What’s your favorite Heinlein novel?

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Tor Books is about to release the first-ever authorized biography of Robert Heinlein, and they’ve asked a number of SF authors the obvious question, What’s your favorite Heinlein novel?.

David Brin picks a not-so-obvious answer, Beyond This Horizon:

I consider Robert Heinlein’s most fascinating novel to be his prescriptive utopia Beyond This Horizon. (A prescriptive utopia is where an author “prescribes” what he or she believes a better civilization would look like.) While Heinlein did opine, extensively, about society in many books, from Starship Troopers to Glory Road, it is in Beyond This Horizon (BTH) that you’ll find him clearly stating This Is The Way Things Ought To Be. And it turns out to be a fascinating, surprisingly nuanced view of our potential future.

I haven’t read Beyond This Horizon, but it seems like an odd mix of ideas: eugenics leading to superhumans with telepathy; an armed, and thus polite, society; a post-scarcity economy, where work has become optional; and reincarnation.

Apparently Heinlein’s approach to eugenics is now known as the Heinlein solution:

I was amazed by many other aspects of this wonderful book-within-a-book, especially by Heinlein’s startlingly simple suggestion for how to deal with the moral quandaries of genetic engineering — what’s now called the “Heinlein Solution” — to allow couples to select which sperm and ova they want to combine into a child, but to forbid actually altering the natural human genome. Thus, the resulting child, while “best” in many ways (free of any disease genes, etc), will still be one that the couple might have had naturally. Gradual human improvement, without any of the outrageously hubristic meddling that wise people rightfully fear. It is a proposal so insightful that biologists 40 years later are only now starting to discuss what may turn out to be Heinlein’s principal source of fame, centuries from now.


  1. David Foster says:

    Not sure it’s my absolute favorite, but Tunnel in the Sky is a very interesting book. Written about the same time as Golding’s Lord of the Flies, it projects a very different idea of human nature. Worthwhile thoughts on government and the importance of institutionalization vs personal leadership, interestingly expressed by an irritating student-government type who turns out to be basically right.

  2. Buckethead says:

    That’s a tough call — I read Brin’s piece last week, and started thinking about it.

    I think in terms of just sheer enjoyment, I love Citizen of the Galaxy best. I think Starship Troopers and Moon is Harsh Mistress are his best novels. My all-time favorite, though, was one part of Time Enough For Love, the story where Lazarus and his wife homestead in a remote valley on a colony world.

  3. Aretae says:

    Assignment in Eternity

  4. Siddhartha Vicious says:

    Though Assignment was not really a novel, but a novella with a few short stories to fill the book.

    Friday picked up the world of intrigue used in Assignment and carried it out to a Balkanized world of strange societies at a nearly Swiftian level.

    In Friday, Heinlein did go as far as genetically altered people, as well as talking dogs, and genetically designed creatures used in dangerous environments and for particularly onerous work.

    Or try Starship Troopers and pay attention to just how the current society transformed into the one described there.

    As to favorites, that is more difficult. I am not enamored of the ‘let’s all go back in time and f**k Mama Maureen’ series of books, but pretty much everything else he’s written, including the juveniles, is worth more than one read, just for the societal ideas embodied within.

  5. John Lanius says:

    My favorite of all time is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I love the idea of a house of congress devoted to simply repealing unnecessary laws. The quasi-Nadsat language was a bit off-putting at first, but I stopped noticing it after a while.

    When I was younger, my favorite would have been Tunnel in the Sky. I identified with the young survivalists and wished my parents would send me away on a trek like that.

  6. Isegoria says:

    I’ve been meaning to read Gulf, the first novella in Assignment in Eternity, since I read about the language of clear thinking.

  7. Buckethead says:

    Gulf is one of my favorite Heinlein shorts — that, and the Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag. Gulf is the predecessor to Friday that SV mentioned.

    John, are you like the devil, and but you show up only when Heinlein’s name is mentioned? Have you ordered vol. 1 of the new biography yet?

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