Saturday, July 07, 2007

Happy Birthday, Robert A. Heinlein!

Heinlein was born 100 years ago today. I discovered his books when I was in the 6th grade. There was a copy of Rocketship Galileo in my school library. I read it, and I was hooked. Later on, I read every Heinlein novel I could find. He was unquestionably one of the greats in my book.

The Writer's Almanac from American Public Media
It's the 100th birthday of one of the writers who helped invent modern science fiction: Robert Heinlein (books by this author), born in Butler, Missouri (1907). He wrote more than 50 novels and collections of short stories over a span of four decades.

He said of his childhood, "Once I found out about reading I was all in favor of it." He especially loved dime novels and the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G. Wells, and Jules Verne. But he didn't plan to become a writer. What he wanted was to be an officer in the Navy. But after serving for five years, he got discharged because he'd caught tuberculosis. The disease left him weak enough that he had a hard time working a job.

He wasn't sure what to do to make ends meet, and then he saw an ad in a pulp fiction magazine offering $50 for the best story by an unpublished author. So he sat down and in four days he had written a story called "Life-Line," about a machine that can predict a person's death. He decided it was too good for an amateur contest, so he sent it to Astounding Science Fiction magazine, and they accepted it. It came out in 1939, and Heinlein would publish 28 more stories in then next three years.


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13 comments:

James Reasoner said...

HAVE SPACESUIT, WILL TRAVEL was the first Heinlein novel I read. He was one of my favorite science fiction writers until his stuff got a little . . . odd . . . in his later years. I loved THE STAR BEAST and THE PUPPET MASTERS and GLORY ROAD and all the other early books, though.

Randy Johnson said...

TUNNEL IN THE SKY was my first exposure to Heinlein and xcince fiction in general. It became a lifetime love.

Bill Crider said...

The last several Heinlein books weren't just odd: they were also bad. But that doesn't detract from those early one for me, particularly things like The Door into Summer, The Puppet Masters, Double Star and so on.

Barbara W. Klaser said...

Robert Heinlein AND Ringo Starr? Cool. I thought this was a good day.

When we were dating, my husband-to-be insisted that I read STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, and I'm very glad he did. That was my introduction to Heinlein.

Bill Crider said...

You came to Heinlein by a very different route from mine, Barbara. I read that one when I was in college, which was probably the perfect time.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I read STRANGER in 1972, during a bout of unemployment that lasted virtually the entire year. I would have read more by him if I could have afforded to.

Bill Crider said...

Two words, Cap'n: Used paperbacks.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I'm talking flat broke, Bill. I spent each day trying to scare up two bucks so I could buy a pack of smokes, a six pack of Coors, and a bag of Doritos. The copy of STRANGERS I read was used, and I think someone gave it to me.

Bill Crider said...

At least you scrounged up enough dough for the important things.

Todd Mason said...

American Public Media probably garbles and leaves out an amusing extension of the THRILLING WONDER CONTEST results...Alfred Bester sent in the winning story, which appeared as "The Broken Axiom" iirc--Bester's first pro story. Heinlein's story ran just over 5000 words, as Bester tells it, and so would make more at ASTOUNDING's penny a word. Bester reportedly responded when he heard this from Heinlein, "I won that contest and you beat me by [thirty, was it?] bucks!"

Congratulations on joining the exclusive ranks of EQMM columnists, Bill!

Bill Crider said...

Good Bester story.

And thanks for the congrats. Now that I'm a rich and powerful columnist, I expect the hits on this site to go through the roof. Okay, maybe just to get up off the rug.

Juri said...

Um... what about libraries? (I've yet to read any Heinlein, so can't really comment. I just tried to read something Heinlein-related, but had to drop the book: THE CHINATOWN DEATH CLOUD PERIL. It was pretty boring.)

Bill Crider said...

I agree with you about that book you dropped.