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#1
Old 11-06-2011, 02:15 PM
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Which Robert Heinlein Books Are The Best?

I've never read anything by Robert Heinlein before, but I'm trying to broaden my reading a little and I've heard good things about the guy. The only problem is that he seems to have written a lot of stuff, and I don't know where to start. Are there any Heinlein fans on the boards who could give me some recommendations?
#2
Old 11-06-2011, 02:25 PM
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The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers were his best, IMHO. His "juveniles", books written with younger protagonists and less mature themes are good too.
Try Rocketship Galileo, Red Planet, and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel for a good feel of them.
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Old 11-06-2011, 02:35 PM
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I think The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is the best. Starship Troopers can be controversial. Stranger in a Strange Land was his crossover book; it was ground-breaking when written but I think many people would find it quaint today.

However, his short stories should not be missed. There is a collection, The Past Through Tomorrow, that has a lot of them.
#4
Old 11-06-2011, 02:37 PM
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Which Heinlein do you want to read? There's the Heinlein who wrote some pretty good golden-age short stories, the pedantic, Libertarian Heinlein who wrote thinly-disguised treatises on how awesome libertarianism is, mostly featuring himself as Lazarus Long and some sap for him to preach to, and the dirty old man Heinlein who typed with one hand while apparently masturbating furiously with the other. In the Heinlein universe, incest is apparently okay but BDSM is just bad and wrong.

Heinlein has a certain charm that stems from the time he wrote in: astronauts carrying slide-rules around their necks, spaceships with smoking- and non-smoking sections, the strange mix of equality and sexism that seems to come from an author who wants to regard women and men as equals but doesn't exactly know how. Having read a bunch of his work, I'd recommend the collection 'The Past Through Tomorrow'. There's some stuff that isn't too eye-rolling in there, his older short stories and the novella If This Goes On . . . are pretty good.

And Starship Troopers is okay.
#5
Old 11-06-2011, 02:45 PM
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Originally Posted by Reno Nevada View Post
I think The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is the best. Starship Troopers can be controversial.
Agree. TMisHM is pretty universally cited as among his best, but ST is not. I, for one, place it in the "OK" pile. Stranger in a Strange Land only works for me in the first third, then I rapidly lose interest.

After Moon... I'd say his juveniles ( of which Starship Troopers originally was written as one ) give the best taste of why he became popular. Of the list in the link, I think the last two are usually the most recommended and certainly among my favorites. I'd avoid Time for the Stars myself.

ETA: Oh and my personal favorite collection of his is The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, which is not only quite good, but also the opening novella is a little less typically Heinleinian IMHO.

Last edited by Tamerlane; 11-06-2011 at 02:48 PM.
#6
Old 11-06-2011, 02:53 PM
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I've read 'em all. I agree that "The Past Through Tomorrow" is a good place to start, with a smattering of both longer and shorter short stories and a novella or two. Of his novels, I think "Time Enough For Love" (a loooong one) is my favorite.
#7
Old 11-06-2011, 02:57 PM
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Let the battle begin!

Accept that all of us have very strong opinions on this, and that everything stated is prefaced by a whole lot of IMO...

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
Starship Troopers
Glory Road
Double Star
Tunnel In the Sky
The Door Into Summer
Methuselah's Children
Time Enough For Love
The Puppet Masters
The Rolling Stones
#8
Old 11-06-2011, 03:00 PM
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Oh, how could I forget "Glory Road"??? While not a typical Heinlein book, it is certainly one of his best and funniest. Thanks, silenus.
#9
Old 11-06-2011, 03:01 PM
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#10
Old 11-06-2011, 03:05 PM
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I've not read much Heinlein, but I have to second The Door into Summer. I really liked that one.
#11
Old 11-06-2011, 03:07 PM
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Originally Posted by ryan View Post
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers were his best, IMHO. His "juveniles", books written with younger protagonists and less mature themes are good too.
Try Rocketship Galileo, Red Planet, and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel for a good feel of them.
I think Citizen of the Galaxy is his best juvenile. I just pulled it down last month and it still holds up. Have Spacesuit, Will Travel is pretty good. I read Rocketship Galileo and never felt an urge to read it again.

I've found that Time Enough for Love is much improved if you skip the parts that take place on Secundus and Teritus.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is the very best and Glory Road is a good fantasy.
#12
Old 11-06-2011, 03:10 PM
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Start with The Rolling Stones to get acquainted with REH.

Then, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.
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#13
Old 11-06-2011, 03:12 PM
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Originally Posted by janis_and_c0 View Post
I've not read much Heinlein, but I have to second The Door into Summer. I really liked that one.
This one is fun. I also liked Starship Troopers, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and Have Space Suit, Will Travel.

Rocket Ship Galileo is fun, but it is horrendously out of date and may be hilarious now.

SPOILER:


1) A bunch of kids with a scientist sponsor can build a ship to go to the moon on their own.
2) They find a Nazi base there.

#14
Old 11-06-2011, 03:12 PM
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Almost everyone in this thread will tell you to read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, myself included. It deals with a political revolution on the Moon, and a self-aware supercomputer that wakes up. Some people are put off by the fact that the book is written in a "Lunar" accent that takes a moment to adjust to. It's usually quoted as his best.

People either love or hate his late work. I wouldn't recommend starting with The Number of the Beast, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, Time Enough For Love, Friday, Job, and To Sail Beyond the Sunset. You may love them; I think they'd bloated, arrogant, and in desperate need of an editor to say "No" to the long, long, long political rants. Others count them among his finest work. By all means try them, but don't start there.

His earlier novels are really aimed at teenage boys, and lots of modern science fiction writers were introduced to SF through these stories. Here's a rough list. I'd recommend Red Planet, Farmer in the Sky, and The Rolling Stones (look for the progenitors of Tribbles!). There is no one stand-out among the so-called "Juveniles" that garners praise the way The Moon is a Harsh Mistress does, and people have very different feelings about them.

He won Hugo Awards for Double Star, Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. He never won a Nebula. Those are all pretty good books.

Last edited by appleciders; 11-06-2011 at 03:14 PM.
#15
Old 11-06-2011, 04:02 PM
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The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is quite possibly the best science fiction novel ever written by anyone. After that, my second-favorite is The Door into Summer.

All of the juveniles except for Time for the Stars are good. Don't be put off by the "juvenile" label: The only difference between them and the "adult" books is that they have less sex and politics. And since, when Heinlein goes bad, it's often by including too much sex and politics, this is a good thing. My favorite among the juveniles (though this is a minority opinion) is Space Cadet. After that, it's harder to say, but probably Tunnel in the Sky, Citizen of the Galaxy, The Rolling Stones, or Farmer in the Sky.

As with any science fiction writer, his short stories are also great. "By his Own Bootstraps" is, for my money, the best time-travel story ever written, with "All You Zombies" the second-best ever written. There's also The Past through Tomorrow, a compilation of most of the "Future History" stories (all of which fit in to the same continuity), which includes such gems as "Lifeline", "The Man who Sold the Moon", "Blowups Happen", "The Long Watch", and "We Also Walk Dogs" (though this last one isn't actually part of the future history).

Whatever you do, meanwhile, do not start with Stranger in a Strange Land. Everyone who reads that book either loves it or hates it. If you love it, fine, but if you hate it, it has the potential to turn you off to all the rest of Heinlein's work, most of which you probably wouldn't hate. Save it for after you've read a few others of his works, so you'll have a baseline for comparison.
#16
Old 11-06-2011, 04:23 PM
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Of the things that I've read of his, I've only enjoyed Stranger In a Strange Land.
#17
Old 11-06-2011, 04:58 PM
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Skip the one about the rich old guy that has his brain transplanted into a hot young woman. I think it's called I Will Fear No Evil.
#18
Old 11-06-2011, 05:08 PM
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I read a ton of his stuff when I was in high school, and at least to me, the later in his life the writing is from, the worse it is.
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Old 11-06-2011, 05:10 PM
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It is, and I agree. He wrote that one during his brain surgery period, and it shows.
#20
Old 11-06-2011, 06:29 PM
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The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is quite possibly the best science fiction novel ever written by anyone. After that, my second-favorite is The Door into Summer.
My username shows the depth of my agreement with that statement.
#21
Old 11-06-2011, 06:34 PM
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Chronos said it perfectly: "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is quite possibly the best science fiction novel ever written by anyone."

After that a list that includes Rolling Stones, Glory Road, Door into Summer, Starship Troopers, The Puppet Masters and oddly Waldo & Magic Inc.
#22
Old 11-06-2011, 06:35 PM
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The other one to avoid, indeed that we should all agree to pretend does not exist, is Farnham's Freehold.
#23
Old 11-06-2011, 06:48 PM
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The other one to avoid, indeed that we should all agree to pretend does not exist, is Farnham's Freehold.
Also Sixth Column, which cannot be laid entirely at RAH's feet, since he wrote it from an outline by Campbell. When the guy who buys your stories gives you an outline, you by Og write the story, no matter how racist the outline is.
#24
Old 11-06-2011, 06:49 PM
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I'd start with the shorts. You get a good feeling for his writing, they're his earlier (and often better) stuff, and short fiction has (in my opinion) a tendency to be better than novels anyway. A combination of The Past Through Tomorrow and Off the Main Sequence will get you almost all the short fiction Heinlein wrote, with The Past Through Tomorrow being the Future History and Off the Main Sequence being a more general collection. The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein should complete the set, with some overlap of Off the Main Sequence.

I believe the first Heinlein I read was Starship Jones. My parents had a copy lying around, so that's what I read. There may be better places to start, but it's a good one.
#25
Old 11-06-2011, 06:57 PM
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I'd recommend Double Star as a first read. It's one of Heinlein's early books, it holds up well (I've reread it this year) and the plot is accessible to people unfamiliar with Heinlein.

Next I'd recommend one of his better juveniles: Podkayne of Mars, Citizen of the Galaxy, or Farmer in the Sky are good.

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is generally considered the best of Heinlein's later work. He does occasionally veer into political preaching but it's a novel about politics so it fits here.

The Puppet Masters is a good thriller although there is some cold war stuff that's dated now.

Some I wouldn't recommend as a first read: Glory Road, it's not typical of Heinlein's work and quite frankly the pacing is weak; Starship Troopers, there is a good story here but I think its fans forget how much politics are mixed in; The Door Into Summer, another good story but there's a creepy sexual vibe that will throw a lot of readers off.
#26
Old 11-06-2011, 06:59 PM
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His juveniles are his best IMHO. Have Space Suit, Will Travel; Between Planet; Time for the Stars and Tunnel in the Sky are my favorites.
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Old 11-06-2011, 07:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
Starship Troopers, there is a good story here but I think its fans forget how much politics are mixed in;
Not a bit. The politics are some of the best parts. I always wanted to be Col. Dubois as a teacher.
#28
Old 11-06-2011, 07:02 PM
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OK, I think The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers are arguably his best adult works. But although two other people have mentioned it, nobody has discussed Double Star.

Along with the other two I really love that book. The protagonist is an actor offered a job doubling for a ranking political figure. His political team can't reveal he's been kidnapped by his opposition, for the best of reasons. Larry has a tremendous ego, but he also has a sincere worker's ethic, and what comes of that is quite unusual.

Read the other two, but don't forget to read Double Star.

And Starman Jones has an unusual ending, as such stories go. Don't forget it either.

SPOILER:
The guy doesn't end up with the girl!
#29
Old 11-06-2011, 07:03 PM
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Originally Posted by silenus View Post
Not a bit. The politics are some of the best parts. I always wanted to be Col. Dubois as a teacher.
I always wanted to HAVE Col. Dubois as a teacher!

Quote:
Originally Posted by ryan View Post
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers were his best, IMHO. His "juveniles", books written with younger protagonists and less mature themes are good too.
Try Rocketship Galileo, Red Planet, and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel for a good feel of them.
Yet I learned a lot from those juveniles. The first Jewish character I ever remember reading about was in Rocket Ship Galileo, one of the boys who built the ship.

Last edited by Baker; 11-06-2011 at 07:07 PM.
#30
Old 11-06-2011, 07:11 PM
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Stupid me. Starman Jones. I even typed it properly to look it up on Wikipedia, and I still couldn't get it right when I posted.

One other collection that may be worth looking into is Expanded Universe. While a lot of it wouldn't be a good place to start, his writings about the trip he and his wife took in the USSR back in the 60s were still amusing and fascinating reading, even to a guy like me born in the early 80s.

A lot of people don't seem to like Beyond This Horizon. When I read For Us, The Living after it was published I realized that I had seen an awful lot of it before in a better form in Beyond This Horizon. It's not a bad book, but it's another one I probably wouldn't start with.
#31
Old 11-06-2011, 07:31 PM
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Quoth Little Nemo:
The Door Into Summer, another good story but there's a creepy sexual vibe that will throw a lot of readers off.
I would disagree with the creepiness, but it probably is safe to say that he was exploring how close he could get to the boundary of creepy without crossing it. But yeah, good point that it might not be the best first book to read.

And Baker, I'll agree that Double Star was very good. The fact that it's not being mentioned more really says more about the quality of the other works that people are mentioning.
#32
Old 11-06-2011, 07:51 PM
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My favorite of the novellas is If This Goes On.. also published as Revolt in 12100

Last edited by longhair75; 11-06-2011 at 07:52 PM. Reason: fat fingered typing
#33
Old 11-06-2011, 07:56 PM
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Fore my money The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was about his best.

I also love The Puppet Masters, one of the first of his that I read. Please note that older versions were cut to fit the mores of the time. Some 15 years ago the text was restored, and it makes a difference. If you can, get a recent copy of the book. It reads like James Bond Meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but please note that the book predates both James Bond and the book Invasion of the Body Snatchers (and, of course, all film versions). In fact, when Heinlein submitted the manuscript he apologized for re-treading such a hoary old theme (Finney was a Johnny-Come-Lately to the idea, despite the prevalence of his work in cinema), but his treatment is one of the very best, and blows Finney out of the water. Heinlein's own book has been filmed twice (once unauthorized, as The Brain Eaters), but neither version really does the book justice.

Stranger in a Strange Land is, of course, one of his most recognizede bookis. It's not really typical Heinlein, but it is definitely a great read. Please note that this one, too, was cut before its initial publication, and that circa 1990 the original text was finally in print. Get a later version if you can. The audiobook version is unabridged restored text.

I like all of the juveniles, which are better than most books intended for adults. I've even come to like the first of them, Rocket Ship Galileo, after listening umpteen times to Spider Robinson's audiobook version of it. But it's far from the best of the series. Space Cadet, his second, is much better.


I agree about Double Star, a short book but one of my favorites.



I don't recommend The Number of the Beast (the first book of his I read "new", and a major disappointment), For Us, the Living (Heinlein's long-lost first novel, and it shows. He didn't want it published. For fans and completists, it's fascinating, but it ain't up to his standards), and Variable Star seems to me much more Spider Robinson that Heinlein, despite Robinson's working from Heinlein's outline.




It's not science fiction, but I loved Tramp Royale, Heinlein's account of his round-the-world trip. And his Take Back Your Government is a fascinating piece of fossilized political how-to-do-it.
#34
Old 11-06-2011, 10:15 PM
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Robert Heinlein is not one of my favorite authors, but I've read some of his work. And the one I remember most fondly, liked well enough to re-read several times is Friday. One of his later works, more adventure than sci-fi, although it's in a futuristic setting. Kind of surprised no one's mentioned it here, or maybe it's just my offbeat taste in literature
#35
Old 11-06-2011, 11:42 PM
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Originally Posted by CalMeacham View Post
<snip> For Us, the Living (Heinlein's long-lost first novel, and it shows. He didn't want it published. For fans and completists, it's fascinating, but it ain't up to his standards), and Variable Star seems to me much more Spider Robinson that Heinlein, despite Robinson's working from Heinlein's outline. <snip>
You know, I loved both of those books. They definitely weren't classic Heinlein (I've read most of Heinlein's books over the years), but I loved For Us, The Living as a fascinating look into a very alternative political system, and even though Spider definitely left his mark on Variable Star, it was still a very enjoyable story.

I wouldn't recommend either as your introduction to Heinlein, though. I'd recommend Friday - I don't adore his juveniles for adult readers, and I think Friday is a good, accessible romp. Or The Cat Who Walks Through Walls - another good romp.
#36
Old 11-06-2011, 11:52 PM
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Oh, God no. Cat is not where to start with RAH. It only makes any kind of sense if you've read all that came before. And not a lot of sense then.
#37
Old 11-07-2011, 12:12 AM
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Probably easier to make a list of works to be avoided the first time around...

Space Cadet
I Will Fear No Evil
Farnhamn's Freehold
The Number of the Beast


Job is pretty damn good, everyone forgets that one.

Last edited by Darth Nader; 11-07-2011 at 12:12 AM.
#38
Old 11-07-2011, 12:18 AM
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I was thinking of starting a thread like this myself. Last year, I decided to see if I liked Heinlein (he, Clarke and Asimov are touted as the Big Three of science-fiction, and I love the other two) and bought a pile of his books at a second-hand book sale. I started a few of them, but ended up tossing them aside when the sexism or Christianity bashing got to be too much for me. But maybe I just chose the wrong ones. The books I have are Stranger in a Strange Land, I Will Fear No Evil, Time Enough For Love, The Number of the Beast and Job: A Comedy of Justice. The ones I started and gave up on are I Will Fear No Evil and Job: A Comedy of Justice. Can the fans in this thread tell me if any of the books I have are worth trying?
#39
Old 11-07-2011, 01:26 AM
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Originally Posted by appleciders View Post
Almost everyone in this thread will tell you to read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, myself included. It deals with a political revolution on the Moon, and a self-aware supercomputer that wakes up. Some people are put off by the fact that the book is written in a "Lunar" accent that takes a moment to adjust to. It's usually quoted as his best.
(emphasis added)

I think there's a bit of background that's helpful, or at least interesting, to know about the overall story line. (Slight spoiler here, no biggie):

SPOILER:

I believe the story parallels the history of Australia. A far-away penal colony from which there can be no return, then a revolution for independence. (Can some oz-lander comment if I know what I'm talking about here?)
#40
Old 11-07-2011, 01:38 AM
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I was thinking of starting a thread like this myself. Last year, I decided to see if I liked Heinlein (he, Clarke and Asimov are touted as the Big Three of science-fiction, and I love the other two) and bought a pile of his books at a second-hand book sale. I started a few of them, but ended up tossing them aside when the sexism or Christianity bashing got to be too much for me. But maybe I just chose the wrong ones. The books I have are Stranger in a Strange Land, I Will Fear No Evil, Time Enough For Love, The Number of the Beast and Job: A Comedy of Justice. The ones I started and gave up on are I Will Fear No Evil and Job: A Comedy of Justice. Can the fans in this thread tell me if any of the books I have are worth trying?
Well, it's clear that you don't like his late work, which all of those are (except for Stranger, though it's similar to a lot of his late work). You clearly either picked up the remains of a pile that other people had left, or else someone who donated the books was a big fan of his later work. Some people love that period, other people hate it. If you want to continue, pick books with copyrights before 1970; they've got much, much less sex and politics.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Senegoid View Post
(emphasis added)

I think there's a bit of background that's helpful, or at least interesting, to know about the overall story line. (Slight spoiler here, no biggie):

SPOILER:

I believe the story parallels the history of Australia. A far-away penal colony from which there can be no return, then a revolution for independence. (Can some oz-lander comment if I know what I'm talking about here?)
Actually, I thought it

SPOILER:
came closer to paralleling the independence movement in Ireland. A distant occupying force that uses the occupied to produce cheap food and goods? Actively seeking to bait the oppressive occupiers into atrocities in order to drum up local support? Admittedly, I don't know much about Aussie history, though.
#41
Old 11-07-2011, 04:01 AM
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The passage in Job: a comedy of justice where Heinlein describes what it's like in heaven should be compulsory reading in every library school.
#42
Old 11-07-2011, 04:19 AM
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I don't think The Moon is a Harsh Mistress can be seen as a direct parallel to any historic independence movement. Australia was known as a penal colony (although in reality Australia was settled more by miners than convicts) but it never had a real revolution. Ireland did fight for its independence but Ireland wasn't a penal colony and the Irish certainly didn't feel the problem with the British was they were too far away - rather the opposite.
#43
Old 11-07-2011, 08:29 AM
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TMiaHM parallels several revolutionary movements, so you really can't equate it with just one. There are elements from Australia, Ireland, France, Russia and the US all woven together.
#44
Old 11-07-2011, 02:16 PM
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At least partly by design, too: Prof was actively trying to make it look like any number of Earthly revolutions, to make the people of those nations more sympathetic to the cause.

And Rala, none of those books is one I'd recommend to someone just starting on Heinlein.
#45
Old 11-07-2011, 02:59 PM
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Oh, God no. Cat is not where to start with RAH. It only makes any kind of sense if you've read all that came before. And not a lot of sense then.
I haven't read it for a while now - I'll bow to your opinion.

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Originally Posted by Darth Nader View Post
Probably easier to make a list of works to be avoided the first time around...

Space Cadet
I Will Fear No Evil
Farnhamn's Freehold
The Number of the Beast


Job is pretty damn good, everyone forgets that one.
I really enjoyed "Job," too. I *did* forget that one.
#46
Old 11-07-2011, 03:40 PM
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Job is good, but not a good starting place.

longhair75 mentioned a good one: Revolt In 2100. Really two novellas slapped together, at least the first half is excellent, timely and all-too-possible.
#47
Old 11-07-2011, 04:27 PM
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Revolt in 2100 is entirely contained within The Past through Tomorow, which also contains a lot of other good stories.
#48
Old 11-07-2011, 05:26 PM
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I like "The Door Into Summer" and "The Roads Must Roll".
I like Heinlein because he is a mid-century author (20th century)-and its fun to see how technology has advanced . As for his politics, yes, that it 1950's as well-with the ever-present Red Scare.
It's like reading Jules Verne-you have to accept that the world has changed quite a bit since the books came out.
#49
Old 11-07-2011, 06:04 PM
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Join Date: Nov 2002
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Posts: 9,706
Quote:
Originally Posted by silenus View Post
Also Sixth Column, which cannot be laid entirely at RAH's feet, since he wrote it from an outline by Campbell. When the guy who buys your stories gives you an outline, you by Og write the story, no matter how racist the outline is.
I liked it. I re-read it every few years.

RetitledThe Day After Tomorrow.

Last edited by BMalion; 11-07-2011 at 06:06 PM.
#50
Old 11-07-2011, 07:51 PM
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Join Date: May 2000
Location: Massachusetts
Posts: 41,542
Quote:
Quote:

Also Sixth Column, which cannot be laid entirely at RAH's feet, since he wrote it from an outline by Campbell. When the guy who buys your stories gives you an outline, you by Og write the story, no matter how racist the outline is.
I liked it. I re-read it every few years.

RetitledThe Day After Tomorrow.
It's infinitely better than Campbell's version, which was published after his death under the title All. But even Heinlein didn't much like the plot.



cat Whisperer wrote:

Quote:
You know, I loved both of those books.
Yes, but, just as you wouldn't recommend them for a beginning Heinlein reader, neither would I, which is why I wrote what I did.

And I suspect that you wouldn't be so happy with For Us the Living if you'd come across it unattributed. It's only interesting as a historical artifiact and one of our earliest pieces of Heinleiniana.

Last edited by CalMeacham; 11-07-2011 at 07:52 PM.
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