Origin Story: What Heinlein’s previously unseen fiction and never-produced TV series reveal about his libertarian classic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

By William H. Stoddard

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.

The premise for Century XXII was the existence, in the solar system of 2163, of a hidden organization of supermen — but “supermen” as defined in his 1940s story “Gulf”: human beings with one crucial difference from other human beings, the ability to think rationally all the time, despite fatigue, pain, or emotional bias.

Secondarily, his “supermen” had exceptionally high intelligence, and tertiarily, some of them had psychic powers; but a person with both those advantages might fall short of super-humanity if their thought processes went off the rails under emotional stress.

(Readers of Atlas Shrugged might be reminded of the inhabitants of Galt’s Gulch, but Rand’s premise was different: where Heinlein thought of genetically different people whose rationality could be inherited, Rand thought of rationality as something that anyone could freely choose, and pointedly said that her protagonists were not “supermen.”)

The storyline of the Century XXII pilot episode, “The Adventure of the Man Who Wasn’t There,” was taken directly from “Gulf,” though a few of the names were changed. Its viewpoint character was a version of the protagonist of “Gulf,” but Heinlein intended the series’ continuing character to play the role of Kettle Belly Baldwin, the mentor figure in “Gulf” (as he was later in Friday).

But the continuing series that Heinlein proposed needed a fuller background than that one story.

Heinlein worked out two centuries of future history and a background spanning the entire solar system. And that’s where things get interesting for fans of libertarian science fiction.

In Heinlein’s historical background for this series, the United States, the Soviet Union, and China went to war in 1984 (a symbolic year!).

After the war ended, the United States had a much more authoritarian government that did away with constitutional checks and balances.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union founded lunar settlements, Luna City and Novy Leningrad—names of two lunar cities in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (Heinlein hadn’t come up with Hong Kong Luna). They quickly ran out of voluntary colonists; the Soviet Union began sending up dissidents, including many stilyagi (the Soviet youth counterculture), while the United States took to putting criminals into a no longer voluntary Peace Corps (mentioned in the opening pages of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress).

These colonists gave rise to a hybrid culture speaking an English with Russian loanwords and a grammar influenced by that of Russian, which fairly well describes the language spoken by Manuel Garcia O’Kelly-Davis in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.

Also fitting that society, men greatly outnumber women for a long time, and this gives rise to a culture where women call the shots. In his bible, Heinlein explains that a woman who’s unhappy with her man can always recruit a younger man with a cool head and faster reflexes to challenge him.

Women can choose the men they want — but, he says, the man’s race isn’t important, and there’s so much intermarriage (like that which produced O’Kelly-Davis: black South African, Tatar, and two North American, one probably Hispanic) that “the next generation hardly recalled what racism was all about.”

This also shows up in the novel; while in the North American Directorate, O’Kelly-Davis is arrested for miscegenation after showing off a photograph of his family (the novel came out two years before Loving v. Virginia made such charges obsolete, but Heinlein didn’t foresee that!).

In sum, it seems that Heinlein didn’t stop thinking about his future lunar colony when he abandoned the idea of a television series.

Rather, he salvaged important elements from it and turned them into the setting of his next novel. This should make this material interesting to anyone curious about Heinlein’s approach to writing, or the origins of libertarian science fiction.

Biographical note: Robert Heinlein (1907-1988), a mentor to several generations of younger sf writers, ultimately became the author most recognized by the Prometheus Awards, with a record seven awards as of 2022.

Heinlein’s works inducted into the Hall of Fame include his bestselling novels The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (in 1983) and Stranger in a Strange Land (in 1987), the novel Red Planet (in 1996), the novel Methuselah’s Children (in 1997), the novel Time Enough for Love (in 1998) and the stories “Requiem” (in 2003) and “Coventry” (in 2017.)

Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans.
Libertarian futurists believe that culture matters! We understand that the arts and literature can be vital, and more powerful than politics in the long run, in sparking innovation, better ideas, positive social change, and mutual respect for each other’s rights and differences.
Through recognizing the literature of liberty and the many different visions of a free future via the Prometheus Awards, the LFS hopes to help spread better visions of the future that help humanity achieve universal liberty and human rights and a better world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.

* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,” an essay in the international magazine Quillette that favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the evolution of the modern genre.

* Prometheus winners: For a full list of winners – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes convenient links to the full set of published appreciation-reviews of past winners.

Published by

Michael Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been an arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Michael has won Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio and Best Arts Reporting (seven times). He's written for Reason, Libertarian Review and Backstage weekly; helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades; and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword for J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among books he recommends from a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist & How Innovation Works, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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