Travis J. Corocan author of the Aristillus series, a feat which has won him the prestigious Prometheus award twice so far. He’s also the mind behind Escape the City, the indispensable guide to adapting to rural life after growing up smack dab in the hustle and bustle. I sent him a review copy of The Secrets of the Heinlein Juvenile after learning he was a Heinlein fan. He read it. These are his thoughts:

I remember, like it was yesterday, the first novel I ever read.  I was in first or second grade, and saw a book entitled Red Planet sitting on the shelf of the elementary school library.  I checked it out, assuming it was some sort of kid’s science book…and it was…but it was so much more.  There was danger, adventure, puzzles, ethical challenges, and a view of the world – and of possible future worlds – that opened my eyes.

I had stumbled into the Heinlein juveniles, and I would never be the same.

Over the coming weeks I checked out every Heinlein book on the shelf – Rocket Ship Galileo, Farmer in the Sky, and all the rest.  After I’d read them once, I went back and checked them out again and again and again.  A few years later I stepped foot in the adult library and realized that Heinlein had other novels, and read all of those too.

It’s not a new observation to note that Heinlein, through the voices of his characters, served as a mentor, an older brother, a kindly uncle, instructing his young readers in how to grow into an adult, but not just any adult, but the kind of adult that one could be proud of being.  His stories were not just fun romps – every single one was an impassioned defense of something – an unnamed something.  If I’m forced to nail it down, I’d say that Heinlein instructed his young readers in Americanism – an idealized form of it, an open minded, curious, fair, disciplined, hard-working, moral, honest, earnest merger of Enlightenment intellectual ideas and frontier pragmatism.

It was while reading Heinlein juveniles, forty-something years ago, that I realized – realized, not decided – that someday I would write my own novels, to try to capture and propagate just the smallest spark of the fire that Heinlein had kindled.

During the intervening decades, and the various biographies and literary criticisms of Heinlein that I’d read, I thought more than few times that that someone – perhaps me? – needed to write an overview and an analysis of Heinlein’s juveniles.

When Dan Sawyer reached out to me and told me that he’d done such a thing, I was equal parts enthusiastic and dismayed.  Enthusiastic, of course, because there was going to be more to read about Heinlein and his method.  But dismayed because, damn it, Dan had beaten me to it! MY pet project!

…as I read, though, the dismay fell away.  Within just a few pages I saw that Dan was doing as good a job as I could possibly do.  Within a few more pages, I realized that his focus, his analysis, and his deep knowledge of Heinlein – and decades of mulling over his juveniles, and not just reading and rereading them, but doing so with a practiced analytical eye – had resulted in something far superior to anything I could have ever done.

The first two third of the book, where Dan recaps of each of the novels, and explains not just their themes, but the authorial decisions RAH made and the techniques he used, is more than worth the price of entry.  I came across an easy dozen insights that had never occurred to me.  But the last section of the book – that’s the pure gold in the mine.  Having unrolled the map and set up all of his pieces, Dan then orchestrates them beautifully, explaining the moral vision of Heinlein as one cohesive whole, and referencing by chapter and verse the bricks that Heinlein used to build his pedagogic edifice.  If I learned a dozen things about Heinlein’s books in the first two thirds of the book, it was the last third that opened my eyes to Heinlein, the man, Heinlein, the teacher, and Heinlein, the father (that wasn’t), and that gave me a fresh appreciation of his entire oeuvre, and of his entire person.

Heinlein’s juveniles helped create the last 70 years of American history – from Apollo, to SpaceX, from the Back to the Land movement to internet freedom fighters.  There’s something quintessentially American about Heinlein, and his juveniles, and I have no doubt that his books will be read a century hence, in Luna City, in Marsport, and on Ganymede.  The United States may fall apart, or survive but become corrupted beyond recognition (both eventualities are present in Heinlein’s novels) … but Heinlein’s America, his vision of civilization, Enlightenment, and virtue, as propagated through his juveniles, will live on.

…and Dan Sawyer’s The Secrets of the Heinlein Juvenile is the roadmap, the Baedeker’s, the secret decryption key that explains what they’re all about, and how RAH did his magic.  This book should be read by anyone with an interest in Heinlein, an interest in the craft of writing, or an interest in what America – the very best version of America, made up of citizen soldiers, mothers and fathers, honest merchants, hard working scientists, and pioneers looking always to the west – is all about.

I can not recommend this book highly enough.

Cover for Secrets of the Heinlein Juvenile

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