Art Dula, primary trustee of the Heinlein Prize Trust, spoke eloquently about the life and legacy of Robert Heinlein during the 43rd annual Prometheus Awards ceremony.
During his acceptance speech for the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Heinlein’s story “Free Men,” Dula read excerpts from – and commented on – one of the Grand Master’s most interesting but little-known letters, written over several months but completed Feb. 27, 1947.
“It’s a remarkable early document in Heinlein’s life,” Dula said.
The letter, sent to a Mr. Abbott (apparently a reporter for a local Los Angeles newspaper, who had expressed interest in writing a feature profile of Heinlein), was written at a key transition in Heinlein’s early career. Thus, the letter reveals a great deal about Heinlein’s life, coming of age, short-lived military career and fledgling success as a science-fiction writer.
“Tried my first story, more or less by accident, in 1939, a science fiction time(-travel) story. It sold, as did the ones that followed it and I was hooked,” Heinlein wrote.
“I had planned, as a kid, to be an astronomer, because of a deep interest in other planets and the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. This interest continues in my stories,” he wrote.
By 1947, Heinlein had published several stories but no novels – and was looking forward to seeing his first novel published soon.
“He typed the title of that novel in the letter, then overstruck it and inserted “Rocket Ship Galileo.” Read the letter to find out what his original title was,” Dula said.
In the letter, Heinlein writes that he’s taking advantage of the fact that “the market in science fiction is booming as a result of the (2ndworld) war.”
He mentions that Rocket Ship Galileo, his first juvenile sf novel, will be coming out on Scribners’ 1947 fall list, and describes it as “a boy’s interplanetary adventure book.”
HEINLEIN’S VISION OF THE FUTURE
Here are inspiring and revealing excerpts from Heinlein’s 1947 letter, which conveys his vision of the future – especially about our expansion beyond Earth, into the solar system and beyond.
“Space flight will at least open new frontiers, a good thing in itself in relieving our tensions. New frontiers might ease the economic tensions now building toward war for a sufficient period for us to build the global political controls which could prevent war.”
“But I think it could have another, greater effect on us: Space travel could make us all, white, black, yellow and brown, aware of the rest of the universe and therefore aware that we are all sons of Terra, our planet. We may see the development of planetary patriotism, pride in this globe as contrasted with others.”
Later in the letter, Heinlein makes a prediction.
Writing in 1947, he says: “All reasons combined and present technology being what it is, I’m willing to bet on space flight within ten years. Anybody want to put up any money against that prediction? I feel very sure of it.”
Heinlein’s 1947 prediction proved prophetic.
For just a decade later, on Oct. 4, 1957, human beings began venturing into space when the U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth.
In his letter, Heinlein outlined both the economic and military reasons for space flight – and in doing so, anticipates “weather observation stations in permanent orbits around the globe.”
But he also was wise enough to know that the future remains unpredictable.
“I’m betting that the most important economic reward in space travel is not yet guessed – and I can’t guess it,” Heinlein wrote.
Coming up: Some exciting news updates about Heinlein Prize Trust projects, publications and progress.
Read the Prometheus Blog appreciation of “Requiem,” the 2003 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner, about an aging tycoon using private enterprise to fly to the moon, realizing a lifelong dream.
Here are the Prometheus-blog Appreciations of many of Heinlein’s other Prometheus winners, all Hall of Fame inductees: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Stranger in a Strange Land, Time Enough for Love, Red Planet, Methuselah’s Children, “Coventry” and Citizen of the Galaxy.
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