Literary Matters: Revisiting Heinlein

Well, it’s 2014. After several delays, Skynet has become self-aware and unleashed Judgment Day on the human race, any day now, the latest model of hoverboards should be hitting store shelves, and, mark your calendars, next year Marty McFly and Doc Brown should be completing their long (relative to us) journey from the year 1985, to get some medical treatment and pimp their ride. All this time we’ve been waiting for time-travelling tourists to come from the future, but we forgot about the flux capacitor.

Or, wait. Did I lapse on that pill I take for distinguishing real and fictional universes again? Blame it on Robert Anson Heinlein. Overdosing on early-period RAH, particularly, has a tendency to confuse the overly-imaginative as to what technologies do and do not exist in the 21st century. Particularly the dozen Scribner juveniles the Dean of Science Fiction wrote between 1947 and 1958. I believe it’s called retro-futurism.

Baen’s been doing a pretty thorough job of reprinting Heinlein’s (comparatively) less well-known titles for a number of years now. Compared to picking at random in the bookstore, I don’t mind telling you I think they’re a pretty good value. Obviously the old Grandmaster has stood the test of time by this point so there’s nary a poor title to be found, but many of these new editions also include insightful forewords from his official biographer, William H. Patterson, Jr., whose sudden passing this last month is itself a wound for the world of speculative fiction.

The books also include afterwords from a variety of different writers. Where the forewords give us some idea of the historical context and the state of Heinlein’s career at the time each book was written, the afterwords tend to focus on the legacy of each work, the ripples they produced in speculative fiction and perhaps society at large. Reading these books is like a history lesson in SF, although they’re pretty good romps in their own right.

I recently asked the good people at Baen for a small pile of hand-picked RAH, and they were wonderful enough to oblige. Now, over the coming months, I look forward to telling you about several titles I’ve been excited to dig into. Starting with The Rolling Stones.

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