Visions of Paradise

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Heinlein's Children

Old-time science fiction fanatics generally point to two major “entry points” into sf reading for them: the young adult novels of Andre Norton, and those of Robert A. Heinlein. Both groups of fans tend to be exceedingly loyal to their first favorite writer even into adulthood.

I did not enter sf through either author. I read L. Frank Baum’s Oz books and the Tom Swift Jr books before I discovered Worlds of IF and Galaxy. By the time I read Heinlein I had been reading fairly “sophisticated” sf for several years, so his young adult novels never had the same thrill for me as it did to his “children.”

Joseph Major was apparently one of Heinlein’s “children,” if his dedication in the book Heinlein’s Children is any indication. The last line states, “We have all become Heinlein’s children.” His book is equal parts analysis of each of the fourteen books (beginning with Rocket Ship Galileo, published in 1947, through Podkayne of Mars, published in 1963) flavored with his love for those books. I bought a copy soon after it was published, admittedly not because of my fascination with Heinlein’s ya novels, but because Joe is a friend of mine. I read the first chapter devoted to Rocket Ship Galileo and found parts of it confusing because I was totally unfamiliar with that novel. So when I finished reading Farmer in the Sky a few weeks ago, I decided to give Heinlein’s Children another chance by reading the relevant chapter.

I found the Farmer in the Sky chapter much more interesting since I was familiar with everything Joe was discussing. Basically it was a scene-by-scene analysis of Farmer in the Sky as well as comments from Heinlein’s nonfiction writings (most of which were published posthumously as Grumbles From the Grave) relevant to the scene and also comments from critical studies of Heinlein (especially Alexei Panshin’s seminal Heinlein in Dimension). Since I enjoy reading critical writing about science fiction, it was all fascinating stuff, even when I disagreed with one of Joe Major’s conclusions (which actually happened rarely).

Heinlein’s Children is written in a rambling, fanzine-style rather than a stiffer academic style, which appealed to me since fanzines and fannish websites are where I read most of my sf criticism, and it is also the writing style I use myself. Joe has a tendency towards long rambling asides, such as a paragraph on page 113 devoted to the movie version of Lord of the Rings which has only the most tenuous connection to Heinlein. But I don’t mind those asides at all; in fact, if they are interesting, as Joe’s invariably are, I actually enjoy them (although I am resisting the urge to discuss the origins of the Lutheran religion here, having moved that discussion to my other blog ☺).

I plan to read other Heinlein ya novels in the foreseeable future, and I will eagerly read the corresponding chapter in Heinlein’s Children when I do. I recommend the book to those of you who have already read some or most of the ya novels discussed, but I hesitate to do so for those of you who, in Joe’s words in the introduction “haven’t yet read Heinlein’s juveniles, and want to know more about them.” I do not feel that this book is really intended for that audience. This book about Heinlein’s children (his ya protagonists) is really intended for Heinlein’s children (those who have already read his ya books). But apparently there are quite a few million of you out there.


  • Bob, tell your friend Joe that I really loved his book Heinlein's Children, which I read about a year ago.

    Like you, I also started with the Oz books and Tom Swift Jr., and Danny Dunn, and didn't discover Heinlein until the 8th grade, but he still made a major impression.

    By Blogger Jim Harris, At 7:52 AM  

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