Heinlein's History of the Future:"The Crazy Years"

I haven’t read heinlein in years. Anyway, he projected the future of the USA in a timeline-some point in the future was the so-called “Crazy years”. What went on during that time? When did it end?

The 1960’s.

Copy of his chart in the link.

When I read Heinlein in the late 1960s I thought “yeah, right on the money.”
Plus Nehemiah Scudder might be elected yet.

It’s a slippery notion that Heinlein himself slipped along regularly. If you look at the succession of Future History charts, the Crazy Years were ongoing when he created it ca. 1940, and due to end in a decade. As the decades went on, we were always sort of in the early years of the era. Way out at the end, he said some form of “Well, fuggit” and moved the Crazy Years back to the 1950s on a completely different (fictional) timeline.

So, basically, quite a few would-be pundits and Spider Robinson to the contrary, there is no answer. The Crazy Years were a fictional time somewhere in one or more of Heinlein’s multiverse.

Heinlein had just lived through the Roaring 20s and the Great Depression. He was predicting the past. Every year is one of the Crazy Years. Of course it would apply to any time in the future. It never ends. It’s all purpose fuzziness to encompass anything he felt like including.

Nailed it, damn ye.

And he was the first to both fuzz it and make maximum hay from the fuzziness, and smile benignly when others did, too.

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has a similar vibe.

The rise of the Christian Right in the Eighties certainly had me thinking Heinlein wasn’t too far off the mark. Fortunately it never got THAT bad.

It’s a wonderful example of taking something seemingly obvious that is not recognized as such until it is named. And he used it correctly by putting it into the background to give verisimilitude to his future. Others would have tried to build the story around it without every making it crazy enough or, worse, making it so crazy as to lose creditability. He wasn’t Pohl or Vonnegut. He knew his strengths and kept to them. Until he fell off that cliff, of course. :stuck_out_tongue:

Crazy Years? I don’t get that. It certainly has a very… prequel/sidequel to “If This Goes On–” and other Years of the Prophet tales. I asked Atwood about the influence once, but she replied that while she had read and admired some of Heinlein’s work, she didn’t recall any of it as influential on THT.

I have around here a 2/3-completed book analyzing Heinlein’s theocratic fears and fiction and the rise of the Reagan-Bush-Christian Right parallels. Fortunately there was never any need to finish it…

If there had been you wouldn’t have been allowed to.

It was booked with Samizdat Press of Scudderville. :slight_smile:

I suspect the Crazy Years peaked with Nehemiah Scudder and sort of faded away into The Prophet’s regime.

Again, Heinlein was looking at what was around him. There was a huge evangelical revival in the 1920s and 1930s, with figures like Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson giant national figures with huge followings. And he was living in California by then, which meant he was hip deep in religious and quasi-religious cults.

In 1940, under the name H. H. Holmes, Anthony Boucher wrote a mystery called Nine Times Nine, featuring a cult called the Temple of Light that was a good illustration of the craziness. The detective was a nun, Sister Ursula. Heinlein certainly knew about the book and the cults it parodied. The only other Sister Ursula mystery was Rocket to the Morgue, a roman à clef about the Mañana Literary Society of Los Angeles, the sf group that Heinlein and Boucher both belonged to, along with Jack Williamson and Edward Hamilton and Cleve Cartmill and Henry Kuttner and L. Ron Hubbard, among others. They all appear in the book, disguised or combined, with Austin Carter being Heinlein. Not only is it the first and maybe the only murder by rocketship, but it’s the best memoir we have of what the early world of f&sf writing was like in California.

For years I was thrilled to have the paperback, Phantom #1, the one and only book the company ever put out. Now, of course, you type it into bookfinder.com and a dozen copies are at your fingertips.

Anyway, my point is that Heinlein was a much better reporter on the world he lived in than a predictor of futures. That’s not always true for f&sf folks: some are awful reporters.

Quote breaked again… “H.H. Holmes” - the derivation of that never fails to crack me up.

It was a pseudonym of the Chicago Exposition murderer, Henry Mudgett.

I think that all the future history timelines created in science fiction are either set far enough in the future that it’s impossible to tell if they will ever happen or already contradicted by what’s happened since the publication of the book. I personally like Olaf Stapledon’s books Last and First Men and Starmaker better than Robert Heinlein’s future history stories, but Stapledon’s timeline is already wrong, despite it setting up a timeline that lasts from when the first book was published (1930) to two billion years in the future. Science fiction is not about predicting the future. It’s about suggesting possibilities which we can choose from. Here are some future history series, incidentally:


Actually, that was both the problem and the fascination of Heinlein’s string - it really was “20 minutes into the future” and seemed tantalizingly within our grasp, even as it and the real world evolved. There wasn’t the distance of the other authors who put stories in such a far-away time and distanced setting that we felt no connection.

Most authors had much shorter careers, as well, and didn’t have to live with their notions quite as long as Heinlein… even those who wrote ‘future history’ early on and were still writing decades later had changed tack. Heinlein’s last book(s) were firmly anchored in the Future History and all its confusion and change.

Isn’t he one of the 224 declared candidates on a major party ticket this year? :smiley: