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2 Heinlein Science fiction has developed at least one critical form all its own: the annotated anthology. Traditionally SF magazine editors prefaced each story by a punchy, two- or three-line blurb. Collecting their own tales in volume form, SF writers from Sturgeon to Le Guin have stolen the blurb’s position for brief, informative paragraphs about their tales—understandable in a writing field with no formal tradition, at least at its outset, of biography, history, or criticism . A good deal of SF history is buried in these blurbs. Perhaps the most important historical document in this form, ranking only beside Peter Nicholls and John Clute’s Science Fiction Encyclopedia, is Judith Merril’s more and more heavily annotated Best SF of the Year volumes, running from 1956 through 1967. (Arguably the form reaches its extreme in my own book, The American Shore, which in a sense is an anthology containing a single story by Thomas Disch [“Angouleme”], preceded by ten pages of editorial blurbs and followed by two hundred pages of afterwords.) Four of the seven following essays were written as introductions to works of the writers they deal with— although only two were actually used as such. All seven took their occasion to develop ideas that play through all the pieces in this book, as they wrestle with the problem of the individual SF writer, the specific SF text. And this is their blurb. Robert A. Heinlein was born July 7, 1907, and grew up principally in Kansas City. At Annapolis, where in 1929 he graduated twentieth in a class of 243, he excelled in fencing. Some of this sword-fighting expertise was to go into the experience of “Oscar” Gordon, the hero of his 1963 novel Glory Road. Science fiction’s history is littered with prodigies, from Asimov and Silverberg to Brunner and Gawron—all of whom published their first work before age twenty. Heinlein did not begin publishing science fiction (nor, one suspects, did he seriously consider writing it) until 1939, when he was thirty-two years old and Thrilling Wonder Stories sponsored the 16 starboard wine contest that also seduced Alfred Bester into the SF precinct. (The prize? Fifty dollars.) This comparatively late start begins Heinlein’s career on a pattern more like that of Ursula K. Le Guin, or even—in another pulp field—Raymond Chandler. Heinlein’s energy, output, and consistent quality are even more remarkable, then, since it is during the period between eighteen and thirty years of age that most science fiction writers are garnering the dozen to three dozen novels and dozens of short stories that will fill out their bibliographies, before, sometime in their middle thirties or later, they settle down to a series of concerted efforts to make the SF novel into what they believe it should be. Heinlein is the originator of, among other things, the term speculative fiction, which held brief currency in the middle ’60s, when it was resurrected by Michael Moorcock and the other writers around the British SF magazine New Worlds. (Heinlein had first used the term in a 1951 guest-of-honor speech at a world science fiction convention.) There is little one can say about the man—by and large a very private person—that suggests the import of his work to the SF genre. Heinlein’s influence on modern science fiction is so pervasive that modern critics attempting to wrestle with that influence find themselves dealing with an object rather like a sky or an ocean. In many respects Heinlein’s limits are the horizons of science fiction. The bulk of his most influential work was done largely before any academic scholarship in the field got its methodological legs fully under itself in the ’60s. And that bulk is large. To come to terms with Heinlein one must be prepared to examine deeply over twenty of his more than forty published volumes; nor does this mean slighting any of the rest. Basically, however, what he has provided science fiction with is a countless number of rhetorical figures for dramatizing the range of SF concerns. These are the rhetorical turns that still provide most SF readers with the particular thrill that is science fiction’s special pleasure: a fact about a character (her race; his gender; whether or not someone happens to be wearing clothes) that current society considers of defining import is placed at such a point in the narrative that it not only surprises the reader, but also demonstrates...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780819572943
Related ISBN
9780819568847
MARC Record
OCLC
854968541
Pages
280
Launched on MUSE
2012-08-29
Language
English
Open Access
No
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