Future History
The Work of Robert A. Heinlein

by Milo Clark

January 20, 2003


Robert A. Heinlein cut the mold for sci-fi in many ways. His earliest works fit the pulp fiction, quarter a copy, short story genre. He developed a breezy style. He almost always focused on the people, his characters. Their emotional and experiential vitality concerned him deeply as he wrote. Cranking out the pulp stories fast enough to earn a living writing gave him a perceptual acuity which related to science in a human way, awe and annoyance.

He left the whiz-bang technology stories to others. And, like Arthur C. Clarke (2001, etc.) his scientific training was strong in mathematics and physics.

In some of his books, part of the Future History series, there is a complex chart at the beginning. Starting in the mid-1930s, Heinlein developed his outline for Future History. He planned some 35 novels and novellas and wrote most of them. The chart also outlines the names of characters who will populate the writings.

The Future History outline and chart noted that about now (2000 and extending to later in the twenty-first century C.E.) there would emerge a religious dictatorship in the U.S.

Heinlein's remarks say, ". . . [there would be] little research and only minor technical advances during the period. Extreme puritanism. Certain aspects of psychodynamics and psychometrics, mass psychology and social control developed by the priest class."

Future History began with The Man Who Sold the Moon (1950) which took us into "man's first faltering steps toward space." Heinlein set this novel in the closing years of the twentieth century. The second book is "The Green Hills of Earth." It takes man into space. Green Hills ended with the United States ". . . a leading power in a systemwide imperialism embracing all the habitable planets." The third story, "Revolt in 2100," (1949) ". . . finds the United States plunged into a new Dark Age, no longer space minded, isolationist even with respect to this planet, and under a theocracy as absolute as that of Communism."

According to the outline chart, three stories were to be written between Green Hills and Revolt. They deal with the coming of the "First Prophet" and the theocracy. The Sound of His Wings, Eclipse and Logic of Empire. These will not be written now. Heinlein feels he has dealt with the themes from Wings in two other novels not part of Future History. The themes for Eclipse and Logic of Empire deal with cessation of space travel in imposition of theocracy in the U.S. Heinlein found it difficult and unpleasant to write about these themes.

Space travel has died out becoming a ". . . marginal proposition, subsidized for military reasons."

"As for the second notion, the idea that we could lose our freedom by succumbing to a wave of religious hysteria, I am sorry to say that I consider it possible. I hope that it is not probable. But there is a latent deep strain of religious fanaticism in this, our culture. It is rooted in our history and has broken out many times in the past. It is with us now; there has been a sharp rise in strongly evangelical sects in the country in recent years, some of which hold beliefs theocratic in the extreme, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, and anti-libertarian."

"It is a truism that almost any sect, cult or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so. . . . The custodians of the True Faith cannot logically admit tolerance of heresy to be a virtue."

". . . Could any one sect obtain a working majority at the polls and take over the country? Perhaps not -- but a combination of the dynamic evangelist, television, enough money, and modern techniques of advertising and propaganda might make Billy Sunday's efforts look like a corner store compared to Sears Roebuck. Throw in a depression for good measure, promise a material heaven here on earth, add a dash of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, Anti-Negroism, and a good large does of anti-furriners' in general and anti-intellectuals here at home and the result might be something quite frightening -- particularly when one recalls that our voting system is such that a minority distributed as pluralities in enough states can constitute a working majority in Washington."

". . . Impossible? Remember the Klan in the Twenties and how far it got without even a dynamic leader. . . The capacity of the human mind for swallowing nonsense and spewing it forth in violent and repressive action has never yet been plumbed."

Heinlein was very attractive to the "counter-culture" people of the 1960-70s. His 1961 novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, became a cult classic. Heinlein considered that he was more warning than prophesying with Stranger. As published in 1961, there was less said than Heinlein intended. His publisher had insisted in editing out about a third of the manuscript. In 1960, the publisher feared Stranger as too far out for the times. Naive?

Heinlein was reputed to write fast and edit little, if at all. Writing came for him after much thought and mental work. He wrote when he was ready and went about it directly for the most part. Stranger was a work out of his pattern. He thought and worked over the story line for many years before being satisfied. He resisted the editing but relented rather than lose his intent.

He kept the manuscript, though. After he died in 1988, his widow Virginia retrieved the manuscript from the Heinlein archives at University of California-Santa Cruz. Working with his agent and some editors familiar with his work, agreement was reached to publish the unexpurgated version of Stranger. It is a very different book although familiar in general direction. Stranger is not part of the Future History line. Yet, it is essential to the logics incorporated in that prescient outline and chart from the mid-1930s.

Heinlein is not much in favor now. Somewhat like Louis Armstrong in relation to jazz, newer generations forget and even disparage those who pioneer a genre. New is not always better, only newer.

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"Stranger in a Strange Land" [The Original Uncut Version], Robert A. Heinlein, Ace-Putnam, 1991, ISBN 0-441-78838-6 pbk.

"Revolt in 2100," Robert A. Heinlein, Signet 1954, Street & Smith, 1939, 1949. (11th printing of Signet edition)


Milo Clark on Swans (with bio).

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Published January 20, 2003
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