What Was Heinlein’s Most Loved Story?

    After playing around yesterday trying to find ways to see how popular science fiction was, I decided to use the same techniques to identify Robert A. Heinlein’s most loved stories. The results, gathered on 1/22/8, were both predictable and surprising:

Starship Troopers

176,000

Stranger in a Strange Land

130,000

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

96,700

“Gulf”

61,300

Time Enough for Love

58,900

The Puppet Masters

44,200

Red Planet

34,500

Tunnel in the Sky

27,900

Double Star

27,400

The Door into Summer

24,200

Citizen of the Galaxy

22,500

The Number of the Beast

20,400

The Rolling Stones

20,300

Space Cadet

20,200

Glory Road

19,400

Have Space Suit-Will Travel

19,300

Methuselah’s Children

19,000

I Will Fear No Evil

16,400

Destination Moon

15,400

To Sail Beyond Sunset

14,100

Time for the Stars

13,700

The Green Hills of Earth

13,500

Podkayne of Mars

13,400

Starman Jones

13,100

Orphans of the Sky

12,800

Beyond This Horizon

12,400

Farmer in the Sky

12,100

Farnham’s Freehold

11,400

The Star Beast

11,100

Between Planets

10,500

“The Menace from Earth”

9,390

Assignment in Eternity

9,090

The Past Through Tomorrow

8,970

“All You Zombies—“

8,170

Sixth Column

6,910

“By His Bootstraps”

4,800

Rocketship Galileo

2,250

“Life-Line”

864

“Jerry Was a Man”

744

“—And He Built a Crooked House—“

717

 

    It’s not surprising that Starship Troopers is #1, that’s because it was also a successful movie, and it probably also explains the success of The Puppet Masters in the rankings. And you’ve got to expect Stranger in a Strange Land to be at the top because of its cult status. I have a love-hate relationship with that novel. My favorite Heinlein book, Have Space Suit-Will Travel is disappointingly far down the list. I’ve written extensively why it’s my favorite, so many of those 19,300 pages are mine – I guess I need to write a whole lot more.

    I really don’t understand why Time Enough for Love has 58,900 pages on the web that mentions it. I find Heinlein after 1965 unreadable. Rocketship Galileo seems to be his least favorite novel, and it’s my least favorite Scribner juvenile, but I’ve read it a number of times, and recently bought an audio book edition. It’s still fun.

    I can’t tell if Red Planet is really the highest rated Scribner juvenile because the phrase “Red Planet” may have come up on other pages about Heinlein’s stories set on Mars. I’d like to think Tunnel in the Sky is the top Scribner juvenile because it’s my second favorite Heinlein book.

    I tried to gauge some of the short stories, but I’m not sure about the results from “The Menace from Earth” since it was also a book title. “Gulf” is rated very high, but that’s probably because it was a proto-story for Stranger in a Strange Land and might be mentioned in conjunction with that famous novel. I’m guessing “All You Zombies—” is his most popular story.

JWH

10 thoughts on “What Was Heinlein’s Most Loved Story?”

  1. “I find Heinlein after 1965 unreadable.”

    WHOA, James. I find that to be a flammatory remark, if not intentionally designed to spark debate.

    You must be including “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” within 1965’s publications and not 1966. Or you might be saying that this Hugo winner is unreadable. Either way, you are amazingly mistaken.

    Granted, RAH’s works become somewhat convoluted and sexually-ambiguous beginning with “I Will Fear No Evil” and certainly ending with “Cat Who Walks Through Walls”, but unreadable?

    To say that Heinlein becomes unreadable after 1965 is like saying television became unwatchable after the introduction of technicolor. You are drawing a rather broad line and dismissing some of Heinlein’s most thought-provoking and enjoyable novels.

    Okay, so ignore anything that mentions Lazarus Long and the “World as Myth”. That leaves what I consider two novels every Heinlein fan should treasure as his best last works: “Friday” and “Job: A Comedy of Justice”.

    Go ahead and tear up your Heinlein Fan Club membership card if you consider those two novels “unreadable.”

  2. I was assuming The Moon is a Harsh Mistress came out in 1965, and consider it the last readable Heinlein book – at least by me. I’ve read it three times and listened to it once. Still love it, but it really is on the border.

    Be sure and note that I said, “I find” the later books unreadable. Heinlein was my hero and surrogate father figure growing up. I loved his books. I really tried to read the later books. I’ve tried Friday twice in print and once in audio and for the life of me I cannot get through that book. It’s too painful to experience.

    I did get all the way through Job: A Comedy of Justice and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, but they were hard going. Charles Stross just wrote a piece at his blog about admiring Heinlein’s later works and I’m going to try again.

    I really love Heinlein from the 1950s, so it’s so damn painful to see him change. And I think his later books could have been much better or even good if he had had a good editor. His ego blocked that though.

    I do know that many fans prefer his later books and love them the most and some even look down on his earlier work. I guess there are many types of Heinlein fans.

    I’ve gotten many people to try the Scribner juveniles and they find them fantastic, even as old readers coming to the books for the first time. I think they are in a class by themselves. Heinlein kept changing and not all of his readers changed with him. Sadly, I couldn’t follow.

    I didn’t mean to be inflammatory, but instead meant to show how surprised I was that the books by Heinlein that I personally like the least are so popular. I really do feel Heinlein radically changed during the mid-sixties.

  3. Thank you for taking the time to respond, James (and for catching “flammatory”…and in the age of Spell Check, no less). I appreciate your insights and interest in Heinlein and for keeping the flame burning for his fans as well.

    I agree that Heinlein’s style and conventions evolved along with society (especially what was going on with his readers during the 60’s and 70’s), and this must be disheartening to someone who grew up reading his earlier YA novels versus those who discovered him post-Stranger.

    This is not ground-breaking by any means, but I think the characterization and quotes of Jubal Harshaw say a lot about Heinlein himself and surely indicate that his style was evolving to (a) keep up with the apparent mores and values of the younger generation (read: target audience) and therefore (b) make money.

    Who can blame him? Starship Troopers has a lot more to say to the Vietnam era than tales of Nazis on the moon or The Rolling Stones.

    I would defend the probable popularity of “Time Enough For Love” by saying that I believe this novel does more to bridge the gulf (pun intended) between generations of readers more so than “Stranger” does. Interspaced within the main story of Lazarus Long (and the ever-present ambisexual characters of the distant future) are several episodes that are told in the much more straight-forward and concise style than the overall novel, almost as if they were gathered from unpublished remains of his juvenile stories.

    On that note, I was wondering if you ever wrote an opinion about that strange little time-traveler of a novel (about a time-traveler, no less), “For Us, The Living.” Where does this book properly fit in the Heinlein collection?

    I never could finish that book, finding it a little too thin on plot and character and way too long on discourse.

  4. It’s strange that you say that his later work was unreadable, when his first novel “For Us, the living (a comedy of customs)” that remained unpublished until recently, was just as filled with the libertarian ideal (golden rule, privacy, nudity/sex as nothing holy and nothing to be ashamed of) as any of his later work.
    The world was not ready for his ideas yet. A lot of people are still closed minded and still set in their ways when it comes to sexuality, personal liberties, and less government involvement with our day to day lives.
    If you will notice, in his later works, women are more likely to initiate sex than men. I’m sure this would set some men off. “Women should endure sex, not enjoy it.” Thank God that isn’t so!
    oh well, blast me all you want… I just wanted to put my 2 cents in, and I have to stop now before i start throwing dollars in instead.

  5. I don’t have a problem with Heinlein’s ideas, I have a problem using fiction as a soapbox for making speeches. It damages the story. The drama of the story should provide a context for readers to see ideas explored, but story and characterization should not be harmed while doing it. It appears that Heinlein would ramble away on his favorite topics if editors didn’t hound him. I think all the Heinlein novels that have been restored to Heinlein’s original manuscripts have been harmed in various ways. I think Heinlein was right on some edits, like his ending for Podkayne of Mars was much better, but the new material in Red Planet were only distractions. I think all of Heinlein’s later novels could be vastly improved with editing and cuts, even to the point that I would love them.

  6. I just read your essay, “The Cat Who Walks Through Walls” which led me to this blog. I am very much in agreement with you; your observations are spot-on. Some of the best books I’ve ever read were those early Heinlein — and some of the worst I’ve ever read were his later works. It’s amazing how much his writing changed.
    So I’ll cherish the ones I love and not read the others again :-).

    Joy

  7. To me, it is mainly Heinleins exploration of strange prespectives, for example word as myth and timetraveler incest, that make his late works fascinating. I still find it hilarious that incest orgies, described as something good and moral, made the new york times best-seller list and NOBODY objected.

    Time enough for love is deeply moving, in a slow way, and also at least three novels in one, so I can understand its high ranking.I also find it to be the most complex of his novels, which is a merit on its own.

    But as straight, smooth entertainment I don´t think any of the later novels can compare to his earlier work.

    I think his later work was less adjusted to the mainstream taste and more in line with how he really wanted to write.

  8. Glad you linked over here James. My first exposure to Heinlein was Time Enough for Love, followed quickly by Friday. I enjoyed them both immensely despite their rather open minded, utopian, possibly ‘juvenile’ sexual focus. I found elements of story within that have stuck with me all these years later, particularly various incidents out of the life of Lazarus Long. I have not read any of the other post 1965 books, so I cannot say what I feel in general about his later writing, I only know that I really enjoyed these books. And of course I’ve enjoyed Podkayne of Mars and The Menace From Earth. I suspect I will probably fall on the side of preferring his juveniles more, but only time will tell. My predilection for older, nostalgic sci fi classics does make me feel I’ll eventually lean more that way.

    I look forward to making the acquaintance of more of these stories soon..

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