reassessing Robert A. Heinlein

350-robert-a-heinleinMichael Dirda at The Washington Post:

Heinlein’s last novels — “I Will Fear No Evil,” (1970) “Time Enough for Love” (1973), “The Number of the Beast” (1980) and others are generally regarded as bloated, preachy, cutesy and dull. (This, I hasten to add, is hearsay: I haven’t read them.) As early as “Stranger in a Strange Land,” Heinlein had begun to use his fiction as a pulpit, while also resisting any serious editing and allowing his elderly sexual fantasies to run wild. Except by the hardcore Heinlein fan, the works after “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” (1966) go largely unread.

But, then, one might ask, do 21st-century science fiction fans still read any Heinlein? At recent sf cons, he has been dismissed as racist, misogynistic, jingoistic and irrelevant. The topmost blurb on Patterson’s back cover is, tellingly, by macho novelist Tom Clancy. Not a good sign. Yet just below, Samuel R. Delany — gay, African American and nothing if not transgressive — emphasizes Heinlein’s ability to free young minds from orthodoxy. Still, the best appreciation of Heinlein as an artist—and that’s really all that matters– may well be Joe Haldeman’s introduction to the 1978 Gregg Press edition of “Double Star.” At its end, he notes that he has read the novel 10 or 12 times — and, I suspect, that number has grown since then. Yet Haldeman is no adoring acolyte: He wrote “The Forever War” in part as a riposte to the gung-ho excesses of “Starship Troopers.” Both books received Hugo Awards.

more here.