I’ve decided that I have a “love/hate” relationship with Robert Heinlein’s fiction. I read “Tunnel in the Sky” the summer after eighth grade, and thought it was one of the best books I’d ever read. It was about a student in the future who takes a wilderness survival class, and the final exam is to be transported to another planet via teleportation to survive for a week -but something goes wrong and he and other students are trapped there indefinitely. At the time I was really into wilderness survival and science fiction, so I loved that book.
The “Door Into Summer” is a great novel about a brilliant inventor whose ideas are stolen, and his use of cryonics and time travel to get back what is his, as well as to meet the love of his life. It was a touching novel that almost moved me to tears.
“Orphans of the Sky” is about a “generation star ship” where the inhabitants have forgotten they are on a star ship and think that the “universe” consists of just the ship. The main character learns the truth, but the others don’t believe him -similar to Galileo. Also a great book about human institutions and superstitions in conflict with the facts of reality.
However, two of Heinlein’s books are quite possibly some of the most vicious science fiction novels I’ve ever read. First, there is “Stranger in a Strange Land” -arguably Heinlein’s most popular novel, but I absolutely hate it. It involves mysticism, non-monogamous “free love”, cannibalism, and some sort of mystical epistemology (“groking”). Heinlein said he wrote it to challenge every central tenet of Western Civilization. It was Charles Manson’s favorite novel with good reason, and, from what I’ve heard, Heinlein refused to take any responsibility for intellectually “aiding and abetting” that deranged mind.
“Waldo” is a shorter novella, and at the end of it I thought: “I’m not sure I want to believe Heinlein meant what I think this novella stands for.” Basically the main character is a misanthropic genius who is severely, physically disabled. At the end, he discovers some mystical power that lets him become physically fit again, and then slowly has pieces of his brain removed and becomes a vapid “every man” who gets along with everyone. What I took as the theme of the novel was: “You can either be intelligent, miserable, and physically deformed or you can be happy, stupid, and physically fit -but not both.” It seemed like a complete “mind-body false dichotomy” to me.