Robert Heinlein is, bar none, my favorite author. More than that, he was actually a role model in my life. Growing up without a dad, I spent many nights as a young teen hiding away in my room reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading every Heinlein book I could get my hands on. A significant part of my personal ethics and notion of proper conduct was absorbed from Mr. Heinlein, through his books, into my fevered adolescent brain. I’m sure I would be a very different person today had I not discovered Heinlein.
My favorite childhood memories are those nights when I sat up until the wee hours, reading such great books as Citizen of the Galaxy, Starman Jones, Have Space Suit - Will Travel, Tunnel in the Sky, The Door into Summer, Double Star, and many more.
Heinlein was unique among science fiction writers in that his ‘voice’ was so strong that I believe he truly changed the lives of a lot of people. Other great writers wrote great fiction and made you think, but Heinlein could get into a young boy’s skull and make him really examine his soul. He shared a lot in common with Ayn Rand in this regard, although Heinlein was by far the smarter of the two, the better story teller, and better person.
A lot of his stories really got under my skin because I could identify so strongly with the protagonists. Older boys and young men from difficult backgrounds who learn right and wrong, responsibility and honor, and become men. They didn’t become men just through heroic deeds, but by understanding things like personal virtue, the importance of keeping your word, education, courage, honesty, and a willingness to do the hard things when it’s right to do them. Strong stuff for a young kid without parental role models to teach him how to be a grownup.
The only anecdote I can offer was some correspondence I had with Virginia Heinlein. When I was in my late teens, I decided to write a letter to Heinlein thanking him. By this time, he was becoming infirm, and Virginia was answering all his correspondence. And even though I’m sure she was absolutely inundated with letters like mine, she wrong a very long, very personal handwritten letter back to me, asking for personal details about my life, what was I going to study in college, etc., and inviting me to write her back. So I did, and as I recall we exchanged one or two other letters after that. Unfortunately, they were lost in one of my many moves during college.
Happy Birthday, Mr. H.