Friday, July 06, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mr. Heinlein

Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Robert A. Heinlein, the great American science fiction writer who died in 1988. His influence has been so great in so many areas that there are tributes to him all over the web this week. Here's a good one and another short one from John Derbyshire. Derb's piece tells of Heinlein's participation in Edward R. Murrow's "This I Believe" in the 1950s and gives a copy of his contribution, something I had not seen before. Here it is borrowed from NRO:

Our Noble, Essential Decency

by Robert A. Heinlein

I am not going to talk about religious beliefs but about matters so obvious that it has gone out of style to mention them. I believe in my neighbors. I know their faults, and I know that their virtues far outweigh their faults.

Take Father Michael down our road a piece. I'm not of his creed, but I know that his goodness and charity and loving kindness shine in his daily actions. I believe in Father Mike. If I'm in trouble, I'll go to him. My next-door neighbor's a veterinary doctor. Doc will get out of bed after a hard day to help a stray cat—no fee, no prospect of a fee. I believe in Doc.

I believe in my townspeople. You can knock on any door in our town, say, "I'm hungry," and you'll be fed. Our town is no exception. I've found the same ready charity everywhere. For the one who says, "The heck with you, I've got mine," there are a hundred, a thousand, who will say, "Sure, pal, sit down." I know that despite all warnings against hitchhikers, I can step to the highway, thumb for a ride, and in a few minutes a car or a truck will stop and someone will say, "Climb in, Mack. How far you going?"

I believe in my fellow citizens. Our headlines are splashed with crime. Yet for every criminal, there are ten thousand honest, decent, kindly men. If it were not so. no child would live to grow up. Business could not go on from day to day. Decency is not news. It is buried in the obituaries, but it is a force stronger than crime.

I believe in the patient gallantry of nurses, in the tedious sacrifices of teachers. I believe in the unseen and unending fight against desperate odds that goes on quietly in almost every home in the land. I believe in the honest craft of workmen. Take a look around you. There never were enough bosses to check up on all that work. From Independence Hall to the Grand Coulee Dam, these things were built level and square by craftsmen who were honest in their bones.

I believe that almost all politicians are honest. For every bribed alderman, there are hundreds of politicians—low paid or not paid at all—doing their level best without thanks or glory to make our system work. If this were not true, we would never have gotten past the thirteen colonies.

I believe in Roger Young. You and I are free today because of endless unnamed heroes from Valley Forge to the Yalu River. I believe in—I am proud to belong to—the United States. Despite shortcomings—from lynchings, to bad faith in high places—our nation has had the most decent and kindly internal practices and foreign policies to be found anywhere in history.

And finally, I believe in my whole race—yellow, white, black, red, brown—in the honesty, courage, intelligence, durability, and goodness of the overwhelming majority of my brothers and sisters everywhere on this planet. I am proud to be a human being. I believe that we have come this far by the skin of our teeth—that we always make it just by the skin of our teeth—but that we will always make it, survive, endure.

I believe that this hairless embryo with the aching oversized braincase and the opposable thumb—this animal barely up from the apes—will endure, will endure longer than his home planet, will spread out to the other planets—to the stars and beyond—carrying with him his honesty, his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage, and his noble essential decency. This I believe with all my heart.

Heinlein was one of the first science fiction writers (along with Poul Anderson) who got his hooks into me, something I talked about in a previous post. The first Heinlein novel I ever read was Sixth Column, not his best. I believe my favorites are The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers (which has taken much unjust criticism) and I am partial to the Lazarus Long books. I will be the first to admit that some of his later works lack the quality of those in his prime. Making lists of your favorite Heinlein books (and why) is a sort of trivial pursuit game for his fans. I spent so many hours of my youth lost in the enjoyment of reading his books I felt compelled to wish him a happy birthday.


Anonymous said...

What a great statement! I needed to hear that today.


mdmnm said...


Ditto on getting started in science fiction by Heinlein's books and on the favorites, though I'm also very fond of the juveniles "Citizen of the Galaxy" and "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel". To steal from Spider Robinson- Rah, Rah, RAH!

Reid Farmer said...

I really enjoy his juveniles, too. Ironically, I was in college before I started reading them.

PBurns said...

Never read Heinlein as I do not read sci-fi, but this little piece was about the best optimtic speech I have ever read. Wonderful!


Anonymous said...

will spread out to the other planets—to the stars and beyond—

E. O. Wilson disagrees.

prairie mary said...

My nuclear family as in the habit of traveling by car long distances in the summer. On one such trip, to keep my little brother from being such a pain in the butt, I read him "The Red Planet Mars" by Heinlein. Of course, the whole family listened -- there was no escape but they didn't protest. And when I got a cat shortly after that, it's name had to be Willis. When I saw Star Wars, I realized at once that Luke was really growing up on the Red Planet Mars and R2D2 was just a mechanical version of Willis. Don't you think?

Prairie Mary

Reid Farmer said...

I think you can make a very good case for that, Mary!