H is for Heinlein

So, continuing my occasional trawl through my bookselves to find my A-Z favourites, H comes pummeling me over the head with countless options. Ask me tomorrow and I might go for Peter F Hamilton, because he’s so damn readable. But he’d be nowhere without Robert A Heinlein and this is certainly a case of giving due respect to your elders,

Heinlein was one of the big three of science fiction’s golden age, of course, alongside Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke, emerging from the pulps and going on to dominate the field through the 50s, 60s and 70s until age dimmed his talent and the next generation emerged. But, like Shakespeare and the Beatles, his legacy is evident everywhere. There would be no Peter Hamilton (as we know his writing) without Robert Heinlein, No John Scalzi, no Gareth Powell, no Alastair Reynolds, no Stephen Baxter, no Dan Simmonds and no James A Corey. Probably no Star Trek either, because Heinlein was out in space seeking out strange new worlds long before Gene Roddenbery put pen to paper.

As a kid I couldn’t get enough. I worked through his ‘juveniles’ (Tunnel in the Sky, Red Planet, the Star Beast etc etc) and quickly on to his books aimed at older readers. Mid peirod Heinlein classics included Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, Glory Road and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and I’ve returned to them all many times. Later additions were longer, rambling, more indulgent and best forgotten but those early classics have a freshness and energy to them that is rarely evident in more modern work.

Tunnel in the Sky, one of his ‘juveniles’ is my favourite. A bunch of kids on some sort of outward bound survival ecercise on a new planet get stranded with all the adults and teachers cut off when their wormhole link goes down. It doesn’t quite turn into Lord of the Flies in space, not quite.

Heinlein’s politics got dodgy as he got older, and as the spiritual father of military SF he’s got a lot to answer for. But his grunts-in-space classic Starship Troopers also inspired Joe Haldeman’s seminal anti-war novel The Forever War, and early Heinlein would probably have barely recognised his later incarnation. So take him in the round, and like your grandad try and overlook his slightly dubious take on the world and remember what you love about him – strong storytelling, great characters, vivid imagination and the chance to live out your dreams, page by page. H is for Robert A Heinlein, then, and Tunnel in the Sky is my pick of his books.