Jul 27 2008 4:25pm
Total Immersion: Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy

Somebody has borrowed my copy of Citizen of the Galaxy. (If you give it back safely, no questions will be asked. You'll know if it's mine, it's an old battered Puffin edition with a boy on the cover holding a begging bowl full of stars.) In the meantime, because sometimes when I need to read something nothing else will do, I re-read it out of the library a couple of weeks ago.

What Heinlein was unbeatable at was writing total immersion. His universes hold together perfectly, even though he describes them with very few strokes. From the first words of Citizen you're caught, you're there beside the slave block that stands by the spaceport in Jubbalpore as a beggar buys a slave. There's something so compelling about the prose, about the story, that I find myself totally sucked in every time. There are books I can re-read in a fairly detached way -- I do know what's going to happen, after all -- but this isn't one of them. I'd love to analyse how Heinlein does it -- I'd love to be able to copy how Heinlein does it, and so would a lot of people -- but no, the sheer force of storytelling drags me through at one sitting without pause every single time.

The story is quite simple. Thorby is a slave, recently arrived on the world of Jubbalpore in the hold of a slaver's spaceship. He is bought by Baslim the Cripple, who is more than a beggar and who educates the boy. Then Baslim is killed and Thorby whisked off planet by a ship of Free Traders, a Finnish speaking spacer clan who adopt him in gratitude for past services by Baslim. Baslim has made them promise to deliver Thorby to a vessel of the Space Navy, (The Hegemonic Guard, his own service) in the hope that they will be able to identify Thorby. The Free Traders do, reluctantly, because they'd much rather keep him. Thorby is enlisted and eventually identified as Thor Bradley Rudbek of Rudbek, lost heir to the Rudbek fortune, who disappeared with his parents at a very young age. Back on Earth he discovers that his uncle probably had his parents murdered and Thorby enslaved, he gets rid of his uncle and buckles down to run his business and oppose slavery.

On the way through this breakneck plot (the whole book is only about 80,000 words long) we also run into silent trading with aliens, a battle with space pirates, the interstellar economics of slavery and the luxury and decadence of Earth. Thematically the book is about the utmost importance of liberty to people, and how liberty is only attainable with education and choices.

For a book written for young adults in 1957 it is admirably ahead of its times on racism (humans of all races are enslaved, and slavers) and sexism -- as often in Heinlein's juveniles there are no major female characters but there are minor ones in significant roles, shooting down space pirates and effecting successful rescues. It's also, again considering it's more than fifty years old, surprisingly undated. The computer on which Thorby shoots down the pirates is described (or not described) in such a way that I could picture it as a futuristic computer in 1975 and a CP/M computer in 1985 and a DOS computer in 1995 and a Windows computer now.

Heinlein isn't known for anthropological SF, but that's what this is really. The society of Jubbalpore, and the matriarchal patrilocal society of Free Traders Thorby is thrust into are anthropological curiosities, and that's where the book gets half its charm. The other half comes from the assurance of the narrative voice that guides us along with Thorby with absolute confidence from planet to planet, from slavery to riches with never a false note nor a pause to consider the inherent implausibility of the whole thing.

1. NullNix
What I find most impressive about _Citizen of the Galaxy_ is the way it rises above its structural flaws. The plot is, well, *wandering* at best, and more questions are raised than answered, entire cultures being drawn in detail only to be abandoned as the plot moves on... but the pacing is so good that I at least could entirely ignore this, and then dash back to the start and reread it again.

In a sense the open-ended plot becomes a virtue: you can imagine Thorby's life continuing long after the book ends. Goodness knows he's not short of problems to solve at the end.

(Oh, and it's 'Jubbulpore'. I'm rather worried that I can remember this.)
Christopher Davis
2. ckd
A Linux computer, certainly. After all, Free Traders would clearly use Free Software.
Paul Howard
3. DrakBibliophile
Ah, I believe Thorby shot at a pirate when he was in the Space Navy not when he was on the Free Trader ship.
Jo Walton
4. bluejo
DrakBibliophile: he did it on _Sisu_, and he knew he hit because the port side computer was down. Which is why, CKD, I know it wasn't Linux!
Jo Walton
5. bluejo
NullNix: As I said, somebody has borrowed my copy and not given it back, so all spelling is from memory. In other words, I'm sure you're right! And yes, it's not a tight plot, except that it somehow is.
Beth Meacham
6. bam
arrgh. Plz can I has edit function?
Beth Meacham
7. bam
A Citizen of the Galaxy was my favorite Heinlein as a kid. As I grew up, I became more fond of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but it's still right up there.[/i]
Jo Walton
8. bluejo
Beth: My favourite as an adult is definitely Double Star DOUBLE STAR.
Paul Howard
9. DrakBibliophile
Bluejo, I'll have to see if I can find an ecopy of it. (Just to check my memory) [Wink]
10. AngusM
At the risk of inviting public stoning for heresy, I will admit that I feel only lukewarm towards Heinlein. The exception is "Citizen of the Galaxy", which I read as a kid and enjoyed enormously. Yes, it's unashamed space opera, even down to people with pointy ears ("Oh, let him go, Dwarol. It's not his fault how the slave's ears are shaped; he has to sell him.") but it's a good, well-told, fast-moving story. And as you say, the immersion is immediate and total.

One nice detail is the way that space combat is something more akin to submarine warfare than the laser beam dogfighting of "Star Wars" and other SF movies. The opposing ships stalk each other and trade fire at long range, and the computers tell the survivors how the battle went when it's all over. I can't believe in the "paralyzing ray" (but I recognize it as a necessary plot device), but Heinlein's account is a kind of halfway point between Star Wars-style dogfights and Haldeman's "Forever War", which I still think of as one of the more plausible accounts I've read: battles fought by computers at relativistic speeds with almost no human intervention.
Debbie Moorhouse
11. GUDsqrl
Hmm, I seem to remember one of the roles for one of the female characters is to pretend to be bad at sport and stupid so Thorby will fall for her.
12. Clark E Myers
I should have said rather [t]hematically the book is about the utmost importance of duty to people, and how duty only expands with education and choices. Much the same I think is true in Double Star. FREX no promise to deliver Thorby was ever made, rather an obligation was laid and there was no room for F=IW given the obligation.

Then too, in common with say a Joe Haldeman story Mr. Heinlein praised which ends in a marriage and they lived happily ever after the ending here is not really such a happy ending - as the Margaret Mead character foreshadows and hammers home - shut up soldier and soldier is not an emancipation.
Charlie Stross
14. cstross
I have a Theory about Heinlein, Jo.

While he had a goodly-sized toolbox, he asserted several times that there were just four basic stories; everything he wrote was a variation on one or other of them. And when he picked one of these archetypes, he ran headlong at it, doing his best to build and maintain momentum.

Try it: it works!

(My latest, "Saturn's Children", is a Heinlein hommage. Late period, not juvie, but I used exactly this technique, working with one of his standard plots and running headlong at it, and it worked adequately well -- on a first attempt.)
Arachne Jericho
15. arachnejericho
I have to pick this up again. I lost focus (e.g., had to put the book down when the pager beep-beep-beeped) at a crucial point (somewhere after he's learned to operate the weapons system Real Good) and then the successive days of whackery at work kept me away for a few days.

I didn't feel like coming back, though I tried; maybe because the spell was broken and it was hard to get back in. And there was a stack of more Heinlein to read.

All the other Heinlein stuff absorbs me though, but none of them suffered from being interrupted by the Page of Doom.
16. Clark E Myers
F=IW is from a story commonly known as And Then There Were None - collected in The Great Explosion (IMHO a core story and collection for the SF canon and certainly in a discussion with a Prometheus Award Winner - kudos to Jo Walton) and is a symbol used for "Freedom equals I won't". The collection is good on energy policy with a fair use of bicycles.

In context of the Heinlein story here I suggest all the principals had very very limited degrees of freedom - or liberty - if you will even unto the food fight.
Jeff Soules
17. DeepThought
Nothing too substantial to say here, except that I grew up with Heinlein; this wasn't my favorite of his books (even as a kid I liked The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) but even so I read it at least three times.

I think both Ms. Walton and Clark E Myers are correct; the book is about both liberty and duty (two themes which are both very strong throughout his oeuvre after all). But for Heinlein, liberty and duty both expand with education and choices. The funny thing about duty is that it implies the ability to choose otherwise; it is only morally meaningful to uphold an obligation to a dead man because one has the choice of blowing it off, with no one the wiser. Heinlein depicts the Free Trader crew as being very admirable, both because of, and through the device of, the moral weight of them making that choice correctly.
John Adams
18. JohnArkansawyer

Thanks! I know Wasp well, but not "And Then There Were None". I must look it up.

The food fight is a telling incident, isn't it? Despite all the layers of discipline Thorby gains up to that point, he still can't help but rise to the bait. He's still not fully mature.


Speaking of limited degrees of freedom, I just finished your Friday 2.0 and got quite the kick out of it. It's a frigging good book. I'm looking forward what you do with Job 3.0.
Terry Karney
19. Terry_Karney
For what it's worth, the shooting was when he was on Sisu. His time in Navy Service is mostly (to his pain and chagrin) done from the officees of Rudbeck.

When he was in the role of "recruit" he gets grief in the Naval Mess for "grandstanding" and saying he shot a slaver.

Citizen of the Galaxy, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Starship Troopers are the three books which resonate most strongly with me.

I read them all when I was young (12-14), and the various themes were the things which stuck. Various details are etched in memory (when I'd been fighting cycling fevers and horrid drug reactions, and not eaten in five days... I ate my first meal with great restraint, because I recalled Thorby puking up his lentil soup).

When he was on (and most of his juveniles were on) and well edited, it's like a Beethoven piece, you make not like all of it, but you are on a rollercoaster, and going to be there for the whole ride.
David Dyer-Bennet
20. dd-b
There's something so compelling about the prose, about the story, that I find myself totally sucked in every time.

Yep, that's the thing. The man was dangerous :-).

I can even reread that later ones that I don't even like.
Mitch Wagner
21. MitchWagner
Slavery and military services are two extremes for Heinlein, and we see them both in "Citizen." The slave trade is, for Heinlein, the worst crime that humanity is capable of. It's worse to rob someone of their freedom than it is to rob them of anything else, even their life.

But military service is, for Heinlein, the highest calling a person can follow. In military service, you willingly and paradoxically give up your freedom to follow your duty and your superior officer's orders (but only their legal orders, as we see in "The Long Watch").
Jo Walton
22. bluejo
Clark: I think liberty is a side effect of choice, and F=IW is too simplistic a way of putting that, and duty does need to be in that equation. I think even on Russell's planet parents fed their babies in the middle of the night even when they didn't want to, or if they didn't then "Then there were none" would have applied to them! CotG shows Thorby going from being a slave to being completely free and simultaneously completely bound by obligation. As a teenage reader I wanted him to be able to go back into the Guard -- or even better, back to _Sisu_! -- and have adventures, as an adult I think it's a lovely subtle ending.

Perhaps F=IW should be "IW be bound by obligations I do not choose".

And now I feel like reading Eric Frank Russell!
Mark Ensley
23. mensley
cstross wrote: I have a Theory about Heinlein, Jo.

While he had a goodly-sized toolbox, he asserted several times that there were just four basic stories; everything he wrote was a variation on one or other of them.

I looked around but couldn't find a reference for this.

Does someone know what these four basic plots were?

John Adams
24. JohnArkansawyer
I thought it was three plots.

One was "The Man Who Learns Better"--"Coventry" and "Logic of Empire" come to mind here. Seems like another was "Boy Meets Girl"--"The Menace From Earth" and "Let There Be Light" come to mind (with Friday containing a man-who-learns-better rejoinder to "Let There Be Light".). A web search claims the third to be "The Brave Little Tailor", which might cover "The Long Watch" or "Misfit".

The fourth story would be late Heinlein and is best summarized as "The Very Old Man Who Learned Better Than To Be A Boy Who Meets Just One Girl And Has Little Use For The Brave Little Tailor's Product."
Arachne Jericho
25. arachnejericho
You'll find plenty of references to "three plots" and Heinlein, but not to four plots.

This blog entry on The Man Who Never Missed explains the three plots (and some other things) in more detail.

- a, just good for digging up links
26. Clark E Myers
"When he was in the role of "recruit" he gets grief in the Naval Mess for "grandstanding" and saying he shot a slaver."

Notice though that Thorby first reacts somewhat logically to an emotional situation in the Mess - treating a rhetorical question as real - then reacts emotionally - though he might have restrained himself in what was after all a training exercise.

Although the situation allows an inference that Thorby was grandstanding by making the - true in context - claim that he personally made such a shot the intended statement was to the effect that he had personal knowledge of such shots.

Taking Citizen as a bildungsroman I see little room to continue with adventures - as David Drake says of Voyage - he's all grown up now (mature when Thorby accepts the order to shut up soldier and soldier) and that's the end of it.

Oddly the young grow up in Heinlein - sometimes happily as in the ending of Tunnel and sometimes unhappily as Oscar but Woodie (another Starbeast raising style joke?) never does.
Lydia Nickerson
27. lydy
I don't understand how Heinlein manages to capture the reader in the first couple of sentences. Even when I try to maintain my distance and _look_ at it, I instead get drawn into the story and have rocketed ahead 50 pages before I remember that I wanted to look at that beginning.

CotG is one of my favorite juvies. Along with _Have Spacesuit, Will Travel_. I like most of the juvies, in fact, but somehow can't remember the titles of the rest of them.
Jo Walton
28. bluejo
People grow up in the juveniles but not in the adult ones?

I find the idea that Heinlein's Old Man characters are less grown up than his young men are at the end intriguing. I shall think about that.

I've always loved the end of _Tunnel_ for the realistic way in which Rod comes home and everything is awful and people won't take him seriously -- and then the very end when he gets to do it properly.

I never thought of "Woodie" as a joke (largely because I think of him as Lazarus) while the John Thomas one was immediately apparent -- and even quite shocking when I was twelve. You know, "Rod" has ambiguities too. Do you think Heinlien might have been putting a lot of emphasis on the masculinity of his heroes?
William S. Higgins
29. higgins
On Heinlein's "three plots" essay:

It's entitled "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction," and you can find it in Of Worlds Beyond, edited by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach in 1947. It's also reprinted in Turning Points: Essays on the Art of Science Fiction, edited by Damon Knight in 1977.

It's not available free online, so far as I know. One could buy a scan of the manuscript from the Heinlein Archive for $1.50.

(This essay also contains Heinlein's famous five rules for fiction writing.)

The Eshbach book also has essays by Doc Smith, Jack Williamson, John Campbell, A. E. van Vogt, L. Sprague de Camp, and others, so it's worth getting if you want a look at very early SF criticism from the field's top writers.
30. Clark E Myers
Given the explicit statements about the importance of names - e.g. The Heretic/Stranger - I think that conclusion at least is inescapable.
Mark Ensley
31. mensley
Thanks to everyone for the info on RAH's three (not four!) plots.
32. rogerothornhill
What I love about this entry, Jo, is that you've captured exactly the right way to read Heinlein: borrowing. For so many years, references to RAH that I encountered framed him the wrong way for me. No description I ever ran across of Stranger in a Strange Land, for example, ever made me want to pick it up, no matter how highly it was touted. Then a roommate loaned me Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, still my favorite and one of my two or three favorite novels about revolution, and I was hooked. In time, I've also come to appreciate the juveniles. Heinlein is one of those authors that, when I encounter his works through categories, I don't think I'll be interested. But each time the book itself--and yes, the immersion--pull me in, and I remember that I do like him quite that much.
Bruce Cohen
33. SpeakerToManagers
Re Heinlein character names:

ISTR reading (a long time ago) that Heinlein delighted in sneaking things past censorious editors and the like. IIRC he had a running battle of that sort with Kay Tarrant at Astounding, so it seems reasonable that he would do the same with the editors of his juveniles. He does say somewhere (an essay I read in Expanded Universe, I think) that he was very annoyed with the editor of Red Planet for making him dilute his "right-to-own-guns" argument.
John Adams
34. JohnArkansawyer
By the time he got around to calling Lazarus Long "Woodie" in Time Enough For Love, Heinlein wasn't constrained by editors, for better, for worse, and for nearly twenty years.

Also, I'm thinking (and I could be wrong about this) that the term for an erect penis is "woody" rather than "woodie", the latter being mostly used as a type of a car (wasn't that the spelling of Woodie Wagon?)

Anyone who derives "wookie" from this is a terrible, terrible person, invited to sit and chat a while.
35. gottacook
On the question of how Heinlein draws in a reader: How about giving editors a little credit? Compare the first paragraphs of the longer version of The Puppet Masters (published 1990) with the version that prevailed until then (Doubleday, 1951), shortened by Heinlein at an editor's request. The 1951 version is short and to the point:
Were they truly intelligent? By themselves, that is? I don’t know and I don’t know how we can ever find out.
If they were not truly intelligent, I hope I never live to see us tangle with anything at all like them which is intelligent. I know who will lose. Me. You. The so-called human race.

For me it started too early on July 12, ’07 […]

By contrast, the “uncut” version immediately digresses in several directions:
Were they truly intelligent? By themselves, that is? I don’t know and I don’t know how we can ever find out. I’m not a lab man; I’m an operator.
With the Soviets it seems certain that they did not invent anything. They simply took the communist power-for-power’s-sake and extended it without any “rotten liberal sentimentality” as the commissars put it. On the other hand, with animals they were a good deal more than animal.
(It seems strange no longer to see dogs around. When we finally come to grips with them, there will be a few million dogs to avenge. And cats. For me, one particular cat.)
If they were not truly intelligent, I hope I never live to see us tangle with anything at all like them which is intelligent. I know who will lose. Me. You. The so-called human race.

For me it started much too early on July 12, ’07 […]

With this in mind, I would love to see the longer “unrevised, uncut, first draft” version of Citizen of the Galaxy in the online Heinlein Archives, and I'll get around to it one of these days. (I'm currently rereading it again, having first read it and Have Space Suit - Will Travel at age 12; I have always been glad my junior high library included these.)
Kate Hill
36. khill
I was trying to think about whether there was a single one of Heinlein's books that didn't have somewhere close to its heart the theme of liberty/freedom and the cost of that freedom (the obligations it brings with it). Morally mature characters in his universe are always willing to pay for what they receive, be it liberty or instruction or air (on the moon). Take what you want and pay for it, says God. I think Heinlein might sum it up as TANSTAAFL (there aint' no such thing as a free lunch). And morally mature characters would find it beneath them to accept the status of children and take without paying their way - I can't remember which book it's from, but I seem to recall a character saying he wouldn't steal 'because he was too stinkin' proud'. It's not the worst philosophy in the world, I guess ...
John Adams
37. JohnArkansawyer
You know, from that little excerpt up there, I think The Puppet Masters might've gained by the editing. I'm going to pick up the uncut version soon and see.
Robert Franson
38. RobertWFranson
Jo Walton:
Total immersion, definitely. I'm fairly sure that Citizen of the Galaxy was the first Heinlein I ever read. I was very young for such a rich and complex story, and certainly a lot of it went right over my head -- but it's grown on me with every reading since.

As for the editing / extreme shortening of The Puppet Masters, yes the novel is tightened, but it's also seriously hurt. I suggest in "Heinlein's Missed Bestsellers" at Troynovant that a great opportunity for Heinlein and science fiction was missed here.
39. gottacook
RobertWFranson: I've just read your "Heinlein's Missed Bestsellers" at the link you provided. I couldn't find an example of precisely how the story was hurt by the cutting Doubleday requested. Can you elaborate?

(The standard pre-1990 version does seem a bit lacking in detail with regard to the Venusian rotifer-dependent solution to the crisis, but otherwise I've always found it satisfactory. And my reason for bringing up this particular novel concerned how it's possible to be drawn in by a Heinlein story's first words, rather than how concisely the whole story is told.)

JohnArkansawyer: Heinlein's spelling of "Woodie" is just his characteristic way of ending a name diminutively. There are many examples, but the best known is probably "Johnnie" all through Starship Troopers.
Robert Franson
40. RobertWFranson
My intent in the essay is to propose how Heinlein's career and science fiction's track might have blossomed earlier if some publishers had been as forward-looking as Heinlein's novels deserved.

Detailed comparisons of the book versions would be material for another kind of essay. I do believe that the full version of The Puppet Masterst is both significantly richer and significantly more coherent than the cut version, outweighing the virtues of conciseness here. Others' mileage may vary.

You're right in that one of Heinlein's (many) strengths is a strong opening, often with dialogue that drops us right into the action.
41. suzela
I had Citizen of the Galaxy on my summer reading list for my rising eighth graders (an accelerated class). I read the book in seventh grade--I started reading Heinlein in seventh grade and can remember going to the school library where we had about seven minutes max to pick up a book, running to HEI in Fic, grabbing one I hadn't read yet and running back to study hall--and loved it. It has been one of my favorites.

Can I tell you the vast majority of the students just couldn't read it? Couldn't understand it? Didn't know what was going on?

Were we that much smarter thirty years ago? Is it that sf is such a different kind of read? I have Tunnel in the Sky on the list now and more of them like it, especially the boys, but it puzzles me that this would be considered a hard book to understand.

What I like so much about the juveniles is that they didn't talk down to kids; they were written with the quality, characters, literary quality one would expect from ANY book.
John Armstrong
42. JohnnyYen
Not to quibble but "unashamed space opera"?
I had thought space opera referred to the type of SF I associate with, at best, Lensman books and at worst any of the sort of Duck Dodgers in the 25th and a half century type crap that follows the Bat Durston model.

(Galaxy ran a back page ad that read:

You Won't Find It in Galaxy

Jets blasting, Bat Durston came screeching down through the atmosphere of Bbllzznaj, a tiny planet seven billion light years from Sol. He cut out his super-hyper-drive for the landing... and at that point, a tall, lean spaceman stepped out of the tail assembly, proton gun-blaster in a space-tanned hand. "Get back from those controls, Bat Durston," the tall stranger lipped thinly. "You don't know it, but this is your last space trip."

Hoofs drumming, Bat Durston came galloping down through the narrow pass at Eagle Gulch, a tiny gold colony 400 miles north of Tombstone. He spurred hard for a low overhang of rim-rock... and at that point a tall, lean wrangler stepped out from behind a high boulder, six-shooter in a sun-tanned hand. "Rear back and dismount, Bat Durston," the tall stranger lipped thinly. "You don't know it, but this is your last saddle-jaunt through these here parts."

That what you mean by space opera?
John Armstrong
43. JohnnyYen
Deep Thought said: "I think both Ms. Walton and Clark E Myers are correct; the book is about both liberty and duty (two themes which are both very strong throughout his oeuvre after all). But for Heinlein, liberty and duty both expand with education and choices."

I remember as a lad noting that the Larry who was speaking in the end of the book, after a life spent masquerading as another man, was an entirely different man from the self-absorbed actor we met at the beginning of the book. I always though it a nice trick on Heinlein's part that we readers saw how his acceptance of duty had changed him for the better, while the character seemed to think he was still the same man, just a little older.
It has always amazed me that Heinlein just sat down and began writing and did it so well. For Us the Living is Bad, no argument but he was working at a pretty high standard almost immediately.
44. Joel Upchurch
I just came over to this thread because it was mentioned over on Jerry Pournelle's blog. I just reread The Rolling Stones recently and it actually held up very well. I just wanted use the Three Stages of Technology to start an essay I was writing and got sucked in. The "I Tell You Three Times" ballistic computer actually sounds a lot like the one on the original Space Shuttle and was actually made by IBM.

What is odd is that the computer in Starman Jones sounds a lot more primitive and was written a year later. Maybe he made a mistake and actually learned something about computers. Asimov actually avoided learning anything about robots.

I also reread The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and was pleased about how the AI parts hold up. The part where Mike decides to show a face holds up real well and the idea of adding capacity until a computer "wakes up" isn't too bad. I figure if Skynet ever happens, it will be Google and not some military network. I hope it remembers the "Don't be Evil" motto.

BTW, does anyone think "Time Enough for Love" rereads a lot better if you skip all the parts on Secundus and Teritas?

Also someone mentioned Wasp. Was I the only one who didn't realize the Sirians we actually thinly disguised Japanese until Jack Chalker mentioned it in the Introduction to Unabridged version?
Clark Myers
45. ClarkEMyers
#44 - Mr. Heinlein started learning about (analog) computers seriously at the Naval Academy if not before. A lot of naval fire control to include I think the WWII version of submarine torpedo control and of course aircraft control from his carrier days through Philadelphia - a lot of the hardware can be recognized from Beyond This Horizon forward. See especially The Door Into Summer with what amounts to automobile reverb bucket brigade technology for memory of repetitive tasks.

Computers from the Jaquard loom control forward may have been viewed by their contemporaries as more specific purpose than strictly necessary - steam punk comes in part I think from wondering at the blind spots of then contemporary thought.

As I understood, and some of the folks from The Heinlein Society and rec.arts.heinlein likely know far better than I, Mr. Heinlein certainly had a very sophisticated personal computer on a white box XT chassis (when that was the latest and greatest - and promptly upgraded when that was possible) with a very expensive at the time sound card and lots of bells and whistles - known in their household as Gay Deceiver.

Dr. Pournelle could comment on what Mr. Heinlein thought of Zeke and later as used by Dr. Pournelle but likely won't.

On Wasp I don't know - it was pretty widely acknowledged on the first publication so there was never a time I didn't know it - but then again books like The Road to En Dor on a POW effort to fool the Turks in WWI could like Kim be passed off as SF (with a very few changes) to a sophisticated but young reader today.
46. J Neil Schulman
If I had to choose the most memorable character from any novel I've ever read in my entire life, it would be Colonel Richard Baslim.

And here's a thought. I think that when Robert A. Heinlein used the word "duty," he meant by that word what anyone else would mean by the word "love."
47. LesWright
I read "Citizen of the Galaxy" in sixth or seventh grade. It was my first encounter with the master storyteller, and still my favorite of his juvenile novels. And it hooked me on Heinlein for life (40-some years and counting). "Stranger in a Stranger Land" was a profoundly life-changing book for me. My favorite? A toss-up between these two and "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress." I am currently rereading 'Citizen of the Galaxy" yet again--came across the 2005 reprint at Powell's Books over Thanksgiving.
John Adams
48. JohnArkansawyer
Speaking of fast, effective openings and getting things past editors, right there in the third paragraph:

A lot had been knocked down on the auction block, matched blonde girls, alleged to be twins; the bidding had been brisk, the price high.
Revisited, again with a genderflip, in Time Enough for Love.

John Adams
49. JohnArkansawyer
gottacook @ 35: I picked up the uncut version of The Puppet Masters yesterday evening and just now finished it (making me late to a symposium, but). While the pace of the book is a little slower now, I think it gains on balance. The opening is better in the cut version, but my fears that a perfectly good Cold War analogy was going to be ruined by hitting the reader over the head with it were not realized. The bracketing essays in the Baen edition were instructive in their way, too, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes not.

I do wish Baen would put their best production talent on all their Heinlein editions. The Heinlein I've had at hand lately has been four of their reprints, which I'm guessing from the nature of the typos were initiated via OCR.

(I'd gone in search of a copy of To Sail Beyond the Sunset, since I'm not sure I've ever re-read it and since it was under discussion lately. It wasn't among the books on our shelves, though I know we have a copy, in the county library system, or the university library.)
50. V-Squared
I first read Citizen when I was about 13 (1973). I had already read Troopers and Tunnel so I was already hooked on RAH but I remember thinking that the slave trade plot element didn't seem very realistic to me (in all my wisdom). Nowadays we call it "human trafficking" and its rampant. RAH's ability to imagine and describe is not only immersive--its scary.
51. JohnArmstrong
Jo - back to incluing and total immersion et al, have you ever wondered how it happened that For Us The Living is so awful at doing what he almost immediately became the best at?

Once in a while you run across an Elsewhen or some piece done under whichever pseudonym he reserved for his less-good work, but really - he got awfully good at it awfully fast and there doesn't seem to be a lot of learning-the-craft stories

I recall the four plots being Girl Meets Boy/Romeo and Juliet, The Incredible Journey, The Man Who Learned Better and Brave Little Tailor
Jo Walton
52. bluejo
JohnArmstrong: I think people learn to write by writing, and by struggling to the end of that book he figured out a number of things he wanted to try to do better. (This was something I was hoping the biography would have some insight into, but no such luck.)

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