Quite a few writers have won more than one Prometheus award since the awards were launched in the 1970s, but nobody has won more than the late great Robert Heinlein.
Libertarian Futurist Society members proved anew how much they remain ardent fans of Heinlein (1907-1988) by voting his 1966 novelette “Free Men” the 2023 Best Classic Fiction winner and thereby inducting it into the Prometheus Hall of Fame.
That marks the ninth novel, novelette or story by Heinlein to be recognized with a Prometheus Award – a record.
In the current century, publishers have brought out previously unseen material by Robert Heinlein.
Some of it is simply alternate versions of familiar novels, such as Podkayne of Mars, The Puppet Masters, Red Planet, and Stranger in a Strange Land.
But we’ve also see works that he didn’t publish, but that he later quarried for the material of later works: For Us, the Living, which supplied a secondary character to Beyond This Horizon and several thematic elements to the Future History, and The Pursuit of the Pankera, which was radically rewritten to give us The Number of the Beast.
With the compilation of the Virginia Edition, not only all of Heinlein’s previously published works have been made available, but various less known ones, such as decades of his letters. Among these are various ventures into scriptwriting for movies and television. Destination Moon is well known, but his proposals for television series were never produced, and only with the Virginia Edition have they become available.
The last of these, Century XXII, was mainly worked on in 1963, and he abandoned it in 1964 after clashes with Howie Horowitz, who proposed the project to him. After that, Heinlein gave up on writing for film and television as a waste of time. But Century XXII casts some light onto Heinlein’s later writing, and especially onto The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, generally regarded as one of his best novels and more specifically as the prototype of libertarian science fiction.
Many of Robert Heinlein’s novels featuring children have been lumped together and called “juvies” (or juveniles), as if they are children’s books. But, just like many Disney or Pixar animated movies, there are aspects of these works that go over the heads of a younger audience, whether those teens read the books as they first were published in the 1940s or 1950s, or whether they’re read today.
Red Planet, first published in 1949, is significant in terms of Heinlein’s bibliography, both as being one of the earliest juvies, and also because it introduces elements of Martian mythology that later appeared in Stranger in a Strange Land .
Ostensibly an adventure story centered around two boys on the run from an oppressive schoolmaster and conniving colony governor on Mars, Red Planet has two other themes or threads that elevate the novel beyond an adventure story. And make no mistake, this is written as an adventure story, with trials and tribulations that propel the action, for both the young and adult characters.
Here is an Appreciation of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, inducted into the 1987 Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction.
By William H. Stoddard Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land wasn’t just a best seller, and the book that made publishers take science fiction seriously as a commercial proposition; it was a major influence on the hippie movement, the counterculture more generally, and neo-pagan and New Age thought.
Given all this, it seemed paradoxical to some readers that Heinlein was also the author of Starship Troopers,with its praise of military service and especially, as Heinlein said, of the “poor bloody infantry” — the foot-soldiers who stood between their native planets and the desolation of war. Heinlein himself saw no such paradox; he said, in fact, that the two books reflected the same ethical and political ideas.
What did these two seemingly disparate works have in common? At the deepest level, the answer is “a sort of libertarianism”: not advocacy of the free market, or of specific constitutional arrangements, or of constitutional goverment as such (though such ideas appear in Heinlein’s other works), but a basic ethical principle.