Saturday, 11 March 2017

Robert A Heinlein's Best Books

In my history of science fiction series, I wrote last week about Robert A Heinlein. This week I’m talking about some of his most famous books. My favourites are Stranger in a Strange Land and Time Enough For Love. Goodreads ran a listopia poll and these were the top four:

1. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

It is the year 2076, and the Moon is a penal colony for the rebellious and the unwanted of Earth. The exiles have created a libertarian society in order to survive in their harsh and unforgiving environment, their motto being TANSTAAFL: "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch". Looming over them is the Luna Authority, the heavy-handed Earth administration, who trades life necessities to the "Loonies" in exchange for grain shipments to the starving populations of Earth.

As the situation steadily deteriorates the inhabitants of Luna come to realize that they have little choice but to revolt against Luna Authority in order to save themselves from resource exhaustion and a subsequent environmental apocalypse.

Many reviewers comment on Heinlein's libertarian politics which appear throughout the novel, but in spite of this the novel is drawn in such detail that it comes top of many Heinlein’s fan’s list.

2. Starship Troopers

In one of Robert Heinlein's most controversial bestsellers, a recruit of the future goes through the toughest boot camp in the Universe--and into battle with the Terran Mobile Infantry against mankind's most frightening enemy.

A military man himself, Heinlein knew the life he was writing about. He used his novels to set out his philosophy, and in this one he uses the spacesuit to point out how the soldier is isolated from the fight even while he is fighting.

3. Stranger in a Strange Land

Valentine Michael Smith is a human being raised on Mars, newly returned to Earth. Among his people for the first time, he struggles to understand the social mores and prejudices of human nature that are so alien to him, while teaching them his own fundamental beliefs in grokking, watersharing, and love.

Heinlein used this novel as a vehicle to explore and to expound upon a great many subjects, most notably theology, ideology, social and sexual mores, and popular culture. Some readers enjoy the debate, some are repelled by it. In any case, it is remarkable.

4. Time Enough for Love

The capstone and crowning achievement of Heinlein's famous Future History, Time Enough for Love follows Lazarus Long through a vast and magnificent timescape of centuries and worlds. Heinlein's longest and most ambitious work, it is the story of a man so in love with Life that he refused to stop living it.

As one reviewer said:
Time Enough for Love is set up as a series of tales told by the oldest living man in the universe, Lazarus Long. Lazarus is confined to a rejuvenation clinic, where he is being held against his will by a team of people dedicated to preserving his knowledge. You see, they’ve “rescued” Laz from attempted suicide, in order to record his life’s story and hopefully glean some of the wisdom he’s accumulated in over two-thousand years of life. And Lazarus has agreed not to try to take his own life again, until he’s told them about the most important lessons learned in his long life. Time Enough for Love is like Arabian Nights, but in reverse; Laz is telling his stories for his right to die.

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at

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