.


Tue May 05, 2009 2:01 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein Reinvented
Jack Kelly wrote:
SIASL, my favorite by far of all Heinlein's works, indeed could not have been predicted prior to its publication. However, since the book had been in the gestation stage for a decade before publication, it quite possibly could have entered the oeuvre earlier. In fact (and Bill can verify whether this is true) the book always read to me like it had been written in two parts, with the first part prior to Mike leaving Jubal's home having been written years before the rest of the book. It's almost as if the story starts anew with Mike and Jill in the carnival. I always thought that Heinlein could not decide where to take the story from the point of Mike's departure, and so he set it aside for awhile. Ginny's explanation that Heinlein was waiting for society's mores to evolve before daring to release the book lends weight to that. I'd love to know the whole backstory to SIASL's creation.

Chortle. Heinlein took great glee in pointing out that everyone who talked about one or more breaks in the writing had the breaks dead wrong. Afraid you'll have to join the raspberries, Jack.

There were indeed multiple breaks in the gestation of SIASL. The basic outline of about 8 pages were done in late October or early November 1948. More outlining was done after Destination Moon was filmed -- call it 1950. He nibbled at it in 1952, probably not more than the introduction and wrote something like 55000 words in 1955 -- which takes us up to the time Ben Caxton disappears from the story. He took the ms out again in 1958 but apparently didn't get any actual writing done. He started again from where he left off in 1960 and wrote the entire remainder of the book at that time.

This is just a fast summary. With Ginny's help, I did a detailed tracing of the chronology in The Heinlein Journal some years back, and of course (shameless plug alert) much of this is in The Martian Named Smith (/shameless plug alert)

So Mike's departure was a planned story break (note how Heinlein keeps switching the genre from suspense-adventure story to bildungsroman, to others). Now, I think the reason Heinlein kept stalling on the book during the 1950's was that the way he was trying to tell it wouldn't work (he might have been modeling it on one of Upton Sinclair's late books, It Happened to Didymus) and it only jelled for him when he got rid of Ben Caxton and made Jubal Harshaw the main narrative focus. Also, somebody needs to look at William Gresham's Nightmare Alley, because I think that's where 100% of the carny stuff comes from.


Tue May 05, 2009 2:24 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein Reinvented
Bill Patterson wrote:
This is just a fast summary. With Ginny's help, I did a detailed tracing of the chronology in The Heinlein Journal some years back, and of course (shameless plug alert) much of this is in The Martian Named Smith (/shameless plug alert)


Thanks, Bill. I remember reading that in my (autographed! :) ) copy of The Martian Named Smith. However, it's been a few years since I read it, so I reverted to my previous misconceptions. Memory isn't what it used to be.

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Tue May 05, 2009 4:18 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein Reinvented
Bill Patterson wrote:
Chortle. Heinlein took great glee in pointing out that everyone who talked about one or more breaks in the writing had the breaks dead wrong.


You can see why people think that the break occurred after the end of part two, though, right? It's rather unusual: it's already sufficiently long to be published (not sure what form - novella?), and every subplot has been resolved. There are no loose ends. If the book ended right there no one would complain or suspect there should have been more. It even ends on a line of dialogue framed like a story ending. You could make the case that the telegraphed meeting with the Fosterites was an unresolved thread, but Heinlein hardly leans on it as a critical point - few would have missed it or suspected that the book was going to veer off in a messianic direction after that.


Mon May 11, 2009 5:03 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein Reinvented
Peter Scott wrote:
Bill Patterson wrote:
Chortle. Heinlein took great glee in pointing out that everyone who talked about one or more breaks in the writing had the breaks dead wrong.


You can see why people think that the break occurred after the end of part two, though, right? It's rather unusual: it's already sufficiently long to be published (not sure what form - novella?), and every subplot has been resolved. There are no loose ends. If the book ended right there no one would complain or suspect there should have been more. It even ends on a line of dialogue framed like a story ending. You could make the case that the telegraphed meeting with the Fosterites was an unresolved thread, but Heinlein hardly leans on it as a critical point - few would have missed it or suspected that the book was going to veer off in a messianic direction after that.

Well, yeah, in the sense that it is a strong cadence. By the time I read Stranger I had a fair experience of SF, but I don't recall thinking what I would probably think now: since there's somewhat more than half the book to go, Heinlein is doing the usual Heinlein thing of taking the endpoint of conventional sf thinking and using it as the starting point to enlarge the material he's working with.

This cadencing points to an unusual feature of Stranger that really hasn't been dealt with in more than a superficial way; the story as a whole is a variant of the hero tale, but the different parts of the book are parodies of entirely different story genres -- moving from suspense to intrigue to bilgung and finally to I guess you could call it the "joyful tragedy" pharmakos-ending. People have complained about the combination of genre, treating it as a flaw of the book, but to me it's quintessential satire technique, since satire has no form of its own but uses parody to impose a form on the story (or in the case of Tristam Shandy, to break up form). I suppose slipping from genre to genre keeps the story from crystallizing into a pure hero tale -- which I suppose puts the story structure a little comparable to "Coventry" where he forcibly busts up the coalescing romance restoration by application of a Brechtian V-Effekt -- but I've never thought of this movement from genre to genre as a V-Effekt applied over a gigantic novel.


Tue May 12, 2009 6:39 am
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