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The Worlds Of Robert A Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein

  The Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein

  Copyright 1966


  Introduction: PANDORA'S BOX - copyright 1952

  FREE MEN - (First time in print)

  BLOWUPS HAPPEN - copyright 1940

  SEARCHLIGHT - copyright 1962

  LIFE-LINE - copyright 1939



  ONCE OPENED, the Box could never be closed. But after the myriad swarming

  Troubles came Hope.

  Science fiction is not prophecy. It often reads as if it were prophecy;

  indeed the practitioners of this odd genre (pun intentional � I won't do it

  again) of fiction usually strive hard to make their stones sound as if they

  were true pictures of the future. Prophecies.

  Prophesying is what the weatherman does, the race track tipster, the stock

  market adviser, the fortune-teller who reads palms or gazes into a crystal.

  Each one is predicting the future � sometimes exactly, sometimes in vague,

  veiled, or ambiguous language, sometimes simply with a claim of statistical

  probability, but always with a claim seriously made of disclosing some

  piece of the future.

  This is not at all what a science fiction author does. Science fiction is

  almost always laid in the future � or at least in a fictional

  possible-future � and is almost invariably deeply concerned with the shape

  of that future. But the method is not prediction; it is usually

  extrapolation and/or speculation. Indeed the author is not required to (and

  usually does not) regard the fictional "future" he has chosen to write

  about as being the events most likely to come to pass; his purpose may have

  nothing to do with the probability that these storied events may happen.

  "Extrapolation" means much the same in fiction writing as it does in

  mathematics: exploring a trend. It means continuing a curve, a path, a

  trend into the future, by extending its present direction and continuing

  the shape it has displayed in its past performance-i.e., if it is a sine

  curve in the past, you extrapolate it as a sine curve in the future, not as

  an hyperbola, nor a Witch of Agnesi and most certainly not as a tangent

  straight line.

  "Speculation" has far more elbowroom than extrapolation; it starts with a

  "What if?" � and the new factor thrown in by the what-if may be both wildly

  improbable and so revolutionary in effect as to throw a sine-curve trend

  (or a yeast-growth trend, or any trend) into something unrecognizably

  different. What if little green men land on the White House lawn and invite

  us to join a Galactic union? � or big green men land and enslave us and eat

  us? What if we solve the problem of immortality? What if New York City

  really does go dry? (And not just the present fiddlin' shortage tackled by

  fiddlin' quarter-measures � can you imagine a man being lynched for wasting

  an ice cube? Try Frank Herbert's Dune World saga, which is not � I judge �

  prophecy in any sense, but is powerful, convincing, and most ingenious

  speculation. Living, as I do, in a state which has just two sorts of water,

  too little and too much � we just finished seven years of drought with

  seven inches of rain in two hours, and one was about as disastrous as the

  other � I find a horrid fascination in Dune World, in Charles Einstein's

  The Day New York Went Dry, and in stories about Biblical-size floods such

  as S. Fowler Wright's Deluge.)

  Most science fiction stories use both extrapolation and speculation.

  Consider "Blowups Happen," elsewhere in this volume. It was written in

  1939, updated very slightly for book publication just after World War II by

  inserting some words such as "Manhattan Project and "Hiroshima," but not

  rewritten, and is one of a group of stories published under the pretentious

  collective title of The History of the Future (!) � which certainly sounds

  like prophecy.

  I disclaim any intention of prophesying; I wrote that story for the sole

  purpose of making money to pay off a mortgage and with the single intention

  of entertaining the reader. As prophecy the story falls flat on its silly

  face � any tenderfoot Scout can pick it to pieces � but I think it is still

  entertaining as a story, else it would not be here; I have a business

  reputation to protect and wish to continue making money. Nor am I ashamed

  of this motivation. Very little of the great literature of our heritage

  arose solely from a wish to "create art"; most writing, both great and

  not-so-great, has as its proximate cause a need for money combined with an

  aversion to, or an inability to perform, hard writing offers a legal and

  reasonably honest way out of this dilemma.

  A science fiction author may have, and often does have, other motivations

  in addition to pursuit of profit. He may wish to create "art for art's

  sake," he may want to warn the world against a course he feels to be

  disastrous (Orwell's 1984, Huxley's Brave New World � but please note that

  each is intensely entertaining, and that each made stacks of money), he may

  wish to urge the human race toward a course which he considers desirable

  (Bellamy's Looking Backwards, Wells' Men Like Gods), he may wish to

  instruct, or uplift, or even to dazzle. But the science fiction writer �

  any fiction writer � must keep entertainment consciously in mind as his

  prime purpose . . . or he may find himself back dragging that old cotton


  If he succeeds in this purpose, his story is likely to remain gripping

  entertainment long years after it has turned out to be false "prophecy." H.

  G. Wells is perhaps the greatest science fiction author of all time � and

  his greatest science fiction stories were written around sixty years ago .

  . . under the whip. Bedfast with consumption, unable to hold a job, flat

  broke, paying alimony � he had to make money somehow, and writing was the

  heaviest work he could manage. He was clearly aware (see his autobiography)

  that to stay alive he must be entertaining. The result was a flood of some

  of the most brilliant speculative stories about the future ever written. As

  prophecy they are all hopelessly dated . . .

  which matters not at all; they are as spellbinding now as they were in the

  Gay 'Nineties and the Mauve Decade.

  Try to lay hands on his The Sleeper Awakes. The gadgetry in it is ingenious

  � and all wrong. The projected future in it is brilliant � and did not

  happen. All of which does not sully the story; it is a great story of love

  and sacrifice and blood-chilling adventure set in a matrix of

  mind-stretching speculation about the nature of Man and his Destiny. I read

  it first forty-five years ago, plus perhaps a dozen times since . . . and

  still reread it whenever I get to feeling uncertain about just how one does

  go about the unlikely process of writing fiction for en
tertainment of

  strangers � and again finding myself caught up in the sheer excitement of

  Wells' story.

  "Solution Unsatisfactory" herein is a consciously Wellsian story. No, no,

  I'm not claiming that it is of H. G. Wells' quality � its quality is for

  you to judge, not me. But it was written by the method which Wells spelled

  out for the speculative story: Take one, just one, basic new assumption,

  then examine all its consequences � but express those consequences in terms

  of human beings. The assumption I chose was the "Absolute Weapon"; the

  speculation concerns what changes this forces on mankind. But the "history"

  the story describes simply did not happen.

  However the problems discussed in this story are as fresh today, the issues

  just as poignant, for the grim reason that we have not reached even an

  "unsatisfactory" solution to the problem of the Absolute Weapon; we have

  reached no solution.

  In the twenty-five years that have passed since I wrote that story the

  world situation has grown much worse. Instead of one Absolute Weapon there

  are now at least five distinct types � an "Absolute Weapon" being defined

  as one against which there is no effective defense and which kills

  indiscriminately over a very wide area. The earliest of the five types, the

  A-bomb, is now known to be possessed by at least five nations, at least

  twenty-five other nations have the potential to build them in the next few


  But there is a possible sixth type. Earlier this year I attended a seminar

  at one of the nation's new think-factories. One of the questions discussed

  was whether or not a "Doomsday Bomb" could be built � a single weapon which

  would destroy all life of all sorts on this planet; one weapon, not an

  all-out nuclear holocaust involving hundreds or thousands of ICBMs. No,

  this was to be a world-wrecker of the sort Dr. E. E. Smith used to use in

  his interstellar sagas back in the days when S-F magazines had bug-eyed

  monsters on the cover and were considered lowbrow, childish, fantastic.

  The conclusions reached were: Could the Doomsday Machine be built? � yes,

  no question about it. What would it cost? � quite cheap. A seventh type

  hardly seems necessary.

  And that makes the grimness of "Solution Unsatisfactory" seem more like an

  Oz book in which the most harrowing adventures always turn out happily.

  "Searchlight" is almost pure extrapolation, almost no speculation. The

  gadgets in it are either hardware on the shelf, or hardware which will soon

  be on the shelf because nothing is involved but straight-forward

  engineering development. "Life-Line" (my first story) is its opposite, a

  story which is sheer speculation and either impossible or very highly

  improbable, as the What-If postulate will never be solved � I think. I

  hope. But the two stories are much alike in that neither depends on when it

  was written nor when it is read. Both are independent of any particular

  shape to history; they are timeless.

  "Free Men" is another timeless story. As told, it looks like another "after

  the blowup" story � but it is not. Although the place is nominally the

  United States and the time (as shown by the gadgetry) is set in the

  not-distant future, simply by changing names of persons and places and by

  inserting other weapons and other gadgets this story could be any country

  and any time in the past or future � or could even be on another planet and

  concern a non-human race. But the story does apply here-and-now, so I told

  it that way.

  "Pandora's Box" was the original title of an article researched and written

  in 1949 for publication in 1950, the end of the half-century. Inscrutable

  are the ways of editors: it appeared with the title 'Where To?" and

  purported to be a non-fiction prophecy concerning the year 2000 A.D. as

  seen from 1950. (I agree that a science fiction writer should avoid

  marihuana, prophecy, and time payments � but I was tempted by a soft


  Our present editor decided to use this article, but suggested that it

  should be updated. Authors who wish to stay in the business listen most

  carefully to editors' suggestions, even when they think an editor has been

  out in the sun without a hat; I agreed.

  And reread "Where To" and discovered that our editor was undeniably

  correct; it needed updating. At least.

  But at last I decided not to try to conceal my bloopers. Below is

  reproduced, unchanged, my predictions of fifteen years back. But here and

  there through the article I have inserted signs for footnotes � like this:

  (z) � and these will be found at the end of the 1950 article . . . calling

  attention to bloopers and then forthrightly excusing myself by

  rationalizing how anyone, even Nostradamus, would have made the same

  mistake . . . hedging my bets, in other cases, or chucking in brand-new

  predictions and carefully laying them farther in the future than I am

  likely to live . . . and, in some cases, crowing loudly about successful


  So �


  (And Why We Didn't Get There)

  Most science fiction consists of big-muscled stories about adventures in

  space, atomic wars, invasions by extra-terrestrials, and such. All very

  well � but now we will take time out for a look at ordinary home life half

  a century hence.

  Except for tea leaves and other magical means, the only way to guess at the

  future is by examining the present in the light of the past. Let's go back

  half a century and visit your grandmother before we attempt to visit your


  1900: Mr. McKinley is President and the airplane has not yet been invented.

  Let's knock on the door of that house with the gingerbread, the stained

  glass, and the cupola.

  The lady of the house answers. You recognize her � your own grandmother,

  Mrs. Middleclass. She is almost as plump as you remember her, for she "put

  on some good, healthy flesh" after she married.

  She welcomes you and offers coffee cake, fresh from her modern kitchen

  (running water from a hand pump; the best coal range Pittsburgh ever

  produced). Everything about her house is modern � hand-painted china,

  souvenirs from the Columbian Exposition, beaded portieres, shining

  baseburner stoves, gas lights, a telephone on the wall.

  There is no bathroom, but she and Mr. Middleclass are thinking of putting

  one in. Mr. Middleclass's mother calls this nonsense, but your grandmother

  keeps up with the times. She is an advocate of clothing reform, wears only

  one petticoat, bathes twice a week, and her corsets are guaranteed rust

  proof. She has been known to defend female suffrage � but not in the

  presence of Mr. Middleclass.

  Nevertheless, you find difficulty in talking with her. Let's jump back to

  the present and try again.

  The automatic elevator takes us to the ninth floor, and we pick out a door

  by its number, that being the only way to distinguish it.

  "Don't bother to ring," you say? What? It's your door and you know exactly

  what lies beyond it �

  Very well, let's move a half century into the future and try another middle

  class home.

  It's a suburban home not two hundred miles from the city. You pick out your

  destination from the air while the cab is landing you � a cluster of

  hemispheres which makes you think of the houses Dorothy found in Oz

  You set the cab to return to its hangar and go into the entrance hall. You

  neither knock, nor ring. The screen has warned them before you touched down

  on the landing flat and the autobutler's transparency is shining with:


  Before you can address the microphone a voice calls out, "Oh, it's you!

  Come in, come in." There is a short wait, as your hostess is not at the

  door. The autobutler flashed your face to the patio � where she was reading

  and sunning herself � and has relayed her voice back to you.

  She pauses at the door, looks at you through one-way glass, and frowns

  slightly, she knows your old-fashioned disapproval of casual nakedness. Her

  kindness causes her to disobey the family psychiatrist; she grabs a robe

  and covers herself before signaling the door to open.

  The psychiatrist was right; you have thus been classed with strangers,

  tradespeople, and others who are not family intimates. But you must swallow

  your annoyance; you cannot object to her wearing clothes when you have

  sniffed at her for not doing so.

  There is no reason why she should wear clothes at home. The house is clean

  � not somewhat clean, but clean � and comfortable. The floor is warm to

  bare feet; there are no unpleasant drafts, no cold walls. All dust is

  precipitated from the air entering this house. All textures, of floors, of

  couch, of chair, are comfortable to bare skin. Sterilizing ultra-violet

  light floods each room whenever it is unoccupied, and, several times a day,

  a "whirlwind" blows house-created dust from all surfaces and whisks it out.

  These auto services are unobtrusive because automatic cut-off switches

  prevent them from occurring whenever a mass in a room is radiating at blood


  Such a house can become untidy, but not dirty. Five minutes of

  straightening, a few swipes at children's fingermarks, and her day's

  housekeeping is done. Oftener than sheets were changed in Mr. McKinley's

  day, this housewife rolls out a fresh layer of sheeting on each sitting

  surface and stuffs the discard down the oubliette. This is easy; there is a

  year's supply on a roll concealed in each chair or couch. The tissue sticks

  by pressure until pulled loose and does not obscure the pattern and color.

  You go into the family room, sit down, and remark on the lovely day. "Isn't

  it?" she answers. "Come sunbathe with me."

  The sunny patio gives excuse for bare skin by anyone's standards;

  thankfully she throws off the robe and stretches out on a couch. You

  hesitate a moment. After all, she is your own grandchild, so why not? You

  undress quickly, since you left your outer wrap and shoes at the door (only

  barbarians wear street shoes in a house) and what remains is easily

  discarded. Your grandparents had to get used to a mid-century beach. It was

  no easier for them.

  On the other hand, their bodies were wrinkled and old, whereas yours is

  not. The triumphs of endocrinology, of cosmetics, of plastic surgery, of

  figure control in every way are such that a woman need not change markedly

  from maturity until old age. A woman can keep her body as firm and slender

  as she wishes � and most of them so wish. This has produced a paradox: the

  United States has the highest percentage of old people in all its two and a

  quarter centuries, yet it seems to have a larger proportion of handsome