Dear Robert Heinlein:
Happy 100th birthday, wherever you are now. Hope all is well.
Shall I get the nasty stuff out of the way first? I never met you, but on the evidence of your books you were a sexist, militaristic, jingoistic demagogue. Quite a disturbing role model for a progressive wannabe science fiction writer like me.
Much as I enjoyed "Starship Troopers," for instance, I notice that the opposition to your promotion of manly military virtues appears in the form of the Bugs, a perfect communist hive mind. There's no in between. And so, waddya know - one is either a good soldier or a dupe. Sorry, not buying it.
I could point out a few more disturbing tendencies in your work. What exactly did you believe?
The ordinary rules of behavior don't apply to superior men - "Glory Road".
Labor unions are easily turned to destructive ends by any clever neurotic - "The Roads Must Roll".
The way to defeat conformity that comes from outside of society is to enforce conformity inside that society - "The Puppet Masters".
A truly enlightened woman will give herself sexually to any enlightened man, and in any case ordinary people will not seek or obtain enlightenment unless they're tricked into it - "Stranger in a Strange Land".
Even in "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress," maybe my favorite of your books, government is a positive evil no matter what it does, and the only rules that seem the least bit digestible are those made up on the spur of the moment. And there's another one of your inhumanly hot females present to throw herself at the hero without hesitation.
Oh well. Nobody's perfect.
And having pointed out all those disturbing details, Mr. Heinlein, and acknowledging that this doesn't even begin to cover all those enormous rambling novels from later in your life, it's now time to remember everything you did for us.
I find myself wondering what it was like for you after you got out of the Navy. I've read elsewhere that you hoped to attain the rank of Admiral and make a military career for yourself, but that your health got you an honorable discharge instead. That must have been devastating, to have a dream collapse around you through no fault of your own. Did you cry? It's not supposed to be manly to cry, even at times like that, but the men in your novels cry from time to time. I wouldn't blame you if you did.
Others might come away from a blow like that and give up on life, but you looked around for something to do for the next few years, and got into writing science fiction to help pay the bills. And, as Dr. Johnson once asserted, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money," so that's okay.
Let's not forget that you also coined the terms "waldo"
, invented the waterbed
, and gave us the acronym "TANSTAAFL,"
all critical developments in science fiction and in world history.
And politics or no politics, I keep remembering the story Philip K. Dick told about you. He was always short of money, and at one point he says he was about to be evicted from his home. You got wind of this somehow, and gave him a fair amount, not expecting to get it back. PKD was a wild hippie radical drug addict, and you were a conservative militaristic libertarian, and clearly none of that mattered a damn to you.
I appreciate your literary groundbreaking for the likes of me, Mr. Heinlein, but I'd say your true legacy comes from actions like that last one.
Benshlomo says, A good opponent is a blessing.