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Variable Star By Heinlein and Robinson 201

Posted by samzenpus
from the when-you-wish-upon-a-star dept.
Cam Turner writes "In late August, Slashdot reported that a lost Robert A. Heinlein novel was mere months away from being released. True enough, it was completed and released on October 18th, 2006 by Spider Robinson, himself a distinguished speculative fiction writer. On the back cover, John Varley is quoted as saying "Completing a book from notes by a dead author is almost always a mistake. But apparently Robert A. Heinlein isn't really dead. He was at the side of Spider Robinson as he wrote this book." I'd have to agree. This story is a valuable addition to any speculative fiction collection, even that of a purist Heinlein fan." Read the rest of Cam's review.
Variable Star
author Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson
pages 320
publisher Tor Books
rating 8.5/10
reviewer Cam Turner
ISBN 076531312X
summary An excellent additon to your speculative fiction collection.


In the afterword Spider Robinson describes how he came to be the writer who took Heinlein's eight pages of notes — penned in November 1955 — and turned them into a full length novel released half a century later and 18 years after Heinlein's death. He describes it as "literally the most difficult and intimidating challenge that could be handed to a science fiction writer." However, as a lifelong fan of Heinlein's work, Robinson said "I wanted to read a new Heinlein novel so badly that I didn't care if I had to finish it myself."

The protagonist, Joel Johnston of Ganymede, is a man of his late teens or early twenties. His life as he knows it falls apart when his fiancé turns out not to be who she says she is. As he struggles to regain control of his identity and his direction in life, he decides to join a starship as it travels 85 light years — and 20 ship years — to found the colony on a newly discovered Earth-like planet. Variable Star is the story of his journey, his regrets and the friends he makes en route.

Identifying the antagonist is a little more complicated — as it is with many of Heinlein's novels. It could possibly be his struggle with adapting to his new life in a small colony of only 500 people, his regrets over leaving the love of his life, or his tenuous escape from her family's vast influence. Regardless, the possibilities weave together to create a richly imagined story that is a believable description of how events might unfold for a character in Joel's position on a long journey between the stars.

The rest of the characters are also vivid and well constructed. At no time did they act counter-intuitively to their rich back stories. Certainly each character is revealed and built up over the course of the book, but I found their actions and motivations to be entirely believable and flawed in the way that only humans — even future humans — can be.

Heinlein fans will recognize many nods to the Future History timeline. From Leslie LeCroix being the pilot of the first moonship to the Covenant (and Coventry) that brought enforceable peace and tolerance to the human civilization after the fall of the Prophet. Robinson also incorporates many of the various sexual ideas that Heinlein had in his works like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land, however he doesn't go into as lavish and descriptive detail as Heinlein often did.

As a downside, I don't think that Variable Star is going to be as timeless as some of Heinlein's better works. Robinson managed to work into the Future History (timeline two) nods to both the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Iraq wars. Reading through them jarred me back to reality momentarily and thus detracted from the story. Robinson is careful not to mention these events by name, but readers for years to come may find their mention distracting. It's true that we'll look back on these events in the future as part of our violent history, but invented wars would have served the same purpose in terms of story development and would have allowed the reader to stay in the imaginary world.

As mentioned, the outline was created in 1955 and, as expected, fits perfectly into the Heinlein Juvenile and Young Readers works of that time. It appeals to teenage boys and furthers Heinlein's propaganda agenda about the colonization of space. It is not what Heinlein would have described as "adult" fiction and has a single, linear storyline and a well defined main thread. Teenage readers will be able to identify with many of the struggles Joel faces through the course of the book and Heinlein fans will get a kick out of seeing how Robinson weaves in numerous references to Heinlein's earlier works. For other adult readers the story is still a fantastic, quick and entertaining read.

In the afterword Robinson makes a point of mentioning that the notes Heinlein left behind contained no climax or ending. Robinson tells the story of how both were inspired by some audio clips of Heinlein interviews in the 80's and extrapolated from his views on the true future of humanity. That said, the climax was not a typical Heinlein climax and was entirely unpredictable up until the exact moment it occurs.

To be honest as the number of remaining pages dwindled I began to wonder how exactly Robinson was going to get where I thought he was going in the pages he had left. I feared a Neil Stephenson-like abrupt ending was the fate of the story and characters I had come to love. I was very happily surprised with what I got. The ending fits the situation, motivations and expected behaviors of the characters so perfectly that, in hindsight, I can't imagine it concluding any other way.

Ultimately I give this book an 8.5/10. Robinson has done an excellent job of writing a strong story with strong characters as well as paying homage to the Grand Master and the vast legacy of richly imagined universes he left behind. Make no mistake, Variable Star isn't of the same caliber as The Moon is a Harsh Mistress or Stranger in a Strange Land, but it certainly holds up against many of the novels that have been nominated for the Hugo or Nebula awards the last few years. It might not win next year, but I'd be surprised if it didn't at least make both of the final ballots.

Lastly, potential buyers of this book should note that profits from the sales will help fund the $500,000 Heinlein Prize for innovation in commercial manned spaceflight, a goal Robert A. Heinlein considered crucial to humanity's long-term survival.

Aside: I haven't yet had an opportunity to read anything else by Spider Robinson, but I am now a fan of his work and intend to work my way back through his collection too. Does the Slashdot community have any suggestions on where to start?

Cam Turner is the author of Beginning Google Maps Applications, an internet software developer, a father and a long time Heinlein fan.


You can purchase Variable Star from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Variable Star By Heinlein and Robinson

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  • Yeah RAH (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Monday November 13, 2006 @04:26PM (#16828058) Homepage Journal
    I wrote up a few of my impressions of the book in this journal entry. [slashdot.org]
     
    I've thought about the book quite a bit more since. I did not make the same connection to 9/11 that the reviewer made. There were similarities, but the description could have fit another set of events that would be in our future. Heinlein did this himself and so I took it the same way - as referring to events that have not happened yet.
     
    I think part of the appeal RAH's juveniles hold is the naivete they present. By mixing in some of the 'worldliness' of the later novels, a bit of that is lost. Sometimes it felt like watching an old Andy Griffith re-run and having Aunt Bea drop the occasional f-bomb. I don't think someone new to Heinlein would notice it, but having re-read those older works many times, it was a bit jarring.
     
    I had pre-ordered my copy and read it right away. Of course, you can't really go back. It's not Heinlein, it couldn't be. But it is pretty close and I guess it speaks volumes about how many of us feel, that we would be willing to grasp at those straws. And as excited as I was to have had two 'new' Heinleins come out, I hope they are done and will just let his body of work stand as it is. The great thing is the works we have can still be just as powerful. Hopefully somewhere right now, some young kid is getting chills, just like I did, as he reads about Johnny Rico's combat drops. Or maybe some other kid is closing their copy of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and feeling that same sense of loss, and hope that Mike is still alive in their somewhere.
     
    I used to wonder why Hollywood wasn't cranking out movies based on Heinlein now that special effects are so good. But after what they did to troopers, I hope they stay away from all the rest. I think his biggest impact will be with all of those like Spider Robinson and myself, who found the master at our public library.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by krell (896769)
      "But after what they did to troopers, I hope they stay away from all the rest."

      I read "Troopers" right before seeing the movie. I found that it was a rather close adaptation: true to much of the detail and the spirit of the book.
      • What the hell version of Troopers did you see (or read)? The movie was a travesty -- it seemed like they couldn't make up their minds to make fun of Heinlein's source story or follow along with it. I admit that part of the problem was Heinlein's story -- it was a shoot-em up, but with a lot of subtext as baggage. The movie ignored the subtext and did the shoot-em up part poorly.
      • by rucs_hack (784150)
        except that almost all the major characters in the film are dead in the book, and one who is alive in the book is dead in the film, and the officer who writes to him never enlists, and the bugs no longer have allies in the film....

        I could go on. It's a good film, great in fact, very entertaining, but has almost nothing in common with the book. I like them both for different reasons, but the book is crying out for a closer adaption.

        Dunes another one, David Lynches film was barely similer to Dune the book, an
        • Dune is even worse because it is antithetical to much of what Herbert had to say. Starship Troopers does this too, but not to the same extent. Both movies mock the books. I find myself going back to the movie dune, sort of like when i go back to the fridge and look inside, even though i already know i don't want what is inside.

          I don't revisit the Starship Troopers film, because as has already been mentioned, everything of substance is completely dropped or ridiculed. Both books, Dune and Trooper
          • by rucs_hack (784150)
            I frequently re-read the dune books, all of them, including the ones his son did, and enjoy them all. The film did suck when it came to telling the original story, but it's not a bad film in its own right.
            I tend to expect films of books to be nothing like the book, after all how could they be? I can think of no way that anything but the smallest least interesting of books could be transfered to screen without suffering..

            A good aproach is to use the one taken with Blade Runner. An Iconic film only slightly s
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by aquabat (724032)
              I liked the film version of The Running Man, probably because I haven't read the book, if what people tell me about it is true.

              I think I got the major points the film was trying to make:

              1) the shock and horror conveyed by the extreme popularity of torture and murder made into a game show, especially the audience participation aspect.

              2) the hipocracy involved in having a hero named Captain Freedom, whose purpose is to distract people from their lack of same.

              3) the irony of Captain Freedom's interpret

            • by 1u3hr (530656)
              The all time worst conversion to a film for me has to be Running Man. The original Bachman story was entertaining and dark. The film was hidious, it makes me cringe just to think of it. That is an example of a film that will never stand on its own merits, because it has none, unless its merit is a pile of dog turds.

              You do know that "Bachman" was a pseudonym for Stephen King? Anyway, most of his novels are disposable (but I like his short fiction) and little deserving of veneration. Running Man the movie w

          • I disagree on the Dune film. It changed a lot of the plot, but it kept the characters very similar to their book versions. Contrast this with the Sci-Fi mini-series which managed to keep the plot quite similar, but turned Paul from a strong character plagued by the consequences of moral compromises into a whiney brat who I just wanted to slap.
          • by lymond01 (314120)
            The movie Starship Troopers was terrible, and that's not an opinion. Plot, acting, action, the way it distorted the plot, action, and characters in what is a great book....

            I enjoyed Heinlein's Glory Road. An adventurous romp with Heinlein's usual (or unusual) take on Earthly cultures. Just good science-fiction writing (which doesn't mean it's great literature, it's just not the usual schlock).

      • I read "Troopers" right before seeing the movie. I found that it was a rather close adaptation: true to much of the detail and the spirit of the book.

        Sure it kept to the detail and spirit of the book, aside from changing all the details (from the micro-level details like the sex of characters, their relations with each other, the capacities of the troopers, their tactics and employment, etc., to macro-level 'details' like, say, the entire large-scale plot of the movie, the society it took place in, etc.) an

      • I read "Troopers" right before seeing the movie. I found that it was a rather close adaptation: true to much of the detail and the spirit of the book.

        For a summary of why the movie was nothing like the book, see here [slashdot.org].

      • by 1u3hr (530656)
        I read "Troopers" right before seeing the movie. I found that it was a rather close adaptation: true to much of the detail and the spirit of the book.

        Troll. But a couple of points anyway:

        • Detail: The book is about "Mobile Infantry": armoured flying battle suits, beam weapons. The movie has Vietnam-era grunts with machine guns walking up to bugs and getting slaughtered like sheep.
        • Spirit: The book is very Iwo Jima, John Wayne, patriotism. The movie makes the protagonists evil fascists.
        • by krell (896769)
          I did find it a rather close adaptation. Detail? You aren't going to have actors acting in giant armor suits where you can't see their faces, so I'll grant the moviemakers scaling down the suits. Spirit? I read the same patriotism / fascism into both the book AND the movie. There are other reasons to call me a troll at times, but I don't think my views on "Starship Troopers" are that troll-like. I enjoyed both the book and the movie, but didn't think either was any sort of classic.
          • by 1u3hr (530656)
            Detail? You aren't going to have actors acting in giant armor suits where you can't see their faces, so I'll grant the moviemakers scaling down the suits.

            It changed the nature of the warfare completely. It wasn't just cosmetic. In the movie troops rush into battle in mobs, on foot, and get chewed up, literally by giant bugs. The military tactics in the movie are idiotic and make the commanders responsible for senseless slaughter; impying that it's a "Wag the Dog" war to keep the home world cowed and fearfu

            • by krell (896769)
              "You have to look very deep in the book to find hints of criticism of the society portrayed"

              I saw the implication of levels of rights being teired, and given to those who earn them instead of "all men being created equal", and its resemblance to the fascistic veneer of a hero-led society. I did read it around the same time Forever War came out, by the way. I also read it in the context of a book club in which we did emphasize the negative aspects of the society.

              I actually didn't think my views were th
    • Re:Yeah RAH (Score:4, Informative)

      by bcrowell (177657) on Monday November 13, 2006 @05:03PM (#16828650) Homepage
      I also disagree with some of what the slashdot review said.
      1. They quote Varley, saying "...Robert A. Heinlein isn't really dead. He was at the side of Spider Robinson as he wrote this book." No way. Robinson's style is extremely different from Heinlein's. Nobody who's familiar with Heinlein's style could read this book and not realize it wasn't by Heinlein. Robinson divides the book 50/50 between slapstick humor and serious stuff, and IMO didn't do a very good job of integrating them to make a stylistically consistent whole.
      2. What the review said about teenagers as the target audience is a little off-base. Some parents might be OK with having their 13-year-old read this book, but others definitely won't. There's lots of no-apologies promiscuous sex (including gay sex), and lots of positive descriptions of drug use (meaning drugs that aren't in the socially approved pharmacopia in the U.S.). I personally wouldn't mind having my daughters read it when they reach their teen years, or even now, but I would definitely want to talk to them about it. In any case, this material is jarringly different from anything included in Heinlein's 50's juveniles.
      3. The reviewer talks about how it fits into the Future History. Actually, the Future History is separate from, and often inconsistent with, the world presented in the juvenile novels, and this book mixes them together. E.g., we have Nehemiah Scudder references, which are clearly dealing with the Future History universe, but also the telepathic twins communicating faster than c, which are a feature of one of the juveniles, and don't exist in the Future History. I also felt that Robinson was far less skilled at making the science plausible than Heinlein would have been. (Heinlein was an engineer, and worked on space suits for the military during WWII.)
      • by 1u3hr (530656)
        ... promiscuous sex .... drug use (meaning drugs that aren't in the socially approved pharmacopia in the U.S.). ... In any case, this material is jarringly different from anything included in Heinlein's 50's juveniles.

        I'm not so sure about that. What about Podkayne of Mars, The Rolling Stones? Lots of sex (though not graphic). I can't recall drugs, but plenty of drinking (and in many novels Heinlein speaks of the virtues of tobacco, rather jarring these days). Also apparently some more racy passages in hi

        • by bcrowell (177657)

          What about Podkayne of Mars, The Rolling Stones? Lots of sex (though not graphic).
          Huh? What are you talking about? There's no sex in those books.

          Also apparently some more racy passages in his "juveniles" were cut in editing.
          Not really. His editor thought there were Freudian references to sex, but it was all in her imagination.

          And of course in the 60s and 70s, Heinlein got into psychedelia, and lots of icky sexual obsessions like incest.
          That was after he stopped writing juveniles.

          • by 1u3hr (530656)
            What about Podkayne of Mars, The Rolling Stones? Lots of sex (though not graphic).
            Huh? What are you talking about? There's no sex in those books.

            Okay, it's 30 years since I read those. But I'm pretty sure in Podkayne her "auntie" (not biologically, but an older woman who took that role) was sleeping around, she certainly had an active social life around the Venusian casinos; some attempts to seduce Podkayne; and of course the whole "frozen embryos" thing at the beginning was probably rather shocking at

    • I've thought about the book quite a bit more since. I did not make the same connection to 9/11 that the reviewer made. There were similarities, but the description could have fit another set of events that would be in our future. Heinlein did this himself and so I took it the same way - as referring to events that have not happened yet.

      I picked out the 'modern' references just reading the introductory material available on the web. Between that, and a quick scan once it hit the shelves, it was baldy obvio

      • by bcrowell (177657)
        It echoes his (Robinson's) political sensibilities (very different from Heinlein's)
        I agreed with most of your post, but on this point, I'm not so sure. The book is saturated with negative references to religious fundamentalism, which is entirely in keeping with Heinlein's point of view, although Heinlein was more apt to treat fundamentalism satirically, and often took a more nuanced view of religion in general. The suspicious attitude toward economic monopolies is pure Heinlein. The lifeboat rules stuff i
    • Or maybe some other kid is closing their copy of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and feeling that same sense of loss, and hope that Mike is still alive in their somewhere.

      Well, at least you've ruined that one for me. Seriously dude, courtesy spoiler warning next time.
  • Spider Robinson has some nice stories of his own. I particularly like the earlier Callahan's Place short stories. I dislike the later novels, as he often had the characters make bad assumptions, ignoring other possiblities. In addition, he tended to blame the bad guys for things the good guys did.

    But some of his short stories are fantastic, even the ones that had no science fiction in them. One of my favorites was the Time Traveller who used a prison cell as his time machine to the future.

  • by foniksonik (573572) on Monday November 13, 2006 @04:38PM (#16828218) Homepage Journal
    Is mostly comedy in a recently past setting mixed with a lot (I mean as in a whole several acres lot) of bad puns... and songs with bad puns and puns within puns. Its good sci-fi don't get me wrong but you should know what you're getting into before you start reading Robinson ;-p

    Anyways, start with any of the Callahan series and work your way forward or back (there's a lot of time travel so it doesn't really matter which way you go, you'll feel as if you'd been there before regardless).

    Most importantly, enjoy the reading... that's why he writes apparently, to entertain which is admirable in this day... oh yeah and all the novels I've read by Robbie are set in the late nineties so expect some feelings of de ja vu... and yet it's still science fiction eh?

    • Spider Robinson's work ... Is mostly comedy in a recently past setting mixed with a lot (I mean as in a whole several acres lot) of bad puns...

      Which is actually a reasonably good match for Heinlein. Heinlein, like Robinson, would often use puns (sometimes bad ones) to ilustrate a point or as a major plot element - or just for humor.

      _Stranger in a Strange Land_, for instance, has quite a bit of pun use (and occasionally resulting slapsitck), both in the education of the "Michael" character and in explaining
    • There are numerous collections of Robinson short stories available, though they tend to overlap considerably. I tend to like Spider's short work better than his novels—he has a tendency to write good ideas to death. For instance, Stardance is a brilliant and heartbreaking novelette, but a somewhat disappointing novel.

      On the other hand, Night of Power is an outstanding novel that tends to get overlooked, partly because it's not science fiction, partly because racial violence is not the most optimi
  • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Monday November 13, 2006 @04:39PM (#16828248) Journal
    ...and work up from there, building your pun tolerance as you go. Fun guy to read, think I've got them all on the shelf, don't think I've read any of Spider's books just once.
    • by krell (896769)
      "don't think I've read any of Spider's books just once."

      Nice wording: the situation applies also to those who have never even seen one of his books :)
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Monday November 13, 2006 @04:41PM (#16828264) Homepage Journal
    If you want a great intro to Spider Robinson, try starting with Time Travelers Strictly Cash [spiderrobinson.com], the hilarious (and poignant) first book in the "Callahan's" series. It's short, fantastic, and has some non-Callahan's short stories.

    If you want a great intro to Robert A. Heinlein, try starting with practically any of his dozens of first-rate books published from 1939-73 [wikipedia.org], during which he defined "science fiction", leading a group of prolific writers. There's some good stuff later, but not nearly as reliably inspired or executed.
    • by krell (896769) on Monday November 13, 2006 @04:46PM (#16828342) Journal
      Time Travelers Strictly Cash, the hilarious (and poignant) first book in the "Callahan's" series. "

      "Time Travelers Strictly Cash" is actually the second Callahan's book from what I recall (and from what Robinson says in the link you gave). It has been a while since I have read them (back then there were only two), so I don't know if the reading order even matters.
      • by Doc Ruby (173196)
        When I read TTSC, there were none in the series ;).
        • You must, because apparently you are a time traveller. As for an experience more typical for the rest of us, I read the first collection, "Callahan's Crosstime Saloon" not long after it came out in 1977. I awaited a sequel, and special ordered "Time Travelers Strictly Cash" when it came out in 1981. You will see the order (for those of us without time machines) here [aol.com].
    • by Tumbleweed (3706) *
      I haven't read any of Robinson's Callahan books, but I remember really liking his post-Apocalyptic book, "Telempath." Good stuff. I'm always a sucker for a good post-Apocalyptic story.
      • by Doc Ruby (173196)
        I really liked _Telempath_, too. I read all the Callahan's stories, which really touched me. I'm a recovering ex-hippie technocrat from Long Island, so I expect I eventually willam haven to visited Callahan's.
  • I just don't get it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jbrader (697703) <stillnotpynchon@gmail.com> on Monday November 13, 2006 @04:43PM (#16828294)
    I have read a ton of SF over a huge range. Everything from the genre's most literary (Olaf Stapledon and Phillip K Dick) to the really fun but maybe not so deep (Alastair Reynolds and Ben Bova) and from way back in the 19th century (Wells, god I love The Time Machine) to stuff published within the last couple of years. I can't even begin to estimate how many hundreds of novels and thousands of short stories I've read since I was 11 or so and discovered Arthur C Clarke (the author who got me started down my geeky path).

    But, for the life of me I cannot understand the appeal of Heinlein. I've tried s few of his novels (Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and The Number of the Beast [that's the right title I think, anyway it was so bad I actually tore it in half before i used the pages to get the kindling going in my fireplace]) as well as a number of short stories in various collections. Where he's not ridiculous he's offensive, and I'm usually very difficult to offend. And his politics strike me as something that would come out of a bright but not terribly nice 14 year old.

    So can anybody clue me in? What am I missing?

    Does anybody else agree with me or am I the lone voice of geek dissent out here?

    • It's art. Some people like it and respond to it in a positive way. A lot of people love RAH - but some don't. And probably the number of people who've never even heard of him is larger than both of the other two put together. No big deal. I don't get ballet. Doesn't mean it isn't meaningful and worthwhile, it just isn't for me.

      RAH's libertarian philosophy is a bit beyond that of a 14 year old I think, but when you consider that his target audience was 14 and younger, I think your critique fall
      • by jbrader (697703)
        It's art. Some people like it and respond to it in a positive way.

        I agree absolutely. What I'm wondering is what is it about this particular art that people find so attractive because it's utterly lost on me.

      • I think you should keep RAH the writer separate from (some of) RAH's characters. I really think that RAH was much more of a rational anarchist (ala Professor Bernardo de la Paz) than a Libertarian. I think Wikipedia has a good bit on this, but it may have been somewhere else I read about this.
        • i agree - i used the term very loosely as to be honest, i don't know too much about it all. it's one area of his writing that i find interesting but i don't really agree with his conclusions. prof is a great character. i find myself saying tanstaafl all the time.
    • Try a few more books (Score:3, Informative)

      by DG (989)
      Starship Troopers is brilliant stuff; utterly unlike the irony-laden movie of the same name.

      Glory Road is a happy and entertaining romp with a nice twist at the end that'll get you thinking.

      Friday is very similar; a good yarn with some things that'll get you thinking.

      And I also like J.O.B. as a morality play of sorts.

      Try those ones on for size and then report back if you've changed your mind.

      DG
      • by Tumbleweed (3706) *
        Oh, man, what a collection to get someone interested in RAH! Yeesh.

        Okay, I agree with Starship Troopers (and for those who have only seen the movie - the movie is a *parody* of the book). It's sad, as I'd like to see a serious movie version, but with this stinker out there, it'll never happen.

        I'd suggest newbies stay away from Friday, J.O.B., Glory Road, I Will Fear No Evil, etc. They all have their good, if not great, points, but these are not for a newbie to RAH, now way, no how.

        The Moon is a Harsh Mistre
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      So can anybody clue me in? What am I missing?

      I think it might help if you think about the era Heinlein was born into -- culturally WWI and environs. Although his style is archaic by modern mores it helps to consider him as a bridging phenomenon -- we got where we are today by shifting from where we were then, and it's great to have some record of the steps in thinking between then and now. For example, in his day the military was the only visible source of integrity, people didn't challenge authority and

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jfengel (409917)
      Number of the Beast is definitely not his best work. I'm totally sympathetic with tearing it in half. But if you've read Stranger and Moon is a Harsh Mistress, then you've read most of his best stuff. If it's not to your taste, I really wouldn't try to change your mind.

      The thing to notice about Heinlein is that he's really more of an ideas guy than a character guy. There are at least two others you might consider reading: Time Enough for Love and Starship Troopers. The former is really a collection of shor
      • by ZorbaTHut (126196)

        My own tastes run to his middle works. His early pulpy stuff is often too juvenile, and the sexual liberation that he examined in Stranger became rambling and unfocused in everything after that. (Though his finale, To Sail Beyond The Sunset, struck me as a remarkable throwback and a fitting capstone to his works.) Try Time Enough for Love and Starship Troopers; at the very least as light sci-fi you should be able to read them pretty quickly.

        This is pretty much what I was going to say, although I suspect my

        • Another vote for early stuff. IMHO you can divvy up RAH pretty well by pre- or post-SIASL (with "Moon Is A Harsh Mistress" clearly leading up to SIASL). My fave by far is "The Puppet Masters"; if you (grandparent) haven't tried it I'd recommend making time for it.

          I agree that the post-SIASL stuff is pretty wretched. And I'm not really a fan of SIASL/Moon. But man, I am entertained beyond all reason by just about everything before that.
    • So can anybody clue me in? What am I missing?

      Liking art is a matter of taste. If you need to view "not getting" something other people like as a matter of doing something wrong, I suppose I could suggest that you may be getting "too close" to the material: viewing its descriptions as straightforward advocacy. At least, that may be why you are offended. I can't talk about the ridiculousness part: that's really a matter of where your personal suspension of disbelief gets thrown off, and there's not much I c

      • by jbrader (697703)
        Of course it's a matter of taste, and if my earlier post made it sound as though I think his fans are doing something wrong or have wrong opinions that was not my intention. If you like it, that's cool enjoy. I'm just saying I don't like and I was wondering why others do.
    • Are you perchance female ?
      I have known several women who called Heinlein a misogynist. He certainly had unconventional ideas about gender roles and complex relationships. His widow must be a saint.

      Heinlein has also been criticized for only having one character, and that character is recycled for both heroes and heroines. One woman I know calls Heinlein's heroines "femaleins."

      I love Heinlein, and I think it is ironic that Lois McMaster Boujold (a woman and my favorite author) has in some respects picked u
      • just in case anybody goes looking - Bujold.
      • by jbrader (697703)
        Nope, I'm a dude.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by WalksOnDirt (704461)
        I find Bujold ok, but a little boring. Probably too much characterization, of which Heinlein had plenty for me. If fact I'd love to find some more science fiction authors like Doc Smith and Keith Laumer: No time wasted in character development by them at all.
    • by wolfemi1 (765089)
      I must agree with some of the other posters: Starship Troopers is one of my favorite books of all time, and I think that should be required reading for anyone wanting to get a feel for his work.

      I am a Heinlein fan, and I think Number of the Beast is pretty bad. I heard from my father that Heinlein switched medications somewhere in the middle of this, which could account for its meandering nature and lack of resolution to any of the infinite silly plot threads it introduces.

      As for the morality aspect,

    • I've actually read almost the same set of Heinlein books (Stranger, Moon and Time Enough for Love), and come to almost the same conclusion. I quite enjoyed some of the concepts he raised in the books, especially Stranger and Moon, but the way he constantly presented his socio-economic and sexual ideologies as utopian ideals really irritated me. Bringing up the concept in a book and examining the pros and cons is one thing, but all of those books brought them up, generally multiple times. It felt like he was
    • I read pretty much all his novels that I could lay my hands on back in my early teen years, so his writing fitted perfectly with that young adolescent age "Have Spacesuit Will Travel" and "Day After Tomorrow" are classic examples. I tried re-reading some of his books when Friday, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls etc came out when I was in my 20s. I didn't like any of it by then. I tried rereading Citizen of the Galaxy and didn't like that anymore, sadly. Methuslea's Children was great but I think as an adult
      • by jbrader (697703)
        Thank you very much, that's exactly the sort of answer I was hoping for. It sounds to me that Heinlein was for you what Clarke was for me (although I still enjoy a lot of his stuff).
    • You started with late Heinlein and sound like someone who would prefer early Heinlein.

      Pick anything published before Stranger in a Strange Land. Citizen of the Galaxy would be a good start. Revolt in 2100 is a well-realized htough not groundbreaking look at overthrowing a dictatorship.

      For ideas, Waldo and Magic Incorporated. For humanity, The Door Into Summer.
  • by glrotate (300695)
    Come on. It's sci-fi.
  • by Dachannien (617929) on Monday November 13, 2006 @04:44PM (#16828320)
    He'll never truly be discorporated, as long as we continue to grok him.

  • ...since you asked, is Time Pressure, which is a companion to the almost-as-good Mindkiller. (I say "companion" instead of "sequel" because some time travel is involved, so the books are actually both sequels of each other. Doesn't much matter in which order you read them, but if you're particularly spoiler-averse, you should probably go with Mindkiller first.)

    And the Callahan's Bar stories are terrific too, but they take a nosedive after the third book.
    • by Ethanol (176321)
      And, good golly, I'm shocked that I momentarily forgot to mention the staggeringly great Stardance and its worthy sequel Starseed. (The third book, Starmind, I can take or leave.)

      Spider's uneven, but when he's on, he's wonderful.
  • by autophile (640621) on Monday November 13, 2006 @05:09PM (#16828770)
    "Computer, we have to get out of here!" yelled Joel, "Quick, what's the haversine of 0.6?"

    "Well," replied the computer, "I'd haversine right on the dotted line, just look at those luscious legs!"

    "Why, thank you, Computer!" simpered Friday, "I knew wearing high heels on a spaceship was a great idea!"

    And that's Heinlein and Spider, right there :(

    --Rob

  • I think these are the only books of his I've read and I have to say they were tons of fun. He could've easily written these comedies and based them in the old west. I think the Star Trek Captain's Table series plays off these books of his. Anyway, I discovered Callahan's while in college and it was a great distraction from all the homework and required reading.
  • I devoured the complete works of Heinlein (with one or two exceptions) my first semester in college. (It mght have been my second; it was a long time ago.) Thank goodness for interlibrary loan. It seemed like the greatest thing in the world to me, like Asimov's robot stories had a few years earlier, but the prospect of more Heinlein seems about as exciting as more Ayn Rand at this point.

    It's not like I'm trashing everything I read back then; I'm re-reading Godel, Escher, Bach and enjoying it just as much as
  • i've read some RAH ... but am by no means a RAH expert. wife picked this up for me as a b-day gift ... and i was floored. enjoyed the work quite a lot ... i felt many times that RAH himself would have approved very strongly of the work. imo, SR paid RAH his highest compliment by attempting such a project ... and succeeded in writing a book i will treasure for years to come.

    my beagle loved the book too ... at least its binding back cover. *sob* have to spring for another copy now... worth it tho.
  • "Variable Star" is a disappointment.

    It reminded me of "Paris in the Twentieth Century", which Jules Verne wrote a century ago. Verne showed the manuscript to his friends and literary agent, all of whom agreed that it was too lousy to publish. So Verne put it in a box. A century later, one of his descendants found the manuscript and published it. It still sucks.

    Spider Robinson is an OK writer, and Heinlein did great work, but Robinson trying to be Heinlein just doesn't work. Somebody more in tune wi

    • Spider Robinson is an OK writer, and Heinlein did great work, but Robinson trying to be Heinlein just doesn't work. Somebody more in tune with Heinlein's worldview, like David Weber, might have done a much better job. Weber, like Heinlein, does drama.
      I think Niven is pretty similar to Heinlein. He should have probably written this.
  • by brassman (112558) on Monday November 13, 2006 @05:54PM (#16829640) Homepage
    The article author hasn't read Spider's other books? Hasn't heard Spider sing "A Boy Named Spider" (his own Weird Al retelling of Shel Silverstein's "A Boy Named Sue")?

    Wow, you got some good reading ahead of you, fella.

    Spider has something else in common with RAH -- and I'm glad I got to tell him so, on a CompuServe chat one day:

    Why Spider Robinson Has My Eternal Gratitude http://brasscannon.com/rah.html [brasscannon.com]

  • I've only been to Disneyland Anaheim once. I went round with Spider Robinson and John Varley, inter alia.

    ian

  • It was ok, but the two things I hated most about it were the slow middle, once he gets on the ship, and the Deus Ex Machina used in the end to resolve the book in about 5 pages (and I'm not sure how the reviewer missed it).

    I'm sorry, but it really didn't come across as a "good" read. The first 8 chapters on the website were the best part of the book.
  • I always groan when I hear the term "Speculative Fiction". Writers use it to distance themselves from the pulp fiction reputation of Science Fiction. It's a way of saying, "I'm not a hack — I write real literature." That's fair enough when you're a mainstream writer who's dabbling in genre fiction. (Margret Atwood and Oryx and Crake come to mind.) But more often it's used by people like Harlan Ellison, who really are hacks, and seek to deny it with a lot of pretentious prose and hyperbole.

    Now don't

  • Variable Star is structurally and inversion of Citizen of the Galaxy. In both you have an outsider coming to encounter a family of dynastic wealth. In Citizen that outsider travels from the farthest reaches to Earth; in Star from Earth to the farthest reaches. In both there is serious corruption associated with the wealth. In both there is an anthropological interest in the differences of character which go along with differences of occupation.

    The other inversion is that where Heinlein wrote some of the bes
  • Heinlein was the ultimate Libertarian military jock.

    Robinson's a frickin' hippie.

    I just don't see how that works...

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