Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book Discussion: "The Heritage of Heinlein"

Hmm, a good time saver here.  This book is a thorough, top-to-bottom discussion of Heinlein's body of fiction, taken with a major period for each chapter:

  1. A new Calling: For Us, the Living
  2. Early Professional Writing
  3. Transitions
  4. The Juveniles for Scribner's
  5. The "Classic" Period
  6. Stranger in a Strange Land
  7. The Final Period
If you are familiar with Heinlein's work, these will stand out as obvious demarcations.  Naturally a book of this sort is very spoiler-riffic, so it is not for readers new to Heinlein who wish to enjoy his works afresh.  But for the old curmudgeon who has read nearly everything the man wrote, it can provide some new insights into various stories.  More importantly, it relives said curmudgeon of re-reading some of the earliest and late-period stinkers.  For example I never really liked I Will Fear No Evil, but having read it in my early 20's, I always felt that I owed the book another chance.  However, after reading these authors' analysis of the work, it now seems that my remembered impressions of that book are justified.  Like I said, a good time saver.

One unexpected point hammered home in this book is how shot-through with solipsism are Heinlein's stories after 1945-1950-ish   Hardly something I ever expected from The Grand Master of Hard SF, a writer who has inspired generations of hard-nosed scientists and steely-eyed engineers, but there it is.  Hadn't really noticed, until now.

In the end, I gained a few new insights into Heinlein's work, and saved myself the trouble of plowing through a half-dozen of his lesser novels in hopes that they were not as bad as they seemed when I read them two or three decades ago.  (In all case the authors confirm that, yes, they really were that bad.)  But for Heinlein's better stories, these analyses were a welcome refresher for the plots and themes, sometimes with several new viewpoints I hadn't considered.  Altogether, a worthwhile read.

As a final note, this is definitely a book you should consider buying on kindle rather than in print: $16 vs. $40, respectively.  That differential is a fair chunk of the price of a new kindle e-reader!  Here, have some cover art:

Again, a worthwhile book.  And despite having a fresh copy of The Authorized Heinlein Biography on my shelf, I'm going to take a break from Heinlein and go read other things for a few months.

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