Writer J. Daniel Sawyer pays tribute to Heinlein in fiction, non-fiction – and praises the Prometheus awards, too

By Michael Grossberg

If you weren’t familiar with the books and essays of J. Daniel Sawyer until recently, join the club.

Robert Heinlein, a drawing (Creative Commons license)

A prolific writer of more than 31 fiction and nonfiction books, including several in the sf and mystery genres, and 24 short stories – not to mention being a huge fan of Robert Heinlein – Sawyer deserves to be much better known by libertarian sci-fi fans and LFS members.

That’s especially because Sawyer has written two books about Heinlein and one of his nine novels is explicitly structured and billed as a “Heinlein juvenile.”

Author J. Daniel Sawyer (Creative Commons license)

I only discovered this intriguing writer by accident recently when he wrote an especially insightful guest column about Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming’s James Bond and today’s cancel culture for one of the Substack blogger/columnists I follow. (That inspired this recent Prometheus blog post.)

Yet Sawyer himself seems well aware of the Libertarian Futurist Society, having described the Prometheus Awards as “prestigious” last year in one of his blog posts.

It’s past time to bring Sawyer to the attention of more LFS members, since he’s written several books of great potential interest.

For starters, just last year, he wrote and published the acclaimed book The Secrets of the Heinlein Juvenile: Uncovering the Hidden Magic of Perennial Young Adult Literature.

Nor was that the first book Sawyer wrote that was explicitly inspired by Heinlein – the Grand Master golden-age sf author who has had more works recognized with Prometheus Awards than anyone else – starting with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and extending most recently to Citizen of the Galaxy, the 2022 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner.

Among Sawyer’s other nonfiction books: Robert’s Rules of Writing: Heinlein’s Advice for Publishing Success, written under the name Dan Sawyer.

SAWYER’S OWN ‘HEINLEIN JUVENILE’

Last but not least, Sawyer also has written a science-fiction “juvenile” novel, Hadrian’s Flight (AWP Science Fiction, 369 pages)advertised as “adventures for younger readers in the Heinlein Juvenile tradition.”

His novel revolves around refugee Hadrian Jin, a 16-year-old proprieter of Luna City’s “best orn-suit shop,” which sells wings while Hadrian teaches groundhogs – for $40 an hour – how to fly “bird-fashion” in the moon’s low gravity.

From the book description on Sawyer’s website:

“But when the tramp of military boots on the road to his home forces him to flee, he finds himself adrift between planets, on the run from government agents, without hope of home. Out of his depth and thrust into danger for which he’s ill-prepared, Hadrian must learn the true reason for his exile, and finally spread his own wings…

…before war comes crashing down around him.”

SECRETS OF THE HEINLEIN JUVENILE

Sawyer’s book seems comprehensive, exploring the historical context, themes, concerns, conception and execution of 14 Heinlein “juveniles” (although of course many adults enjoy these novels just as much as teenagers.)

According to Sawyer’s description, his book also explores Heinlein’s “quirky moral vision” as well as the literary tradition and “authorial quirks” that led to their construction.

Fourteen Heinlein novels are covered in Sawyer’s book – including Red Planet and Citizen of the Galaxy, both inducted into the Prometheus Hall of Fame

The other novels covered:

Rocket Ship Galileo

Space Cadet

Farmer in the Sky

Between Planets

The Rolling Stones

Starman Jones

The Star Beast

Tunnel in the Sky

Time for the Stars

Have Space Suit—Will Travel

Starship Troopers

The Menace From Earth



Sawyer argues that Heinlein’s juveniles were innovative and influential, eventually creating “a new literary form that many writers have attempted, but very few have successfully executed.”

TRAVIS CORCORAN’S REVIEW
Sawyer’s Heinlein book has received high praise from novelist Travis Corcoran, a two-time Prometheus Award winner for Best Novel for The Powers of the Earth and its sequel, Causes of Separation.

Sawyer was so complimented by Corcoran’s review that he posted it on his blog under the title: “Prometheus Award Winning Love for the Secrets of the Heinlein Juvenile.”

“The first two third of the book, where Dan recaps of each of the novels, and explains not just their themes, but the authorial decisions RAH made and the techniques he used, is more than worth the price of entry. I came across an easy dozen insights that had never occurred to me,” Corcoran wrote in his rave review.

Travis Corcoran wins his first Prometheus Award Photo: Courtesy of author

“But the last section of the book – that’s the pure gold in the mine.  Having unrolled the map and set up all of his pieces, Dan then orchestrates them beautifully, explaining the moral vision of Heinlein as one cohesive whole, and referencing by chapter and verse the bricks that Heinlein used to build his pedagogic edifice.  If I learned a dozen things about Heinlein’s books in the first two thirds of the book, it was the last third that opened my eyes to Heinlein, the man, Heinlein, the teacher, and Heinlein, the father (that wasn’t), and that gave me a fresh appreciation of his entire oeuvre, and of his entire person,” Corcoran writes.

HEINLEIN AND AMERICA

Corcoran’s broader comments about Heinlein’s fiction are also worth sharing, though I urge Prometheus Blog visitors to read the full review and then explore Sawyer’s website.

“Heinlein’s juveniles helped create the last 70 years of American history – from Apollo to SpaceX, from the Back to the Land movement to internet freedom fighters,” Corcoran wrote.

Robert Heinlein (Creative Commons photo)

“There’s something quintessentially American about Heinlein, and his juveniles, and I have no doubt that his books will be read a century hence, in Luna City, in Marsport, and on Ganymede.  The United States may fall apart, or survive but become corrupted beyond recognition (both eventualities are present in Heinlein’s novels) … but Heinlein’s America, his vision of civilization, Enlightenment, and virtue, as propagated through his juveniles, will live on.”

“This book should be read by anyone with an interest in Heinlein, an interest in the craft of writing, or an interest in what America – the very best version of America, made up of citizen soldiers, mothers and fathers, honest merchants, hard working scientists, and pioneers looking always to the west – is all about.”

* Check out this previous Prometheus blog post about Sawyer’s insightful essay about the roots of today’s cancel culture and why classic literature is worth preserving.

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE:

* Prometheus winners: For the full list of Prometheus winners, finalists and nominees – 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.

* 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.

Watch  videos of the 2022 Prometheus ceremony with Wil McCarthy, and past Prometheus Awards ceremonies, Libertarian Futurist Society panel discussions with noted sf authors and leading libertarian writers, and other LFS programs on the Prometheus Blog’s Video page.

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 in some ways even more powerful than politics in the long run, by sparking innovation, better ideas, positive social change, and mutual respect for each other’s rights and differences.

 

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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