Jul 7 2012 11:00am
I Grok Bob: Five Robert A. Heinlein Novels to Start With

I Grok Bob: Five Robert A. Heinlein Novels to Start With

Like Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Le Guin, McCaffrey and other giants of the SF field, the work of Robert A. Heinlein can be totally overwhelming to an unfamiliar reader scratching their heads in the “H” section of the science fiction shelves in a bookstore or library. Where should you begin? Where should you end? What should you skip and what is essential?

In honor of Heinlein’s 105th birthday here’s a brief list of 5 titles that fill my personal criterion of “if you read only ONE Heinlein novel.” But if you read all five, you’ll probably realize the awesome diversity and range of themes that the late dean of science fiction was capable of. This is by no means a definitive list, but instead, my personal shortlist for the uninitiated.


Tunnel in the Sky

Whenever you’re sitting around and thinking to yourself, “You know I could really go for a novel in which is exactly like Lord of the Flies, but only in space,” then this is your book. Funnily enough, this book was published the same year as Golding’s Lord of the Flies and if it were up to me, it would be taught instead. The primary SF conceit of the novel deals with interplanetary colonization through big teleport jumps. Naturally some younger folks get stranded and certain ugly aspects of human nature are revealed. The only one of Heinlein’s “juvenilia” that I feel gets overlooked, and easily my favorite from that period.


Time Enough for Love

I talk about this book all the time, and by that, I mean I literally bring it up at least once a month in conversations with people about everything from the nature of disease to sexual mores. (Which I guess is all I talk about?) Anyway, the premise is great: a guy becomes immortal through scientific means and as a result lives for a super long time. In doing so, he manages to in essence become the ancestors of generations of people. I wish I could say he becomes his own ancestor, but Heinlein did that for real in “All You Zombies.” The main character, Lazarus Long, appears in other Heinlein novels, notably and first in Methuselah’s Children and then subsequently in The Number of the Beast, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, and To Sail Beyond the Sunset, the last of which is all about his mom. But if you’re going to read only one Heinlein book about Lazarus Long, then this is the one. (Methuselah’s Children fans, I wish I could say I’m ready for your retort, but I am not.)


The Puppet Masters

We wouldn’t have Invasion of the Body Snatchers without this one! Though a little slow in sections, and maybe not as horrific as it could be, the notion of parasite aliens taking over our bodies is so classic that it is totally worth reading the original version of this premise. The aliens even come in an honest-to-goodness flying saucer. Though some might say this book is simply an anti-communist novel, reading it without that historical lens lightens up the rhetoric a little bit. I’m sure many might say it’s impossible to read Heinlein this way, but you could try. What I mean is the aliens don’t have to be a red scare metaphor no more than Aslan must be a Christ-metaphor for secular readers of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Right?



I encountered a version of this novel with a super-racy cover in my middle school library in the 1990s. I would be lying if some of the sex in this one didn’t make me blush a little then (and now) but the story of a robot person employed, as a super-spy assassin is unforgettable. The notion that Friday will be killed if people find out she is an artificial life form makes the science fiction of the story perfectly interwoven with the stakes of the novel. It may not be Heinlein’s most perfectly plotted book, nor his most progressive, but it’s a damn exciting book and I’m shocked it hasn’t been adapted into a stunt-heavy action film yet.


Stranger in a Strange Land

No need to get into the various controversies surrounding certain interpretations of this one, the reason why Stranger in a Strange Land is so great is the originality of the premise. A man from Earth is raised by Martians, and then sent back to Earth. And that’s just the beginning of the novel. Should you read the unabridged version? Probably, though my first experience was with the abridged version and it still threw me for a cultural shock. I wish I could say I fully “grok” the affect this book had on me, but really, there’s just no way to know. Of all his books, the reason this remains Heinlein’s masterpiece is because the book seems to somehow elevate itself out of the author’s own interests. It reads like a non-fiction, ugly warts and all.

Now, surely there are some Heinlein aficionados out there with different opinions on essential reading from this grand master. Let me know below! (I love Starship Troopers too!) 


Ryan Britt is the staff writer for His father forced him to read Have Spacesuit, Will Travel when he was 9. Thanks, dad.

R.J. Huneke
1. R.J. Huneke
I love your assessments of these books! I am a huge Heinlein fan, but have only read STARSHIP TROOPERS (a great one) and STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND (which I think is an all-time sci-fi GIANT). I look froward to reading all of these on your list - thanks for pointing me in a good/fun direction.


R.J. Huneke
2. Gardner Dozois
What, TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE (a definite skipable, in my opinion) and FRIDAY, but not THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS or HAVE SPACESUIT, WILL TRAVEL? I can't agree.
R.J. Huneke
3. William H. Rose, III
Sorry to disagree but there ain't no such thing as a skipable Heinlein.
R.J. Huneke
4. Zvi Gilbert
I agree with Gardner. In spite of the impact that Time Enough for Love had on my juvenile imagination, I can't really recommend it to someone new to Heinlein. And I find the Puppet Masters thin and slight.

Revised list:
- The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (the most coherent political thriller)
- Have Space Suit, Will Travel (the best juvie)
- The Past Through Tomorrow ("Future History" collection that includes "Logic of Empire" and "If This Goes On--")

Those three feel to me like the best of Heinlein... at that point I'd probably urge the two most controversial books with strong caveats:
- Starship Troopers
- Stranger in a Strange Land
R.J. Huneke
5. Kamas
I thought Stranger In A Strange Land was rather overrated. Someday I'll have to go back and read it again. I've not read Friday, but it sounds quite interesting. My favorite would be The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. I also love Starship Troopers, which I think Verhooven's movie adaptation is a fun romp, it left out all of the meaning. Responsibility seems to be a theme that Heinlein had throughout his works, at least the ones I've read.
R.J. Huneke
6. Jal
Friday is awesome spy porn. Not great SF.

Stranger in a strange land is wonderful mind-candy for teens in flyover land., which was my situationas, and I appreciate it that way.
R.J. Huneke
7. Megpie71
I have a wee bone to pick with you about "Friday" - the titular character isn't a robot. She calls herself an "artificial person", but the repeated mantra of "my mother was a test tube, my father was a knife" always gave me the strong impression that she was a genetically engineered human being (one who'd been modified to accentuate certain traits), created via artificial insemination, in vitro fertilisation, and possibly an artificial womb. The story speaks of her being raised with lots of other, similarly enhanced children in a creche (she does one little trick she learned growing up to convince someone of her "artificial" origins - obtaining food at high speed) and it's reasonably clear she's always been raised with the notion that she isn't a "real" human being as a result of this. But I seem to remember that the story makes it reasonably clear that she is genetically human, and certainly by the end of the story she's demonstrating her humanity in a very straightforward manner.

Other than that, I'd agree with most of your list, although I would be adding "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress" to it. I always loved that one for the language, and what Heinlein did to create a believable Lunar creole. "Starship Troopers" also deserves a place.
R.J. Huneke
8. James Davis Nicoll
Is there really anything in Heinlein that would speak to today's younger readers? Even when I first encountered him, his better books were festooned with zeerust and his later books were bloated and self-indulgent. I cannot imagine what encounting him now would be like for some kid.

I mean, he's fine for the aged, don't get me wrong. I just cannot see anyone under 45 being all that impressed by him if they were encountering him for the first time now.

That said, I wouldn't bother with anything from after 1958ish, unless the lesson one wanted to teach was "it's OK not to finish every book you start," in which case I recommend I Will Fear No Evil, The Cat Who Walked Through Walls, Number of the Beast, To Sail Beyond the Sunset and Farnham's Freehold.
R.J. Huneke
9. Cyrus Freeman
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress - one of the best sf books ever. This is the one that sold me on Heinlein and sf in general.
Starship Troopers - if you read Mistress first, like I did, this book may be even better than if you read it first.
The Past Through Tomorrow - great sf short stories with the really neat idea exploration we like in sf.
Space Cadet - a good ole story fit for anyone who can read.
Throw in anything else you like, but anything after 1970 is probably unessential. Stranger In A Strange Land would probably be the runaway choice.
R.J. Huneke
10. OtterB
Joining the chorus to recommend The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel.

If you want an earlier, shorter, non-juvenile, I'd go for Double Star instead of The Puppet Masters.
john mullen
11. johntheirishmongol
I can pretty much blindly grab any RAH book and be happy for a while. For someone new I would go with Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but I like to read them in the order they were written.

If you can, by all means start with the short stories. They are all collected so it makes it easy. Start with Lifeline and move from there.
R.J. Huneke
12. James Davis Nicoll
MOON was fun when I read it as an idiot teenager but as an adult I can't help but notice the card palming, nor can I forgive the author for inflicting the idea of the SuperDuperOrbitalKinetic Weapon on a long-suffering world; this is very specifically related to when I ran the numbers and discovered the wave inundating (Margate? Was it Margate?) is all of two centimeters high.
R.J. Huneke
13. Gardner Dozois
Nature has done rather better at times with the SuperDuperOrbitalKinetic Weapon. We could ask the dinosaurs about that, if there were any still around to ask.

Seriously, this is why Space War stories featuring mile-long space dreadnaughts blazing away at each other with lasers and space torpedoes are absurd. If you want to destroy a planet, or at least a civilization, just get far enough away from it and throw rocks at it.
Chris Lehotsky
14. Tel_Janin
The Door Into Summer has always been one of my favorites. And, no, it's not just because the cat's name is Petronius the Arbiter.

I'll also second Moon and the short story collections. If I had to pick only one story though, it'd be "The Man Who Sold The Moon." Even though it's dated, that's one of my favorite Heinlein stories ever, especially coupled with the follow-up "Requiem." There is some serious tugging at heart-strings in both that I can't get enough of.
Hello There
15. praxisproces
Somewhere upthread there is an insane suggestion that Heinlein is meaningless for people under 45. My mouth fell open when I read this; I'm in my twenties, I read my first Heinlein when I was 12, and he's been one of my great literary friends ever since. I mean, even the juveniles are irresistable today - Farmer of the Sky!? Have Spacesuit! - much less a masterpiece like Harsh Mistress.

By the way the list of five should certainly include Spacesuit and Mistress.
lake sidey
16. lakesidey
I haven't read all of these but I would put "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" easily above all of the ones I have read. And I would put Double Star pretty high too (not a must read though, the way tMiaHM is imho!).

I was not that impressed by Stranger in a Strange Land, found it incoherent (and dare I say, pointless) after the first 40% or so of the book. I loved Tunnel in the Sky, but wouldn't rate it "must-read".

(I need to read "Time Enough for Love". Come to think of it, I need to find time enough for love.)

Edit: and I see lots of love for Moon in the comments above. Oh well, just add me to the club.

@8 James: I am comfortably under 40, and I have introduced a couple of friends over a decade younger than myself to Heinlein and we've had no problems with it. We youngsters aren't such lost causes as you might think ;)

Walter Underwood
17. wunder
My son read most of the Heinlein juveniles when he was in middle school about five years ago. He loved them, and he's not really an SF reader.

My choice for "overlooked Heinlein juvenile" is Space Cadet. It is the canonical space academy story, but with an interesting cold war twist that still works. The Venus episode feels a little tacked on, but that is about the only weakness. And reading this before Ender's Game is a great one-two punch.

I wasn't impressed with Starship Troopers when I was in 8th grade and my opinion didn't change in a recent re-read. Preachy, episodic, and SF stuck on a fairly generic rags-to-riches war story (grunt to non-com to officer). But the first chapter is awesome. Everyone should read the first chapter. Stopping after that is fine, because it is all downhill.
William Lusk
18. willsilverwood
I really enjoyed The Number of the Beast, yet I feel it should only be read after one has read just about everything else by Heinlein.

In my personal list of the essential Robert Heinlein I would have to include The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I remember how excited I was to recognize characters from The Rolling Stone, one of his juviniles. That's not the reason I'd include it on the list of essential Heinlein though, I just thought it was one of his better written works.
R.J. Huneke
19. AlBrown
If we drew a venn diagram, Ryan, there would be very little overlap between the Heinlein I like and the Heinlein you like. We agree on Stranger in a Strange Land and Tunnel in the Sky. But if I never read a single story about Lazarus Long, I wouldn't have missed anything. Too much self indulgent perverse musing about incest for my taste. And Friday was one of the better of his later books, but his later books were but a pale shadow of his earlier works. A lot of recursive rehashing of themes much better covered in previous works.
Heinlein's body of work is a perfect example of the need for good editing. In his later books, he gained more and more creative control, and his work was all the worse for it. Too bad, because he wrote so many good stories over the years.
My remaining three on a list of five best would be Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Starship Troopers and Have Spacesuit Will Travel.
Shane Stringer
20. ShaneStringer
What, no love for Citizen of the Galaxy!? Or Starman Jones?
Moshe Feder
21. Moshe
I agree with Gardner.

I couldn't believe that TEFL was one of your picks. Back when it came out, it was the first book that made us diehard Heinlein fans wonder if the master was starting to lose it. I doubt time has improved it. Of course, it IS better than NUMBER OF THE BEAST, probably his worst.

THE PUPPET MASTERS is fun, but still second tier. Like TEFL, FRIDAY is another example of his late, slacker, post-peak work.

I second Gardner's vote for TMIAHM and particularly his endorsement of HAVE SPACESUIT, WILL TRAVEL, my favorite of the YAs. To that I'd add CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY.

Of course, to really know RAH, you've got to read the Future History stories in THE PAST THROUGH TOMORROW.

Bonus short story suggestions: "All You Zombies," "By His Bootstraps," and "And He Built a Crooked House."
R.J. Huneke
22. Gardner Dozois
I always thought of I WILL FEAR NO EVIL as the book where Heinlein started to lose it. After that, it was downhill, through books that all have major, major flaws in them, books I wanted to like but found that I could not--TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE, THE CAT WHO WALKED THROUGH WALLS, TO SAIL BEYOND THE SUNSET, and NUMBER OF THE BEAST, perhaps the worst thing he ever wrote. FRIDAY was a fast read, unlike some of the above, but had major weaknesses too, and certainly wouldn't make my list of Heinlein's best.

If I were making such a list, I'd drop everything on this list, and instead list THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, HAVE SPACESUIT WILL TRAVEL, CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY, BETWEEN PLANETS, RED PLANET, and perhaps THE STAR BEAST, although I agree that a reading of the short stories, especially those in THE PAST THROUGH TOMORROW, is essentail for an appreciation of Heinlein.
R.J. Huneke
23. S.M. Stirling
James Davis Nicoll: Is there really anything in Heinlein which would speak to today's younger readers?

... uh... yeah. I've introduced a fair number of younger fans (and relatives) to Heinlein, usually via CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY, and found it (and him) wildly popular.

That particular example isn't surprising, since it's an SF homage to Kipling's immortal KIM, another perennially popular bildungsroman.

A little less hubris...
R.J. Huneke
24. Mark W. Tiedemann
William H. Rose III said: "Sorry to disagree but there ain't no such thing as a skipable Heinlein."

Hate to disagree, but there are at least two---Podkayne of Mars and I Will Fear No Evil, both of which I'm sure have their advocates. I'm not fond of Sixth Column, either, but I discount it since it wasn't really Heinlein's idea in the first place. He was not universally great.
David Levinson
25. DemetriosX
Like everybody else, I agree that MOON should be on the list, probably replacing TEFL. Tunnel is a fine choice for a juvie, though Citizen of the Galaxy is my personal favorite (unlike so many, I've never warmed to Spacesuit). I also agree that Double Star should be on there, probably replacing Puppet Masters. I enjoyed Friday, but the nicest thing you can probably say about is that it's the best of his late works. Stranger probably depends on how old you are; under 25 or so, it works great. Any older and a lot of it seems sophomoric (though I still have a crush on Anne).
R.J. Huneke
26. S.M. Stirling
There's "doesn't appeal to me" and then again there's "just plain badly written".

Eg., Henry James PORTRAIT OF A LADY is magnificent writing. I'd rather juggle live squid in a laundromat than read it again; the only reason I did the first time was that it was assigned to me. Well-written, just not my cup of tea. Tastes differ.

Some of Heinlein is "cup of tea" stuff; well-written, but it may not appeal to all.

Some of his later work is just -bad-; sloppy and self-indulgent. FRIDAY is a matter of taste, though not as good-in-itself as say BETWEEN PLANETS. JOB is actually pretty good. But TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE... uhh, -bad-.
john mullen
27. johntheirishmongol
Gardner, I have a special place for Time Enough for Love, since it is how I met my wife. We were both working in the same restaurant and she saw me reading it, and 31 years later we are still together.

As for Number of the Beast, you may not like it, but it is my fave of his later novels. It's not so much the ending as the dialogue, particularly to start.

As for younger readers still enjoying the books, my kids read them in the 90's and they were still relevant to them then. And having read some of the modern stories, Heinlein's dialogue and storytelling are still stronger than 99% of what is out there.
David Dyer-Bennet
28. dd-b
What a bizarre and idiosyncratic set of suggestions! There's only one book on your list that would even cross my mind for a possible starting point for a Heinlein newbie, and there are several I'd warn people about.

I think of Stranger as the book where Heinlein started to lose it, myself. He did great work after that, including his best (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress), but it looks very much to me like the seeds of the decay of most of his later works were all present in SiaSL.
David Dyer-Bennet
29. dd-b
I have to defend TEfL just a little, though.

First, since it came out after both SiaSL and IWFnE, I can't accept it's where dyed-in-the-wool Heinlein fans such as myself started to panic. I'd already been in panic mode for some years! (NotB is what drove the nail through the coffin for me. I mean, I've read and re-read everything, but those later books just don't have anything to offer except the ghost of his voice.)

Second, it's actually the only one of the later Lazarus Long books that I like. I consider it rather more ambitious than the rest of his later work; but far from fully successful. Among several other things, it's the book where his evolving views on homosexuality finally become almost sane (two characters negotiate a sexual encounter without knowing each others sexes -- one raises the question, the other agrees it doesn't matter; this represents major progress from the author who, in SiaSL, said that Mike would sense a "wrongness" in homosexuals and not offer them water).
S Cooper
30. SPC
Add me to the The Moon is a Harsh Mistress chorus. It's really the only one I reread anymore and it stands so nicely on its own. So many of his other books are enhanced by having read others. (okay, yes it is connected to others via Hazel, but it's not a big effect)

And I also read and loved his books as a teen (early 30s now) - my dad gave me secondhand copies of The Rolling Stones and Red Planet (by far my favorite of the juveniles) for a birthday and I was hooked.
R.J. Huneke
31. MarcL
I gave my daughter Podkayne of Mars to read when she was 12. It's the only science fiction novel she's ever finished.
Steven Halter
32. stevenhalter
Substitute "Citizen of the Galaxy", "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and "Have Space Suit, Will Travel", "The Rolling Stones" and "The Door Into Summer" for your list as a starting place for Heinlein.
Stranger, and TefL are quite good but not starting points.
R.J. Huneke
33. politeruin
Time enough for love is worth reading for the tale of the adopted daughter i think, you could just read those 2 parts and skip the rest but you'd miss the heart breaking significance of his ship up to that point. But you really could stop there and avoid the more uncomfortable incestuous parts later on. Very sad little short story though.

Those who have read friday might also like charles stross' saturn's children, being as it is a homage to that novel.
j p
34. sps49
I love my RAH, and liked Friday, but it (and the others from the period) didn't even bother with plot. THey are good reads, but I wondered at the ends "what was the point of that?".
R.J. Huneke
35. Teka Lynn
I would keep Tunnel, probably SiaSL, maybe Friday. But the REAL Heinlein I'd recommend is "The Man Who Traveled in Elephants". It's the only Heinlein I've read that touches me on a deeper level. Other than that, his work tends to leave me cold. (Earlier works: "Do people TALK like that?" Later works: "Nipples don't DO that.")
R.J. Huneke
36. AlBrown
Mr. Dozios' feelings about Heinlein's later work pretty much sums up my own. I kept hoping, but book after book left a bitter taste in my mouth. And like Mr. Stirling said, Citizen of the Galaxy is certainly worthy of being on many people's lists, and came close to being part of my top five.
R.J. Huneke
37. OtterB
I noted Spacesuit upthread as my pick among the juveniles, but wouldn't argue with Citizen - or with Space Cadet.
Moshe Feder
38. Moshe
Gardner, thanks for your follow-up. You're absolutely right about I WILL FEAR NO EVIL being the start of his slide. I must admit I'd completely forgotten about it. Perhaps I repressed it. ;-)

In fairness to Heinlein, he did recover somewhat eventually. I think JOB: A COMEDY OF JUSTICE was better (and shorter) than the books we've been dissing.

As long as I'm posting again, I'll mention that I have a lingering fondness for GLORY ROAD, though it's not on my list of books to start with. Also worthy of mention, his short novel about a reactionary religious American dictatorship, IF THIS GOES ON--, remains scarily relevant. It would make an interesting high school reading assignmnent paired with Margaret Atwood's THE HANDMAID'S TALE.
R.J. Huneke
39. Jayem
Great thread. I began reading Heinlein as a teen, and have made it to my sixth decade. The ones I've returned to, over and over: Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Citizen of the Galaxy, Tunnel in the Sky. The "Future History" short story collection is also a great setup - and a better read - for his final novels.
Darius Bacon
40. Darius
I like Gardner's list, except I remember Red Planet as very slight.

For short stories, Jonathan Hoag's less representative, but perhaps a better intro today: only a half-dozen stories yet several have been called out here already.
Ryan Britt
41. ryancbritt
The good news about everyone taking me to task on this list is that I have a bunch of stuff to re-read while sitting inside and avoiding the heat.

Nice work everyone!

In my defense, I am no Heinlein scholar (a fact a cop to in my Starship Troopers essay) Instead, I tend to have an emotional thing with the concepts, perhaps at the expense of the prose and stories themselves. (Though I find the prose in Starship Troopers to be awesome.)
R.J. Huneke
42. lobo1111
No love for Waldo or Podkayne?
Drew Holton
43. Dholton
This may just be personal for me, but the one that blew the top of my skull off when I was in middle school was Orphans In The Sky. I had just finished Have Space Suit and Citizen, and was expecting more of the same from this one. I had never run across the concept of a generational star ship, and the idea of one that degenerated to barbarism blew my mind.

Oddly enough, I've never gotten the nerve to read it again, but it still haunts me.

If I were going to choose five, I would take one representative of various stages in his writing:

1) Whatever collection of Future History stories you find for early work.
2) Either Have Space Suit Will Travel or Citizen of the Galaxy (I can't choose) for juvenile
3) Stranger in a Strange Land for social commentary
4) Moon is a Harsh Mistress for out and out SciFi
5) Number of the Beast for his later work, just cuz it's a lot of fun
Jeff Schweer
44. JeffS.
What I find wonderful about this whole comment thread is which books hit people different ways. Some of RAH's later works seem a bit of fluff in ways others have mentioned. I still read them, but don't take them as seriously. More of a guilty pleasure than anything else.

With that in mind, here is my personal list.
1. Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I've always loved the concept of a "Rational Anarchist" as related by Professor De la Paz and throwing big guided rocks has been used as lately as John Scalzi's, The Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony.

2. Starman Jones. Of the Juveniles this is my favorite. A kind of 1950's Horatio Alger story. And yes, I wanted a spider puppy when I was a kid.

3. Starship Troopers. This story and and a short story from 1952, "Duty" by Paul Horgan, taught me some concepts that I had not considered. That led me to enlist and serve in the Navy, a choice I have never regretted. If anyone is interested in the story "Duty" I imagine it is out of print but it was originally printed in "Colliers" in November of 1952 and may be archived.

4. Stranger in a Strange Land. Jubal Harshaw, nothing needs to be added.

5. The rest of the juveniles. Really, whether it's Star Beast, or Have Spacesuit will Travel, they are rollicking fun for me.

Honorable Mention: The Rolling Stones. Not only do we have Hazel Stone, we get the GALACTIC OVERLORD...
Jeff Schweer
45. JeffS.
I forgot my favorite collection. The Menace From Earth.
"The Year of the Jackpot" and "By His Bootstraps" are timeless.
Guess I have trouble keeping it to a top five, don't I.
R.J. Huneke
46. Andrew Lawler
Got to love RAH.

A quick mention of two that didn't make the list. First GLORY ROAD, which in many ways feels like an ancestor to some of the genre-bending that dominates us today. A feeble sort of ending, but one of his great characters.
And not to get too political, but "If This Goes On." sometimes feels a might prescient too me with its American Theocracy.
R.J. Huneke
47. Gardner Dozois
"The Unplesant Profession of Jonathan Hoag" is one of the field's great novellas, although it's a very untypical Heinlein story. It's amazing how much it anticipates the work of Philip K. Dick and movies like THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU.

THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS is not only Heinlein's single best book, but a decent contender to be in the running for one of the ten best SF novels of the second half of the 20th Century.

Heinlein's YA novels are probably his best body of sustained work, and have been amazingly influential over the last forty years. Even among them, HAVE SPACESUIT WILL TRAVEL in particular has influenced an astoundingly broad range of SF writers.
j p
48. sps49
Moon was great, partly because of the cost at the end. I was annoyed when one of the later books retconned a major character's fate.

And his Boy's Life stories were hard to find, but just as entertaining and easy to read as his best works.
Mike Conley
49. NomadUK
I guess I'm surprised that it took all the way down to Dholton@43 before anyone mentioned my favourite Heinlein story, Orphans of the Sky (which is actually two stories, 'Universe' and 'Common Sense', combined into a fairly short novel). It is, as I understand it, the very first of the 'space ark' stories, which theme has been used over and over again any number of times (perhaps most notably Harlan Ellison's Phoenix Without Ashes, which became the late, unlamented The Starlost on television).

I read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress when I was younger, and I remember it being a good story, but nothing he wrote ever stuck with me the way Orphans did. Maybe I should re-read it again.

I did enjoy Space Cadet and Starship Troopers, and I think I read The Rolling Stones to my kids at one point. The thing I liked most about the juveniles was the science and engineering that was thrown in; you could learn a fair bit about celestial navigation by reading those things!

And I don't think I ever made it through Stranger in a Strange Land. But I was in high school then, and I was less patient with things. So it might be worth a try. I never gave any of his other, later works a try.

And for some reason, I never felt the need to get past the cover of Friday; it was just fine all by itself.

To be honest, I never got into Heinlein the way I did with Asimov and Clarke and, later, Niven. There was something about him that just didn't grab me the same way. Clarke and Niven, especially, always gave me the sense of wonder -- maybe that's what Heinlein was missing most of the time. Except in Orphans of the Sky, which is perhaps why, of the works of his I've read, it alone stuck with me.
kamas kirian
50. kamas716
I liked Job, but I haven't read it since I was about 16, so my memories of it are a little fuzzy. I don't think I could put it on this list, though.
David Levinson
51. DemetriosX
Gardner @47
Hoag is a good story, but I was recently flabbergasted to discover that RAH lifted the premise whole from Jack Williamson. Of course, he gave it a completely different spin, didn't finish off with the destruction of the Earth, and didn't use an evil Oriental cult, but the underlying concept is really all Williamson. I've wondered, too, how much the Mother-Thing in Spacesuit was influenced by Williamson's "The Moon Era".

ETA: The Williamson story was "Born of the Sun", which is most easily found in Asimov's Before the Golden Age (Vol. 2)
R.J. Huneke
52. Johnny Lemuria
For all those going on about Heinlein's controversial novels, his 'misses', from my experience there are two: the previously mentioned Sixth Column, and Farnham's Freehold. Both are vile. If there was a list of Heinlein books to avoid like the plague, I would put those two at the top.
jon meltzer
53. jmeltzer
Those two could be used as Advice For The Aspiring Writer:

Sixth Column : if you have to write a racist book on spec because you can't afford to upset your editor at that point in your career, don't go back later and try to fix it. Just bury it.

Farnham's Freehold: if your idea for a "let's reverse things" antiracist book is coming across as racist, you might want to try doing something else.
Jasper Mijares
54. J. Amijares
The thing about Heinlein's books is that sometimes the endings just don't clinch it: You get the build up but not as much satisfaction in the end as you would have liked.

STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND and THE CAT WHO WALKS THROUGH WALLS are particular examples of this. They both start out great; then near the end you get all the interchangeable sex stuff and go bleh... Then you don't get a REAL ending.

But there was a lot about Heinlein's writing that made you think about the world and what made it go. Which in itself is a very good thing...

IMHO: If you'd like to get a taste of Heinlein read THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, STARSHIP TROOPERS, and JOB.. That should get your brain prepped for the rest: It's going to be a strange, wild ride from there...
R.J. Huneke
55. Gardner Dozois
Yes, FARNHAM'S FREEHOLD was unfortunate. The ironic thing is, if you read his non-fiction writings, such as his travel book TRAMP ROYALE, he really did seem to be sincerely against old-fashioned Deep South Jim Crow Colored Drinking Fountain Back of the Bus racism, and spoke out against Apartheid. He also had more racially mixed characers in his fiction than any other major SF writer of his generation. Neverthless, he couldn't figure out a good way to get any of that anti-racist feeling across in FARNHAM'S FREEHOLD, which has become a Dire Warning held up by some white supremist groups (as well as the Bible of survialism), although I'm pretty sure that that wasn't Heinlein's intention. (Maybe the survialist part.)

Still think that with the exception of TMIAHM and some of his shorter works, his best work is to be found in his YA novels.
R.J. Huneke
56. (still) Steve Morrison
There were space ark stories before "Universe". Murray Leinster's "Proxima Centauri" was published in 1935, and it's obvious that Heinlein had read it. (Asimov reprinted this one in Before the Golden Age, vol. 3.)
John Adams
57. JohnArkansawyer
Here's a handy rule set:

1) Don't recommend anything after 1958.
2) Don't recommend anything over three hundred pages.

Number two might be redundant. I'd have to count to be sure.

That's not the same list I'd use to say which Heinlein novels I think are best, just which ones I'd recommend to a new reader.

Of the 1958-and-before set, ones I'd skip are Rocket Ship Galileo and Space Cadet. Your tolerance for eugenics will be tried by Beyond this Horizon but the larger social system in which it's contained is otherwise quite attractive and the story is engaging.

What can you say about Sixth Column? You can see Heinlein the sincere opponent of old-style racism struggling against the bonds of the racist story John Campbell outlines. If you're sympathetic to Heinlein, you'll enjoy the story, which has a lot to offer. If not, I can't blame you.

You can't miss by picking among Waldo & Magic, Inc., The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag (Heinlein was more consistently great with fantasy), Revolt in 2100, or The Green Hills of Earth; any of the original short story collections (especially look for the full six stories of The Man Who Sold the Moon) will do in a pinch. The last nine juveniles are all great for the right reader and any might be right one for a person. All novels of this period are worthy candidates, but I like Double Star, The Door into Summer, and The Puppet Masters.

If you must suggest a later novel, I'd like to put in another good word for Job. It's a sweet story about love, entirely free of the armed-libertarian-citizen hectoring and tough guy weapon fetish that so unbalanced his later work. (The difference between the attitude toward weapons in Tunnel in the Sky and the later works is astounding.) I recently re-read all the post-1958 novels but Podkayne of Mars, Farnham's Freehold, and To Sail Beyond the Sunset, and found them all better written than I'd remembered. But my god! the speeches.
R.J. Huneke
58. Jerermy Clegg
I was going to jump onto Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but boy was I beaten to it. Still my favorite RAH. But the one that stuck in my mind the most was If This Goes On, or the Second American Revolution. It's goes by other names. The first time I read it, it took me more then halfway though the story before I relized what he was doing there. Read it with the Green Hills of Earth and Methuselah's Children.
R.J. Huneke
59. Gardner Dozois
John, your after-1958 rule is largely sound, although it does eliminate THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, which I continue to think is his best book.

ROCKET SHIP GALILEO and SPACE CADET are by far the worst of the YA books. And I personally always found BEYOND THIS HORIZON kind of dull. SIXTH COLUMN is not really worth reading.

What Steve said about ORPHANS OF THE SKY. The generation ship idea was not originated by Heinlein. The first half of that book is pretty good, the second half (it was originally published as two seperate novellas) falls down a bit.
R.J. Huneke
60. ces
My husband still talks about reading the "Boy's Life" stories when he was a kid (he's 61 now) - he said they were one of the things he read that got him interested in science fiction.
steve davidson
61. crotchetyoldfan
@Gardner: why even let them know someone/something is attacking? Best that the local technological species has no clue that they are experiencing anything other than a series ofunfortunate natural phenomena - like runaway global warming.

I always thought that the best way to introduce someone to Heinlein was through the "juve-novels", of which there are quite a number of good ones, any of which would serve well:

Starman Jones, Have Space Suit - Will Travel, The Star Beast, Space Cadet, Between Planets, Tunnel in the Sky, Citizen of the Galaxy, The Rolling Stones, Time for the Stars, Rocket Ship Galileo, Red Planet, Farmer in the Sky, followed by Starship Troopers, the "13th juvenile".

Anyone (ANYONE!) reading science fiction ought to have the necessarily flexibility in their imagination to be able to explain away or ignore things like no cell phones, guild systems that replace Federal government or economically viable backyard spaceship programs.

Read the juvenovels interspersed with the short fiction. OR start with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Follow with the UNrestored version of Puppet Masters and anything chronologically up to and including Time Enough For Love, paying particular attention to The Door Into Summer, Universe, Sixth Column.

AFTER you have read EVERYTHING Heinlein (preferably multiple times over the course of, say, about half a century) you will be entitled to construct best-of lists and maybe to criticize a work or two. AFTER. Please note the importance of the sequence here.
Mike Conley
62. NomadUK
(still) Steve Morrison@56: I wasn't aware of the earlier space ark stories; thanks for the pointer. I will have to go look up the Leinster one. (I don't think I have Asimov's Before the Golden Age, unfortunately, so I will have to do some digging. Maybe my dad has it somewhere.)

It would be interesting to know who did the first of this genre.
Clark Myers
63. ClarkEMyers
Agreed that The Moon is a harsh Mistress is a fine book. IMHO the single most conventional and least distinctive of Heinlein's longer works and so however pleasant a reading experience not an introduction. I suggest rather being more conventional is one reason for being generally well liked and well received by critics.

I have no idea where the seams really are in Stranger ....... but I'm quite sure many of the defects (or virtues) associated with the author's assumed then current age aren't.

I'd sharply distinguish between (1) a short list of introduction to the works of Robert Heinlein - maybe Beyond This Horizon, Starship Troopers, Moon and Friday for evolving political opinions (IMHO Friday really does showcase what I understand to be Mr. Heinlein's then current opinion that only small political units would be very livable by contrast with the optimism of Star Ship Troopers for a grand unified human space) and (2) a read these two or three if you like them then read the rest list where I would suggest Citizen of the Galaxy and Job as both fun and representative.
R.J. Huneke
64. James Davis Nicoll
also had more racially mixed characers in his fiction than any other major SF writer of his generation.

If I mention H. Beam Piper at this point, are you going to object on the basis that although born three or four years before RAH, HBP belongs to a later cohort of writers or because HBP never made it to the big time, thus the regrettable events of November 6, 1964? His stuff was full of characters who, if their names are any guide, would have been considered mixed-race by the standard of the time when his SF was first published (He was also quite keen on girls who can do stuff doing stuff, whether it is the vast population of wrench wenches in The Cosmic Computer or Ruth Ortheris, scientist, in Little Fuzzy or the swashbuckling Princess Rylla in Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen).

Technically, almost every character in Asimov's Empire and Foundation books is mixed race by American standards of the time. It's a plot point in one of the Empire books, when one of the very black people in the Milky Way feels a kinship with the oppressed whites of Floria (was it Floria?) because they are alike in being at the extremes of the skin tone bell curve in an otherwise bland galaxy.
R.J. Huneke
65. James Davis Nicoll
one of the very black people

one of the very few black people, I mean. Intermarriage had blandified the Milky Way in a way that doesn't actually happen in real humans when they intermarry. See for example James and Daniel Kelly for an idea of the range of morphology that can be seen even in quite closely related people:
R.J. Huneke
66. Raskos
I don't think that the first-generation results of a mixed marriage correspond to what is to be expected of a millenially-long process of populational mixing. A lot of what we consider today to be racial markers are polygenenic, and given enough time something which looks a lot like blending inheritance is going to occur, unless there's significant selection for traits like darker or lighter skin pigmentation.
R.J. Huneke
67. Gardner Dozois
Well, he WAS of a different generation than Heinlein, in literary terms, Heinlein having made his reputation at least ten years before Piper did. And although Piper is a fine writer, with LORD KALVAN OF OTHERWHEN remaining one of my favorite books, he was never in the same league with Heinlein as far as reputation or influence was concerned, so yes, Heinlein at the time was considered to be a more major writer than Piper (one of the "Big Three," with Asimov and Clarke), and certainly is thought of that way in retrospect (unless we have access to a device which would allow us to look into alternate timelines, impossible to say where Piper's reputation would have ended up if he hadn't died when he did--although my guess is that he'd still have a smaller place in SF history than Heinlein).

Heinlein was very mixed in the way he portrayed women. On the one hand, his women were often brave and resourceful and competent, able to pilot a starship or kill a man with a blow of their hand, and usually somewhat smarter than the men around them--on the other hand, their primary goal in life was often to get married and have as many kids as possible, especially if they'd run into Lazarus Long, who EVERYBODY wanted to have children by, even the computer. James Schmitz was another of the old writers who frequently featured female protagonists, and even action heroes.
R.J. Huneke
68. Todd M. Baker
Although much of what follows may be redundant, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to post on one of my all-time favorite authors. I'll choose my five Heinlein books from the following categories--

Collection: THE PAST THROUGH TOMORROW. While lacking some very significant examples of Heinlein's story-writing craft, these future history tales represent the epitome of Golden Age science fiction (especially under John Campbell) and form the basis of Heinlein's fame. While others in this thread have mentioned several stories from this collection, let me comment on "Misfit," which in some sense is Space Cadet in miniature. The speculations in this story must have been awesome to read when first published, and one can see here why Heinlein gained such a legion of fans so quickly.

Juvenile: CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY. Today, this novel would have been a trilogy, as there are three distinct sections: Thorby with Baslim, Thorby with the Traders, and Thorby on Earth. Although each of the sections could almost stand on its own, they are united by Thorby's growing realization of his place in the universe and especially by his search for family--a dominant theme in much of Heinlein's fiction.

Early Adult Novel: THE DOOR INTO SUMMER. Self-reliance and the plasticity of time characterize this relatively early adult novel, themes seen again and again in other Heinlein works. Also, you've got to love the cat and the fact he gets the girl.

Mid-Career Adult Novel: STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND. While this novel has many faults (as many in this thread have pointed out), it presented one of the most truly alien cultures seen in genre literature up to that time as well as discussions of topics (usually initiated by Heinlein's mouth-piece Jubal Harshaw) never before seen in genre literature. Like Delany's Dhalgren, it was a touchstone of a generation.

Late Adult Novel: JOB: A COMEDY OF JUSTICE. This fantasy is the most original of the World as Myth novels. It is also perhaps the novel that best captures his own feelings on love. The poignant last line ("Heaven is where Margrethe is.") is almost certainly a reflection of his love for his wife, Ginny.

Thanks to all those who have posted. I have sincerely enjoyed reading the commentary.
Jenny Kristine
69. jennygadget
"I always thought that the best way to introduce someone to Heinlein was through the "juve-novels", of which there are quite a number of good ones, any of which would serve well: Starman Jones....."

Yeah...Starman Jones was my first (and so far only) Heinlen and um, if this really is a good introduction to his work? then let's just say that I am not regretting not having read any more.

I mean, it wasn't awful, but nothing about it grabbed me - and much of it annoyed me. Most especially the fact that the main character was just blah and became even more blah as time went on.

"AFTER you have read EVERYTHING Heinlein (preferably multiple times over the course of, say, about half a century) you will be entitled to construct best-of lists and maybe to criticize a work or two. AFTER."


I don't normally comment on posts to say I don't like something (cuz that's just a little bit asshole), but I see this attitude a lot with certain works/artists/writers/fandoms and just...NO.

Not only can I crit something without knowing it inside out and backwards like I was getting my PhD on the subject, but I need to be able to. I can’t possibly read everything ever by Heinlein or in juvenile and young adult science fiction. But I still need to come up with recs for people, because that is my job as a librarian. I quite literally need to be able to know if I should put Starman Jones on my list of good scifi for middle grades without having read anything else by Heinlein - sometimes even without having read the book. And as “gatekeepers” like myself become less important more scarce (which I do not think is a bad thing, for the record) people in general are going to need to develop filtering skills that do not require that they be experts in everything ever before making an intelligent decision.

I mean, I do get that I am coming into the middle of a discussion, and that the best of list you mentioned is a best of Heinlein list (yes? if not...wha?) in which case familiarity with his works is a must. But your extremely prescriptive description of how people should become familiar with his work just rubs me the wrong way because it has too many echos of the way that people try to stretch this argument even further. And then we add the fact that you yourself do that stretch and say that people should not crit ANY work without being familiar with ALL and no. NO.
Clark Myers
70. ClarkEMyers
Speaking of Starman Jones I'm inclined to agree with a better writer than I about this blah character:
And beyond that, the real story is Max learning lessons—from Sam, from Eldreth, from his experiences—and ending up back on that hillside with a job to go to. Both stories end up at the same point, and everything reinforces the theme not just of Max growing up but of him learning what it is to grow up and what he actually values. At the beginning he’s a kid with a freak talent, at the end he’s a man who has lied, told the truth, seen a friend die
and brought his ship home. There are no false moves, everything goes towards that. And it’s a great end. All his juveniles have great ends.
Certainly any single work must stand or fall on its own - when the library at Alexandria burns again there may be no others - but without a wider context a deeper look facilitated by wise critics such as found on this site in other days just might be a good idea.
Nicole Lowery
71. hestia
@jennygadget 69....Yes. To everything you wrote. It's been a while since I read "Spaceman Jones," but I remember having the same reaction to it, although I've LOVED a lot of other Heinlein books.

I run a K-6 grade school library, and I've stocked a couple of Heinlein juvies (the trade paperbacks with the spiffy newish covers.) I decided on "Tunnel in the Sky" and "Citizen of the Galaxy" -- my husband's favorite and my favorite. I've been trying to sell Tunnel to my "Hunger Games" fans. Science fiction is a hard sell at my school, but I'm working on it.

I have read all of Heinlein, most of it in high school, then repeatedly over the years. Contemporary books are a different kettle of fish...the only way I could read all of them is to quit my job, in which case I wouldn't need to read them at all.
Jenny Kristine
72. jennygadget

That's the plot and themes. What happens to him =/= growth. What you quoted says nothing about Max as an interesting character with personality - because he isn't one. He also doesn't seem to care much about what happens to him, which is what I was most put off by. If he doesn't, why should I?

"...but without a wider context a deeper look facilitated by wise critics
such as found on this site in other days just might be a good idea."

Did you miss the part where I said I was a librarian? I did receive training and schooling for this, you know.

You are certainly entitled to your opinions as to whether I am capable of doing my job correctly, but it's a bit dismissive of you to assume that I don't even know how to do it simply because...why? Because I disagree with you?

I assure you that I know quite well the value of finding an informed critic. I even have plenty of experience in doing so! That was my point. That people can be trained in how to do just that. (what was yours?)

Also - the "in other days" wasn't an inappropriate pot shot at current colum writers at all. /sarcasm


"Science fiction is a hard sell at my school, but I'm working on it." definitely seems as though fantasy is more popular among the younger crowd than science fiction. And not just because of Harry Potter, because the imbalance seems to go back further than that. And yet - it's not as if there aren't plenty of great skiffy books for 10-14 year olds that are absolutely beloved.

I've got theories for why this might be, but it still mostly leaves me puzzled.

When I get a chance (looks at to-read list and laughs hysterically) I will try those two by Heinlein. I really would like to have some of the older scifi in my library's juvie collection.
R.J. Huneke
73. AlBrown
Woah. Someone mentioned Glory Road. I guess I have to expand my 'five best' list to seven. Great adventure story, parts of which I didn't understand when I first read it as a teen. And then, after reading it as an adult, I finally got the point of Oscar's angst after the quest was done, and the book was even better. One of Heinlein's best efforts at describing what makes a person a hero.
Nicole Lowery
74. hestia
"(looks at to-read list and laughs hysterically)" -- too true!
R.J. Huneke
75. Petar Belic
I can't read Heinlein any more. I tried, but the person who read all his work when younger is no longer the same person now.

But for my money, my favourite Heinlein is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

Everything just worked. I loved the relationships between the different types of people. You get all the Heinlein staples, like the revered older man dispensing wisdom. You get technology being used in ways that are not immediately apparent (mass drivers on the moon bombarding earth? Awesome... for the Loonies, that is), you get social commentary.

And the bittersweet ending was just perfect. It was the ultimate conclusion for TANSTAAFL.

When I compare it to Time Enough for Love, which is a rambling and shambolic mess - pithy quotes and all - for me there is no comparison.

For me, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is the Heinlein novel.
R.J. Huneke
76. Harold Osler
First, I have to say it's interesting how many people didn't like this or that book but then say "Maybe I'll have to re-read him." That being said--we change over time. Books that I read repeatedly as a teen now just don't grab me the same way. For what's it's worth my list is:(in no particular order)
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress
Between Planets--my favorite juvie although I would've liked to meet the Mother Thing
Time Enough For Love
THe Past Through Tomorrow or however many books it takes to get his short stories.
R.J. Huneke
77. antares
1. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress;
2. Stranger in a Strange Land;
3. Tunnel in the Sky;
4. The Door into Summer; and
5. The Green Hills of Earth (collected short stories).

Bonus: --And He Built a Crooked House--
Jeff Weston
78. JWezy
Yeah, short stories:

The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag
All You Zombies
Jerry Was a Man
Colombus Was a Dope
The Green Hills of Earth
By His Bootstraps

I could go on and on. Some are very short (Colombus), some are almost novellas (Bootstraps), but they all share the tightness of plot that brings the concept to you fast and hard. Enjoy!
R.J. Huneke
79. Gardner Dozois
I always thought of "All You Zombies" as a more tightly written later second take on "By His Bootstraps."

The novella "Logic of Empire" is also very good, as is "They." Even a YA piece like "The Menace From Earth" is very strong.
R.J. Huneke
80. tariqata
I know others have spoken to this, but I'm still a bit shocked at the idea that Heinlein is only relevant to people over 45. I'm in my late twenties now, and I was handed Red Planet, Farmer in the Sky, and The Rolling Stones when I was about 12. They all spoke to me, and it was through those stories that I moved into reading more and more SF. Even when I was dissatisfied with the story itself or the characters (*cough* Podkayne of Mars), I was interested enough to keep going and try to engage with the text and think about how I was reacting to it.

My personal list of five essential Heinlein novels would definitely include Tunnel in the Sky (I read my mom's childhood copy until it fell apart), but I too am surprised that The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is absent!
S Cooper
81. SPC
Oh, I'd forgotten how much I liked The Menace From Earth, too. I thought the protagonist of the title story was one of Heinlein's most likable women. That brings up an interesting question - would you recommend a different first Heinlein book to a girl than to a boy? (I'd say The Moon is a Harsh Mistress for any adult, but if I were recommending juveniles I'd probably have to think about it a bit)
R.J. Huneke
82. outside counsel
The quality I admire most in early Heinlein is how beautifully constructed the plots are. I think the wheels start to fall off with Stranger in a Strange Land-- it starts off strong, then turns into a sexual shaggy dog story. It's around that period where his portayal of women becomes somewhat troubling as well. I'm always surprised that the crude sexism of Farnham's Freehold is so seldom commented upon, for exampe; and although I might put Glory Road on my list of five, did he have to make such a big deal about Star's breasts? This seems to me to be less of a problem in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which is among the reasons that I'd put that on the list. I just re-read Double Star-- it is talky, because all Heinlein is talky-- but it holds up well. At about this time a lot of Heinlein seems to start off strongly plotted, then become rushed towards the end. Moon doesn't. Neither does Podkayne of Mars, which is much maligned, but which I've always liked.

I've said this before, but I wish To Sail Beyond the Sunset was a different book. The stuff about growing up in turn of the century Missouri would have made a good mainstream novel, and the sci-fi thriller that it starts out as would also have been cool, but the mash-up reads to me as though he lost his nerve, and the big finish is artificial and sloppy.

Can't go wrong with Have Space Suit. I like Star Beast, and have happily recomended it; likewise Magic, Inc.
Rob Munnelly
83. RobMRobM
It's surprising to me that no one has mentioned "The Roads Must Roll," one of the best novellas written in the early days of sci-fi. I'd put that as a bonus must read to any Heinlein list.

Apart from that, the Heinleins that stick with me most are Time Enough for Love and Stranger in a Strange Land - both odd ball explorations of issues of love and life. I haven't re-read any of his books in many years and I never read any of the juvies. I may have to do some reading/reading in the upcoming months.
R.J. Huneke
84. Doug M.
I'm going to come down on James Nicoll's side here.

I have two preteen boys who are avid readers of fantasy and SF -- Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, Narnia, Percy Jackson, 39 Clues, Hunger Games, you name it. And I read and loved the Heinlein juveniles when I was their age. But when I think about giving them to my boys... well, they'd probably enjoy _Citizen of the Galaxy_ and maybe _The Star Beast_. But most of the other books I strongly suspect would come across as lecture-y and (as James said) thickly coated with zeerust.

Doug M.
R.J. Huneke
85. Doug M.
Gardner, you do know that Heinlein was hospitalized while writing _I Will Fear No Evil_? I'm going to say it was a stroke, though it might have been a heart attack. In any event it was a major health crisis that left him disabled for months. I definitely think it shows up in the writing and editing (or lack thereof; IIUC, there wasn't any) of IWFNE, and I strongly suspect the effects carried over into the next book (_Time Enough For Love_).

Doug M.
R.J. Huneke
86. Gardner Dozois
It was a stroke. He himself describes having it somewhere. He thought that IWFNE would be his last book, and I believe complained somewhere that the blood wasn't flowing through his brain properly while he was trying to finish it.
Herb Schaltegger
87. LameLefty
The fact that this topic has engendered 80-something responses in two days kind of speaks for itself, don't you think? I've read ALMOST the entirety of RAH's work and I can't quibble too much with peoples' individual "best of" lists. What I CAN quibble with are those who claim that they can form valid opinions on such a vast and long-running body of work from just a few examples - we're talking many decades of published work, aimed at vastly differing audiences, folks. Not only did the author change and evolve as a writer (for good and ill), so too did his audience and the world around him. Without at least sampling a few pieces from across the spectrum, anything you care to offer as a judgment on the body of work just fails the sniff test. Period. So with all that being said, here's my personal Top 5 for newbies:

1. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (best novel, IMHO)
2. Have Spacesuit, Will Travel (best juvie, again IMHO)
3. Stranger in a Strange Land (many, many evocative ideas, especially for the time it was written with American culture facing rapid changes and struggling for and aginst those changes)
4. Any of several short story collections (just for the sheer variety and wonderment, all fed in nice easily-digested nuggets)
5. Job (best of his latter works, a sweet love story and one that actually has a bit of a message about what kind of deity is really worth worshipping when you stop to think about it)
R.J. Huneke
88. Petar Belic
I remember really liking Job, and feeling it really was a bit different for some reason from a lot of his other work, and because of this I always forget about it. Perhaps I should pick it up again, sometime soon...
R.J. Huneke
89. James Davis Nicoll
If you liked Job, you might want to look at the source material he was paying homage to, James Branch Cabell. You can find Jurgen at Gutenberg with a lot of other books by Cabell:
R.J. Huneke
90. A long time fan
I must say that I disagree with the majority of the posters who are putting down Stranger and Time Enough. My first intorduction to RAH was Methesula (sp) Children which I 'borrowed' from my Dad's library at about 8 years old. I didn't touch RAH again until 14 or 15 because I just couldn't get into the book.
In my early teens I found his YA books in my local library and at my school Library (oddly enough with the same librarian) and found that those books spoke to me. As someone mentioned above, Starship Troopers was a formative novel for me, in that it led me towards military service and helped me form my opinions on what I feel is a proper foundation of government.
TIme Enough for Love- Many have dissed the book but I find that many of the quotes scattered through out the book to be valid. I cannot remember exactly at this moment but one goes is similar to women and children first or why bother?
There are many more that I could paraphrase but they are all good concepts.
As for Stranger, it helped me to conceptulize what love means to me. A very powerful book in many ways.
I could have done without the one about the old guy in the girl's body. I think that book was terrible.
I throughly enjoyed Job, and I liked To Sail.
When I get bored and cannot find something to read I pick up an RAH book and lose myself in the story.
Thanks for reading.
R.J. Huneke
91. James Davis Nicoll
I think Panshin's comments on The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as a work of fiction still stand. I also think Heinlein fatally borked the math on the lunar bombard, if indeed he did any math. The older he got, the less willing he was to go for the difficult to compute option, which is why stuff like the Oberth Effect shows up in the juvvies but not, say, FRIDAY.

Rather than post a long screed about the lunar bombards here, I have done so over at my LJ, cunningly altering one section so the gross error I made in the first version is corrected.
alastair chadwin
92. a-j
Time for the Stars was my first Heinlein. I would have been about 11 or 12 and remember liking it for crediting his juvenile readers with a degree of intelligence. Later I adored The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and weirdly fascinated by Starship Troopers. So, if you're recommending to a juve, Time for the Stars and for an adult The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Having said that, a younger friend was fascinated by Stranger in a Strange Land.
R.J. Huneke
93. Psuke
I think it helps to tailor your recommendation to your reader. I had a friend whose first introduction was NotB and she hated it, and therefore 'hated' Heinlein, until I suggested SiaSL which she *loved* and then went on to read a whole crapload and liked a lot of it.

Was he perfect? Gods, no...and sometimes he's overly patronistic, kind of like PKD. But what I do appreciate about him was that he questioned and poked at core assumptions of his culture, time and society blatantly (most especially regarding sexual mores and customs) in a way that I think a lot of other authors (at least the ones I read) haven't.

I don't love all his stuff, certainly - I couldn't finish Friday, or IWFNE.

But for general first timers I would probably suggest Waldo, Magic, Inc or Glory Road (because they're *fun*), MISAHM or Job...or his short fiction.
R.J. Huneke
94. John-Henri Holmberg
I suppose I qualify as another Heinlein fan. I read him in Swedish translation as a child, and when I discovered a never translated Heinlein novel in English paperback in a Stockholm bookstore, I bought it and began learning English to be able to read it. At fifteen, I wrote a 20-page essay about Heinlein. Later on, I've translated several of his books and as a publisher brought several others out in Sweden.
But I can't agree with the initial suggestion here, nor with many of the comments.
Heinlein very obviously worked at learning his craft. There is a huge difference in both storytelling technique and style between his early work – particularly that published before WWII – and his later. Around 1950, he is fully in control, and the work he published during the next ten years is his best. In the 1960s, he begins to refuse editorial demands for rewrites and cuts; this has a detrimental effect on his work, which becomes less focused and more used as a soapbox. The deterioration continued in the 1970s and 1980s; by then story had largely been replaced by endless dialogue, usually of the kind where variant Heinlein personas agree with each other.
I don't really mean to sound nasty. I still reread Heinlein. But I also can't forget the shock of reading the manuscript submission of Number of the Beast. Getting it was a thrill: the first Heinlein in years, in a manuscript copy. I left the office early to read it at home, began … and found that this was the first Heinlein novel I'd seen I was actually unable to finish.
A couple of the later novels were better, notably Friday. But none was as good as his best work.
So what would be my suggestions for the five best?

Double Star: an entertaining, elegant sf version of Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda, written at the height of Heinlein's powers. (And for anyone interested, there is a good late variation on the same theme by John Varley, The Golden Globe.)

Have Space Suin – Will Travel. Adventure, sentiment and great fun, elegantly tied together more carefully than Heinlein often did. One of the very best of the juveniles.

Citizen of the Galaxy. Another of the best of the juveniles, an entertaining combined space opera and coming of age story, as well as Heinlein writing politics without lecturing as he later tended to do.

Starship Troopers. Yes, I know, still his most controversial novel, and just on the edge of preachiness. But it's one I've translated, and doing that made me appreciate how enormously skilfully it's actually put together, and how nuanced it actually is. The start of most modern militaristic sf, and for my money still better than most of what's come after.

For a fifth, I'd really like to suggest a story collection – Heinlein wrote a number of deservedly classical short stories, where a few ("All You Zombies", "Year of the Jackpot", "The Green Hills of Earth") are outstanding. But I'll go with one of his least praised novels, The Door Into Summer, a totally absurd time travel novel which is also great fun, contains any number of striking observation on most things from cats to doing dishes, and for sheer exuberant audacity has seldom been equalled in sf.

Always fun to quibble about an old favorite. Thanks for giving me (and so many others) the chance.
R.J. Huneke
95. Robert Hood
The ones I keep coming back to are:

Assignment in Eternity
The Door Into Summer
Double Star
The Past Through Tomorrow (or any of its component collections)

...although, honestly, I'll reread anything by Heinlein at pretty much the drop of a hat - except for the Destination: Moon screenplay, Grumbles from the Grave, and Tramp Royale.
R.J. Huneke
96. Mysa
I love how we're all still arguing and agreeing and disagreeing over Heinlein's works! It shows how relevant it still is.

Maybe it's because I'm female, but I loved Podkayne - it was the first SF book I read with a GIRL as the hero and I adore(d) her.

I've read everything of RAH's I could get my hands on since then, and I've never regretted it.
R.J. Huneke
97. SueQ
My introduction to Heinlein was a school library book of his short stories, and 'The Green Hills Of Earth' had me crying over poor Rhysling never getting home. I was 9 or 10 and I was hooked. The Door Into Summer is still my favourite full length book. (Did anyone else notice how the characters of John and Jenny Sutton spookily resembled Robert and Virginia Heinlein?) I have loved several of his characters, but I have loved ALL of his cats. The Door Into Summer was published the year I was born, 1956, but in it Robert has electric cigarettes, the Roomba (known as the Hired Girl), and AutoCad (aka Drafting Dan). Go, Bob!
R.J. Huneke
98. Dolfo
Pretty much all that follows has already been said, but that never stopped anyone from writing before, so...

You cannot start someone on Heinlein without Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. They are his seminal works, I believe them to be most reflective of his style, power of imagination and purpose of writing. He wrote to enumerate his political and social ideals, to demonstrate how they would function in a more ideal society. This is seen as a theme in pretty much everything he wrote.

Tunnel in the Sky is an excellent choice, a book I recommend to all my young relatives when they hit about 13, I agree it is his best juvie book, but Have Spacesuit is a close second, followed by the Starbeast. Podkayne gets an honorable mention as others have noted. The Puppetmasters is also a solid choice, though I would go with Starbeast.

Friday is human, as has been mentioned before, just a genetically modified human. I recently reread it looking for the origin of the so called 'Heinlein Solution' to genetic modification - fertilize a number of embryos and do an analysis of each, then select the prefered one for implantation. This provides a directed intelligent selection without producing anything that could not have evolved naturally. The idea was not in the book, which by the way is awful. It has no place on this type of list and I tell people all the time to skip it entirely along with IWFNE.

In summation:
1 Starship Troopers
2 The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
3 Tunnel in the Sky
4 Have Spacesuit, will Travel
5 The Starbeast
R.J. Huneke
99. Gardner Dozois
Heinlein also had ATMs in THE DOOR INTO SUMMER, I believe the first mention of the idea anywhere. Later, in STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, he "invented" the waterbed, or the concept of it, anyway.
R.J. Huneke
100. Paul Simard
Having been a long time fan of RAH (over 45 years now), and having read most of his work, I have to say I've enjoyed almost all of it to one degree or another.

I agree that there are weaknesses in different books. RAH was one of the authors sought for by those of us who had to search for bookstores that even carried SF at the time. Back then, the cover prices for Science Fiction / Fantasy books was substantially less than the so-called mainstream fiction. Today, the prices are much closer across genres.

A couple of points came to mind while reading the thread. The first is that SF authors have to make certain choices when writing in alternative realities. Whether to choose an alien environment which requires 50 to 100 pages to flesh out in sufficient detail, or spend those same 50 to 100 pages on characterization and plot development. Also, some pages need to be spent describing the gadgetry in sufficient detail to inform the reader of its capabilities, as well as a bit of the science behind it. The more recent 1000+ page novels I've seen have the depth SF of the 'golden age' lacked.

All that is in preparation of saying that each book has its own emphasis, description, character, technology or plot. Once the emphasis is chosen, the remaining three choices are less polished, have less depth and so on.

RAH's works in his later years tended to be diatribes on his favorite hobbyhorses. Poking at the hypocrisesof today's sexual and cultural mores. Recalling Mike Valentine's conclusion on what makes a joke funny comes to mind. RAH sought to explore controversial topics in a fictional environment, where the unspeakable can be spoken of with reason and explored with rational thought rather than the reflexive agreement or condemnation that our society has evolved for these concepts. Sometimes change happens because of them, other times they are reflective of the times in which they were written.

In short, most of the Science Fiction genre was written from the single question that began "What if...", then explored the concept exhaustively. In those days, Fantasy as a genre didn't exist, but was included in SF because that was the closest to it.

I'm not tossing in my 5 choices because I have more than 5, and they're all listed in the previous comments.
Alan Murad
101. optimae
I think Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is a very good one to start with.
R.J. Huneke
102. James Davis Nicoll
Various forms of the water bed go back at least as far as the 1800s. This obviously doesn't preclude Heinlein from having independently thought up the idea (see, for example, how many different times independent groups invented the idea of the orbital tower) but he definitely wasn't the first.

(also, while we are at it, NASA didn't invent velcro)
R.J. Huneke
103. John-Henri Holmberg
Gardner – Did you notice that in an offhand sentence on one of the first pages of Space Cadet, he also "invented" the cell phone? Matt, arriving at the Academy, gets a phone call from his parents, finishes it quickly, than packs away his phone since he doesn't want any further calls. Nothing more is made of it. (Nor, I suppose, should it; Heinlein correctly foresaw a piece of engineering, but none of the behavioral or social changes that in fact were driven partly by it.)
R.J. Huneke
104. James Davis Nicoll
I discovered this bit from Philip Francis Nowlan's 1928 novel Armageddon 2419

"You want to report by phone then, don't you?" Alan took a compact packet about six inches square from a holster attached to her belt and handed it to Wilma.
So far as I could see, it had no special receiver for the ear. Wilma merely threw back a lid, as though she were opening a book, and began to talk. The voice that came back from the machine was as audible as her own.

But when I mentioned it, it was pointed out to me there was a grand tradition of speculation about such devices, such as this bit from 1919:
R.J. Huneke
105. SueQ
To 'lakesidey' in comment #16: if you can't find Heinlein's 'Time Enough For Love' anywhere else, check out The paperback is $7.99 U.S. and the Kindle ebook is $10.33 U.S. as of Aug 9, 2012. Love your cat in your profile pict, by the way.
Rob Munnelly
106. RobMRobM
I just re-read Starship and Moon for the first time in close to 30 years.

Moon - rollicking and fun but requires mucho suspension of disbelief (the probabilities of success almost feels like a side version of Asimov's psychohistory).

Starship - I believe my memory had been affected by the Verhoeven movie version, as the book was much more straightforward and with far less express or implied irony than I had recalled (and, of course, a lot less sex!). Enjoyable, straight ahead power read.

Both - lots of Heinlein at his socio-economic philopher best, with a nice underpinning of character.
jon meltzer
107. jmeltzer
After reading Heinlein's letter to F.M. Busby about race relations, I take back comment 53. He _meant_ the cannibalism and Yellow Peril parts.

I guess my comment was another naive-liberal-tries-to-justify-the-indefensible thing. I should have known better. Sigh. (go to page 53)
R.J. Huneke
108. JohnArmstrong
Posting this here as it's the most recent RAH thread I coudl find onthe site

let the howling begin .....
R.J. Huneke
109. StevenBryan
Hello!... Just (9-27-12) read all of this... Dang! I gotta get to that ASAP folder sooner than this in the future! Please note the link in #108 won't work but that doesn't mean you can't get to it... I edited the link so that it stopped at "...01/28/" and the article came up just fine. Enjoy! Oh, and my input to all the RAH madness... To really "get" SIASL you probably had to read it in the 60's or early 70's... which I did... re-reading again in the 90's... not the same effect on my brain! I agree with most that his YA/Juv work is his best - man that stuff was/is good! I also felt the same way that his last set of books were always looked forward to but never left a good taste in my mouth... sigh... But, we still love ya, RAH!
R.J. Huneke
110. Tim3
There is probably not a single Heinlein that I have not read at least 2 or 3 times. Some I have read as many as 10 times (including some of his longer works). I would usually rather reread almost any Heinlein than read or reread any work by any other author, though I have read many dozens of other authors of many different genres and have enjoyed many of those for various reasons. However Mr. Heinlein was a uniquely talented author comparing him to whatever author of whatever genre of any time period. His ability to cast realism and believability into any storywas incredable. His insights into human psychology and the psychology of power were fantastic. I could go on and on for thousands of words in trying to describe his talent and why I love reading his works.

I think almost anyone would enjoy at least some of his works. However it takes a broad and open minded individual to appreciate some of his finest works or the subtle values of many of his other works. Robert obviously had a very high IQ and an intuitive ability well beyond the average human capability and an ability to put all of this and his messages into very readable format. He was also in many ways very empathetic and compassionate as well as of rarely high moral fiber (though again someone of a more brainwashed frame of mind might not agree). I don't mean to caste him as an almost perfect and flawless god. I did not know him personally but only through his works and things written about him by others. I am sure he must have had his own personal foibles, but these would not detract from his positive traits. Just another facet of one human's makeup, if he in fact had such foibles.

If you have not yet had a chance to expand your own thinking and reasoning ability or are still stuck in very parochial thinking and believe as writ of God what your neighbors all believe or what you read in any of our controlled media or what our multinational controlled officials tell you then you will most likely not fall in love with some of his works and perhaps even feel offended. One can not help that. It is something that you must work through yourself and hopefully some day will.
R.J. Huneke
112. Floyd from Illinois
I've liked everything of Heinlein's, except "I Will Fear No Evil".

But I fear there is a real dropoff in quality after "Time Enough for Love", 1973, probably due to RAH's serious health issues over the next several years. After that, he seemed to substitute volume for quality.
R.J. Huneke
113. Kelli
I can't help it, I loved Podkayne of Mars. Also Starship Troopers. Tunnel in the Sky gave me horrific nightmares because I was afraid of leaving home to go to college. I also really enjoyed Grumbles from the Grave (voice of dissent, here!).
R.J. Huneke
114. Another Mike
It's always seemed to me that many Heinlein fans prefer the works prior to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and a few prefer the works after that work, but generally everyone really likes Moon. I recently reread it and it didn't feel Zeerusty to me.

I liked most all of his work, though I didn't care for Farnham's Freehold. I really liked Time Enough for Love. There are a couple of juvies I haven't read yet.

It also seems to me that the two camps can be split into four based theirs opinions of Stranger in a Strange Land.

I tend to agree with a suggestion I once saw that The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is the last of the older tighter Heinlein, and Stranger in a Strange Land is the first of the looser, chattier Heinlein, with more sex.

What do kids make of all of the slide rule scenes in the juvies? Perhaps kids assume that they are some sort of electronic device. These are books that are 60 years old.

When I read the Puppet Masters years ago I thought it was definitely a thing of its time. If I read it now, I'm sure it would feel like The Lost Skeleton of Cadavera.
R.J. Huneke
115. Franciscus
I clearly remember that Starship Troopers was the first Heinlein book i read when i was around sixteen. I can see why people would find it a controversial book but i don't agree with it, one of the core elements of a good sci-fi novel is to depict a different believable society, not necessarily an uncontroversial one. It is precisely the thinking about different and perhaps 'controversial' societies that expand ones personal universe of possibilities and that allow you to be critical.

My favorite novels by Heinlein are:

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
Starship Troopers
The Door Into Summer
Double Star

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