Alexei Panshin's The Abyss of Wonder



        Welcome to the Critics Lounge.  This is a place of commentary on the meaning and significance of the work of Robert Heinlein.

        If The Critics Lounge were in fact the sort of place it's suggested to be in The Number of the Beast -- an apparent center for Discussion of the Situation that's actually a trap for the unwary which leaves people with nothing effective to do, nowhere else to go, and nothing to eat but the baby -- then I'd never have opened a door to it here, even after warning you all not to come in.

        Instead, I prefer to view The Critics Lounge as Heinlein himself did -- as somewhere that's as easy to leave as it is to enter if you can read the signs. And if you don't let yourself get mesmerized by all the paradox and argument.  More like a sidewalk cafe than a Black Hole.  You just have to be able to break away at an appropriate moment and find your way home.

        One of the few things that everyone agrees on where Robert Heinlein is concerned is that from an early point in his career until his death, he was the dominant writer of SF.  He has been highly influential upon both the literature and his readers.  But what his work actually means has been another question.  Heinlein polarizes opinion. If you love and respect him above all other men, then the expression of any question, reservation or doubt can seem excessive.  On the other hand, if you can't stand Heinlein and abhor the very tone of his prose, any positive regard or serious discussion can seem to be more than the man merits.

        Much of the argument was set up by Heinlein himself.  He wrote with apparent certitude about a variety of subjects, and yet his writing was extremely tricky under its outward guise of plain speaking.  Heinlein was a man who was capable of talking about the usefulness of lying with a straight face and of telling the truth in such a way that it won't be believed.

        The result of this is that people can be very sure of their own opinions about Heinlein and what he had to say and regard them as self-evident.  But somehow nobody manages to agree with anyone else.  Firmly held belief coupled with radical disagreement leads to quarrels.

        My own book, Heinlein in Dimension, written in 1965, was the first attempt at a comprehensive account of Heinlein's work -- and can still be a subject of contention on the Heinlein newsgroup,  But this seems the wrong place to get stuck.  The book itself says that it is just one person's opinion, an attempt to begin a discussion.  And in the twenty years after it was published, Heinlein went on to write seven more novels that are full of formal and metaphysical problems beyond the scope of my book. 

      If we're going to deal with these questions, if we're going to come to terms with the nature and meaning of Heinlein's work, and if we're going to make an accurate assessment of the times in which we've lived and the nature of Heinlein's relation to them, then we have to develop a frame of reference and a set of tools equal to the task.

        A new criticism as expansive, multi-faceted and imaginative as SF itself is called for.  And because we are over our heads here, we need to be flexible, inclusive and generous of spirit.

        As part of my contribution to this task, I've written about the work of Robert Heinlein on a number of occasions before and after Heinlein in Dimension. However, since these pieces didn't all look alike and appeared at such different times and places, sometimes for small or special audiences, their common end hasn't necessarily been apparent.

        This page offers an opportunity to gather them together in one place.  From time to time, as I'm able to do it, I mean to post here in the Critics Lounge all of the pieces about Heinlein that I've written during the last forty years.

         I also intend to print useful, creative and original comments by others.  Thoughtful essays and letters of comment are welcome.


Heinlein and the Golden Age
Combinations and Permutations

The Death of Science Fiction: A Dream
Death and Rebirth

When the Quest Ended
The making of a Mellrooney

"Expanded Universe"
Heinlein and the moral choice

Time Enough for Love
The twist in Heinlein's limb

Reading Heinlein Subjectively
Outer space and inner space

Sympathy for the Devil
A story about "Solution Unsatisfactory"

The Nature of the Problem
Heinlein idolators
read no further

'Found in Space' by
R. Monroe Weems

Mutant blue chipmunks in
Robert Heinlein's basement

Heinlein's Child
What it felt like

Renshaw and the Tachistoscope (and Heinlein too)
Can you train a Fair Witness?

Rite of Passage and Robert Heinlein
"A question about the sky.
The answer about a rope."

Sex in the Stories of Robert Heinlein
The King's New Clothes

The Story of Heinlein
in Dimension

How Heinlein Won Me a Hugo

Heinlein in Dimension
Seeking the Key to the Mystery

The Critics Lounge Annex


The Critics Lounge Annex

          Here you will find an account of Heinlein's early radical political activity, a discussion of the occult roots of Stranger in a Strange Land, and an outline of Heinlein's plans for a second Future History.  Plus a long interview with Heinlein, and the memories of someone who knew Heinlein and didn't like him. 

Drawing by Boris Artzybasheff

Robert A Heinlein Ring site owned by Alexei Panshin

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