Robert A. Heinlein – 100th Birthday

have spacesuit will travelToday would have been the 100th birthday for one of Murdoc’s favorite authors, science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988).

There are a lot of his books that I like and several that I love. If I had to pick one as my favorite, though, I guess I’d have to go with 1958’s Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. The image at right is of the version I read as a kid. It was probably my first Heinlein book, though I can’t be sure. It was one of what are called his “Juveniles”, and one of the thing I was always most fascinated by in those books was how he made engineering seem so cool.

No small feat, that.

I certainly didn’t always agree with all of the political and social themes present in his books, and as I got older and began reading more of his more-adultish books, I became a bit disenchanted. I’ve long wondered how much impact ‘Stranger in a Strange Land‘ had on the Sixties, for instance. Even as a youngster, I wasn’t buying a lot of what he was selling when it came to how to live your life, at least practically speaking. Sure, “love everyone” is something to aim for. But to physically “love everyone” just isn’t on my list. Even if it was, who has that kind of time?

But one quick trip back to a juvenile and all was right again.

Two of the things Heinlein coined are “grok” (from ‘Stranger’) and “TANSTAAFL” (from ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress‘). The latter rears its ugly head in many of the discussions I find myself in, particularly when it comes to the military. I suspect that TANSTAAFL is at the root of everything everywhere.

The list of runners-up to ‘Spacesuit’ as my favorite Heinlein book is long and storied, so I won’t bother listing them all. But many of them are Juveniles, and I can’t think of one Juvey I wouldn’t recommend.

I’m sure many MO readers have their own favorite Heinlein books. So what are they? And, for bonus points, why are they your favorites?

UPDATE: Mike at New Wars reminds Murdoc of an adaptation of ‘Between Planets’ that ran in Boy’s Life in the late 70s. I’m pretty sure I got at least the tail end of that run as a youngster. Link to sample at New Wars.


  1. Starship Troopers. First book of his that I read. I liked how at the same time I both felt like I knew the character and did not know the character. One of the most effective ways I can think of sucking you into a story to make it feel like you are either there or talking to someone who has been there. Too bad they mad that movie using the title.

  2. Rocket Ship Galileo The first of his I read, I still remember how it captured me with its ‘can-do’ spirit (I realize now how simplistic it was….you know, make plan on Monday, ship built by Wednesday, land on Moon by lunch-time Saterday kind of thing). But I still love the story: it was the one that got me interested in electronics. Methuselah’s Children I confess: I’m a hopless fan of Lazarus Long, and this story was before Heinlein got strongly into his ‘love everybody’ stage. Pure adventure (I mean, where else can you read of a guy who casually docks with and then steals a starship to escape the authorities with several thousand other ‘long lifers’?) Sometimes I miss the early Heinlein

  3. Shipmates, Starship Troopers. One of my top 25 titles of all times. I would be happy to live in such a society. I hated the movie they made of it, however. It is very much teh suck. What, no powered armour? no jump jets, Y racks, etc? Bassids, they are, those movie-making cretins. And yet, he was a Navy officer. Annapolis Graduate at that. He’s EXACTLY the sort they ought to name a Carrier after, especially with all the new cryo-magneto catapults and rail guns. Zombies beware!!!!!!! Yeah, Rocketship Galileo was a good one too. Respects,

  4. Between Planets This was my favorite, a Star Wars-like revolution which I read in the 8th grade. I stopped reading Heinlein at Star Ship Troopers, the newer stuff seeming a little weird to me. The movie made of this book was good but it wasn’t Heinlein. Farmer in the Sky This was also a fave, which concerned the colonisation of Ganymede.

  5. Just got back from the Heinlein Centennial (my notes are up if you want). Chuck, you’re not alone; check the Heinlein Society page. But perhaps it’s barking up the wrong tree as I doubt the DDX will ever actually get built past the first hull or two.

  6. Strictly speaking, Heinlein did not coin the acronym (nor its associated phrase) TANSTAAFL. (Nor, as some people think, did Milton Friedman.) I have this on the authority of Heinlein himself. At a dinner meeting in Phoenix some years ago, when asked the question, he said that he first heard of it from Jerry Pournelle, who had heard of it from his (Pournelle’s) father. It apparently arose during the nineteenth century as a reaction to the Sumptuary Laws prevalent at the time – something about being able to get around the laws governing the selling of alcoholic beverages in certain eating establishments.

  7. What: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Why: It was the first adult Heinlein I read. It was a book sale at Holland Hall – a really nice private school in Tulsa. There on the same table was ‘Animal Farm’ and Mistress. I got them both for a song.

  8. At a swap meet when I was seventeen (about half a century ago), I happened to pick up a couple of paperbacks for a dime or so apiece. They were John Campbell’s ‘Who Goes There’, and Robert Heinlein’s ‘The Green Hills of Earth’. What an intoduction to science fiction!!

  9. Have Spacesuit Will Travel was my first Heinlein,too – a school library book in the fifth grade. To this day I remember the absolute thrill I got from it (I even remember that it had a chess piece on the spine, a knight). Since then I’ve managed to read all of Heinlein’s works and like ’em all, except perhaps for the posthumously printed ‘For Us the Living’, which, frankly, was not terribly readable (well, that’s my take, anyway). My favorite Heinlein is probably ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’, but almost all of his books have had that position at one time or another in my life . . .