December 05, 2003

Robert Heinlein

When I was in high school I began reading the works of Robert A. Heinlein. At the time, the most important thing in the world was a rollicking adventure, a tough hero, and a beautiful damsel in distress. His books contained all that, and much more. Much to my own surprise, I never came away from a Heinlein book without something to think about. His books always contained some idea so dramatically in contradiction with the values of those around me it seemed unthinkable. Robert Heinlein's books made me question the accepted definitions of love, freedom, and independence. His sardonic wit and clear-eyed analysis of the world around him pulled me into my own patterns of constant questioning and never settling for a simple answer. Science fiction taught me to look at the world and see it not for what I want it to be, or even for what I think it should be, but purely for what it is. Robert Heinlein's fiction convinced me to focus on facts.

Now I am a much older man. I am forty-two, and even that will change in a few more months. The other day I pulled my copy of "Time Enough for Love" off my shelf, dusted it off, and began reading. What once seemed nothing more than a simple tale of an old man whose friends talked him into rediscovering the joy of living has become a complex tapestry of interlinked epics touching on the lessons of history, the value of love, and what it means to be human. Sub-plots like the computer Minerva's craving to be human weave together themes from Pinocchio, Little Mermaid, and even Cinderella. Mini-epics like "Tale of the Adopted Daughter" are packed solid with hidden allusions to mythologies so old no one can say for certain when or where they actually began. Ishtar and Dumuzi, Samson and Delilah, Persephone and Hades are all hiding just below the surface waiting patiently for the inquisitive mind to discover them. Robert Heinlein's "cheap" science fiction contains so many references to so many different cultures it's no wonder so many people find it shallow and meaningless. It's easy to dismiss something you don't really understand.