II. THE PERIOD OF INFLUENCE
had seven stories
published in 1940, including his first novel. "Requiem," his third
story, appeared in the January 1940 issue of
common with his first two stories, the central character is a man of more
than common strength and ability. He is D.D. Harriman, the financier
who made the first trip to the moon possible, and aimed all along to go
there himself. He goes at last in this story, knowing as he does
that the trip will almost certainly kill him. "Requiem" takes on
extra interest because ten years later in "The Man Who Sold the Moon" Heinlein
wrote an account of the process by which Harriman had made that first trip
to the moon possible.
In several cases,
for instance, the versions
of Heinlein's novels that have appeared in serialization have been severely
cut. The book versions have been closer to Heinlein's intention.
Since it makes no sense to discuss an author in terms of the fragments
that an editor is willing to print when we have something more complete,
by and large when I talk about Heinlein's novels, I will discuss the book
rather than the magazine version.
the novels from
Heinlein's first period were handled in a very different manner.
In these cases, what was originally published in the magazines was once
considered complete in itself. It was only after the war that Heinlein
rewrote these stories for book publication, giving his afterthoughts, as
it were. With a story like this, it seems to me that both original
and revised versions are interesting and worth discussing. I want
to make a comparison of this sort with Heinlein's first novel,
"If This Goes On--,"
published originally in
in February and March 1940.
his contribution to the symposium
Of Worlds Beyond,
published in 1947, Heinlein said
that he knew of three general patterns for stories that were people centered:
1) boy-meets-girl, 2) The Little Tailor (that is, the man who succeeds
against great odds, or its converse, the great man brought low), and 3)
"If This Goes On--"
be all three of these at once, but it is mainly the story of a man who
John Lyle, the narrator, is a legate (read "lieutenant")
in the U.S. Army of the next century, serving in the personal guard of
the Prophet Incarnate, head of a religious/military dictatorship that rules
the United States. Lyle falls in love with the wrong woman, one of
the Prophet's handmaidens, who are known as Virgins. (In the magazine
version they probably deserve the name; in the book they don't. In
fact, in the book it is young Sister Judith's approaching loss of virginity
that prompts Lyle's opposition to the Prophet.) Because of the
arising from this, Lyle joins an underground movement called the Cabal,
opposed to the government. He is found out, put to torture, and then
helped to escape. Lyle manages to make his way to the headquarters
of the Cabal (located in a gigantic and unknown cave in southern Arizona),
and takes part in the revolution that throws the Prophet out.
There are two ways of narrating stories, generally
speaking. The first person is natural, easy to write, and
Its disadvantages are that the survival of the narrator to tell the tale
is assured, thereby compromising the suspense of the story somewhat; the
"I" of one story by an author is likely to sound like the "I" of his next;
and, most important, the scope of the story is limited to exactly what
the narrator knows or thinks, and that may be a very small range indeed.
The third-person narrative takes much more skill to handle and is less
limited. Its main disadvantage, particularly for the beginning writer,
is simply that it does take more skill to handle, exactly what the beginner
seems to be some sort
of accepted notion that beginning writers do tend to use the first person,
and writing manuals discourage it. However, I suspect that the notion
is wrong. I think it is simply more likely that a beginning writer
will sell his first-person stories and not his third-person stories.
Heinlein's first three stories were not told in the first person, but he
chose to use it when he came to write his first extended story. Damon
Knight once drew an analogy for me between learning to write and learning
to ride a bicycle. These days, they have bicycles for beginners to
learn on that are almost impossible to tip over. You might say, to
adapt Knight's analogy, that for his first long ride Heinlein used a learner
What I've told of the story so far may make it seem
very romantic, and it is, particularly in the magazine version. I
think this is because in spite of many interesting and well-imagined touches,
most of the basic situations are both melodramatic and innocent.
The book version is nearly twice as long as the original and most of the
additions are simply a matter of fleshing out the story to make it less
innocent and to tone down some of the melodrama. The matter of the
Virgins referred to above is one example.
In the magazine version, John Lyle sees Sister Judith
for exactly ten minutes on one single occasion before he decides true love
has struck. The next time they meet they fall into each other's
(Then, less than halfway through the story, Judith is mislaid until she
turns up again in the very last paragraph.)
In the book, this is recognized as romantic.
John Lyle sees her twice, not once, before they decide they are in love,
thus making the affair a little less sudden. When Lyle in the magazine
says, "Tell her I am hers to command!" -- exclamation point and all --
Lyle in the book adds, "It seems flamboyant in recollection." In
the book, when Judith is smuggled away to safety, it is in disguise as
a load of gum boots, and when she is in safety in Mexico and separated
from Lyle, sweet thing that she is -- sexual and brainless -- she finds
another man and sends Lyle the standard letter saying so. The love
affair is handled in a far more objective and reasonable manner.
As another example, in the early version of the
story, Lyle, a lieutenant taking part in the final battle, sees that the
commanding general is wounded and out of action, arbitrarily decides the
officer next in command is too rigid to make the proper decisions, and
usurps command. He makes what he thinks are the proper decisions,
and then and only then turns command over. In the book, Lyle is a
colonel at the time of the final battle and the over-rigidity of the
has been quite amply demonstrated.
In both versions, Lyle is shatteringly naive, but
the additional material in the book makes his naiveté more believable,
and puts it to good story use rather than just letting it be there as a
great lump of indigestible material.
story, for all
the additions, remains melodramatic since the melodrama is too firmly imbedded
in the story to be removed. I suspect this is a result of
plotting. I can't see any other reason for the coincidences and
of plot that exist all through the story. Both here and in "Misfit,"
Heinlein has important characters who appear several times in central contexts
before having names hung on them -- a sure sign of spear carriers who have
been promoted to more important roles, and plotting-while-writing.
In other words, until he got there, Heinlein had no clear idea that he
was going to use these people for the purposes he did. In the longer
version, Heinlein had his plot turns all set out before him when he started,
so he could spend his time tying threads left dangling his first time through,
something he was only partly successful in doing.
With all the criticism I have made, it is possible
to overlook the fact that
"If This Goes On--"
is interesting, even
exciting, and thoroughly entertaining. The story moves, it is about
important things -- particularly the winning of liberty -- and it contains
some very interesting notions. It also reflects again Heinlein's
continuing interest in how things are made -- power structures, revolutions,
social situations, and machines.
May, Heinlein's first story outside
was published. It was entitled " 'Let There Be Light' " --
Heinlein has always been reasonably fond of quotations
used as titles -- and was by "Lyle Monroe," a pseudonym Heinlein used on
those five stories he had published outside of
Street and Smith magazines edited by John Campbell, during his first period
and on one last story published in 1947.
" 'Let There Be Light' " is the story of
the invention of cold light -- light that wastes no energy by radiating
heat -- and the discovery of an efficient way of using solar
power. The technical thinking is interesting and the pace of the
story is exciting, but again the plotting is not first-rate.
Again, this is a case of starting with no more than an end in mind and
writing until that end is reached, never mind how. I would say
that most probably this story was written in 1939 and kicked around a
number of markets before finding a buyer, and this may explain why it
is no advance on the stories that were published before it.
the other hand, "The Roads Must Roll," published in
in June, is a definite
improvement. The viewpoint is again diffuse, changing fairly often
in a short space, but the problem is a social/technical one -- combatting
a transportation strike -- rather than boy-meets-girl, Little Tailor,
or man-who-learns-better, and for this sort of problem a diffuse viewpoint
is no real handicap. The same sort of thing can be said for "Blowups
Happen," from the September
which is concerned with
psychoses in an atomic plant. This kind of story might even be called
the-problem-as-hero, and considering Heinlein's interest in process, he
might well have been stuck doing these exclusively. Fortunately,
he moved on.
Devil Makes the Law" was the lead novel in the September issue of
companion to Astounding. It was originally entitled "Magic, Inc.,"
and when it appeared in book form in 1950 was called that. The reason
for the title change was that the previous month's lead story in
had the word "magic" in the title, too, and the editor felt variety was
are several ways
of handling magic in a story. One is to build a complete new world
to contain it, as Jack Vance did brilliantly in
The Dying Earth.
is to treat it as a strange element in our own world, something foreign
to be coped with. Heinlein chose a third method, that of integration
of magic with our own familiar world. In this treatment, sorcerers
become licensed, and members of the Rotary Club, and magic becomes just
another element of the economy.
Inc." is a
professional piece of work -- high quality yard goods. Though the
characters are well-enough drawn, the process of dealing with magic in
business and politics is central here. The story is probably the
most entertaining of Heinlein's first year, but it is no deeper than P.G.
July, is, by contrast, probably Heinlein's most important story from his
first year of writing. It is directly connected with
"If This Goes On--,"
picking up the United States just about twenty-five years
after the revolution that concludes the earlier story.
The aim of the revolution was to provide a truly
free society. To that end, a society-wide hands-off treaty called
"The Covenant" has been drawn up. Those people who can't abide a
free society are literally sent to Coventry -- in this case, a great enclosed
reservation -- to work things out for themselves. "Coventry" tells
how a romantic, hyper-libertarian, rugged individualist chooses exile rather
than mental treatment, and then slowly comes to realize his dependence
The only fault of the story is that this individual's
story is interwoven with a melodramatic bit of counter-revolution and this
obscures the main point sufficiently that when the counter-revolution is
shown not to be quite the threat we were led to believe that it was, and
we do at last clearly see the main point, there is some feeling of
Without the melodrama the story would have been stronger, but even so it
remains a good piece of work.
"Coventry" is interesting not just for itself, or
because its point is the strongest that Heinlein had yet written on, but
because the issue of liberty and libertarianism is one that Heinlein has
returned to again and again through his years of writing. In Chapter
Seven there is a discussion of the evolution of Heinlein's thinking on
Border courtesy of
The Humble Bee