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Questioning Authority

by Martin Morse Wooster

Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, Volume 2: 1948–1988, The Man Who Learned Better, by William H. Patterson Jr. (Tor, 672 pp., $34.99)

Of all the great science-fiction writers of the 20th century, Robert A. Heinlein (1907–88) was the most conservative. The recent release of the second volume of William H. Patterson Jr.’s authorized biography gives us a chance to assess Heinlein’s place in the conservative movement.

Anyone thinking about Heinlein has to deal with the somewhat contradictory messages of two of his greatest novels. In 1959, he published Starship Troopers, the story of a young man who enlists and becomes a competent soldier in a war to the death against the alien Bugs. The book won the Hugo Award for best novel in 1960 and has become an important military-science-fiction novel. It has been taught in classes sponsored by the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Air Force.

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