The worlds of robert a h.., p.1
The Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein
Introduction: PANDORA'S BOX - copyright 1952
FREE MEN - (First time in print)
BLOWUPS HAPPEN - copyright 1940
SEARCHLIGHT - copyright 1962
LIFE-LINE - copyright 1939
SOLUTION UNSATISFACTORY - copyright 1940
INTRODUCTION: PANDORA'S BOX
ONCE OPENED, the Box could never be closed. But after the myriad swarming
Troubles came Hope.
Science fiction is not prophecy. It often reads as if it were prophecy;
indeed the practitioners of this odd genre (pun intentional I won't do it
again) of fiction usually strive hard to make their stones sound as if they
were true pictures of the future. Prophecies.
Prophesying is what the weatherman does, the race track tipster, the stock
market adviser, the fortune-teller who reads palms or gazes into a crystal.
Each one is predicting the future sometimes exactly, sometimes in vague,
veiled, or ambiguous language, sometimes simply with a claim of statistical
probability, but always with a claim seriously made of disclosing some
piece of the future.
This is not at all what a science fiction author does. Science fiction is
almost always laid in the future or at least in a fictional
possible-future and is almost invariably deeply concerned with the shape
of that future. But the method is not prediction; it is usually
extrapolation and/or speculation. Indeed the author is not required to (and
usually does not) regard the fictional "future" he has chosen to write
about as being the events most likely to come to pass; his purpose may have
nothing to do with the probability that these storied events may happen.
"Extrapolation" means much the same in fiction writing as it does in
mathematics: exploring a trend. It means continuing a curve, a path, a
trend into the future, by extending its present direction and continuing
the shape it has displayed in its past performance-i.e., if it is a sine
curve in the past, you extrapolate it as a sine curve in the future, not as
an hyperbola, nor a Witch of Agnesi and most certainly not as a tangent
"Speculation" has far more elbowroom than extrapolation; it starts with a
"What if?" and the new factor thrown in by the what-if may be both wildly
improbable and so revolutionary in effect as to throw a sine-curve trend
(or a yeast-growth trend, or any trend) into something unrecognizably
different. What if little green men land on the White House lawn and invite
us to join a Galactic union? or big green men land and enslave us and eat
us? What if we solve the problem of immortality? What if New York City
really does go dry? (And not just the present fiddlin' shortage tackled by
fiddlin' quarter-measures can you imagine a man being lynched for wasting
an ice cube? Try Frank Herbert's Dune World saga, which is not I judge
prophecy in any sense, but is powerful, convincing, and most ingenious
speculation. Living, as I do, in a state which has just two sorts of water,
too little and too much we just finished seven years of drought with
seven inches of rain in two hours, and one was about as disastrous as the
other I find a horrid fascination in Dune World, in Charles Einstein's
The Day New York Went Dry, and in stories about Biblical-size floods such
as S. Fowler Wright's Deluge.)
Most science fiction stories use both extrapolation and speculation.
Consider "Blowups Happen," elsewhere in this volume. It was written in
1939, updated very slightly for book publication just after World War II by
inserting some words such as "Manhattan Project and "Hiroshima," but not
rewritten, and is one of a group of stories published under the pretentious
collective title of The History of the Future (!) which certainly sounds
I disclaim any intention of prophesying; I wrote that story for the sole
purpose of making money to pay off a mortgage and with the single intention
of entertaining the reader. As prophecy the story falls flat on its silly
face any tenderfoot Scout can pick it to pieces but I think it is still
entertaining as a story, else it would not be here; I have a business
reputation to protect and wish to continue making money. Nor am I ashamed
of this motivation. Very little of the great literature of our heritage
arose solely from a wish to "create art"; most writing, both great and
not-so-great, has as its proximate cause a need for money combined with an
aversion to, or an inability to perform, hard writing offers a legal and
reasonably honest way out of this dilemma.
A science fiction author may have, and often does have, other motivations
in addition to pursuit of profit. He may wish to create "art for art's
sake," he may want to warn the world against a course he feels to be
disastrous (Orwell's 1984, Huxley's Brave New World but please note that
each is intensely entertaining, and that each made stacks of money), he may
wish to urge the human race toward a course which he considers desirable
(Bellamy's Looking Backwards, Wells' Men Like Gods), he may wish to
instruct, or uplift, or even to dazzle. But the science fiction writer
any fiction writer must keep entertainment consciously in mind as his
prime purpose . . . or he may find himself back dragging that old cotton
If he succeeds in this purpose, his story is likely to remain gripping
entertainment long years after it has turned out to be false "prophecy." H.
G. Wells is perhaps the greatest science fiction author of all time and
his greatest science fiction stories were written around sixty years ago .
. . under the whip. Bedfast with consumption, unable to hold a job, flat
broke, paying alimony he had to make money somehow, and writing was the
heaviest work he could manage. He was clearly aware (see his autobiography)
that to stay alive he must be entertaining. The result was a flood of some
of the most brilliant speculative stories about the future ever written. As
prophecy they are all hopelessly dated . . .
which matters not at all; they are as spellbinding now as they were in the
Gay 'Nineties and the Mauve Decade.
Try to lay hands on his The Sleeper Awakes. The gadgetry in it is ingenious
and all wrong. The projected future in it is brilliant and did not
happen. All of which does not sully the story; it is a great story of love
and sacrifice and blood-chilling adventure set in a matrix of
mind-stretching speculation about the nature of Man and his Destiny. I read
it first forty-five years ago, plus perhaps a dozen times since . . . and
still reread it whenever I get to feeling uncertain about just how one does
go about the unlikely process of writing fiction for ente
strangers and again finding myself caught up in the sheer excitement of
"Solution Unsatisfactory" herein is a consciously Wellsian story. No, no,
I'm not claiming that it is of H. G. Wells' quality its quality is for
you to judge, not me. But it was written by the method which Wells spelled
out for the speculative story: Take one, just one, basic new assumption,
then examine all its consequences but express those consequences in terms
of human beings. The assumption I chose was the "Absolute Weapon"; the
speculation concerns what changes this forces on mankind. But the "history"
the story describes simply did not happen.
However the problems discussed in this story are as fresh today, the issues
just as poignant, for the grim reason that we have not reached even an
"unsatisfactory" solution to the problem of the Absolute Weapon; we have
reached no solution.
In the twenty-five years that have passed since I wrote that story the
world situation has grown much worse. Instead of one Absolute Weapon there
are now at least five distinct types an "Absolute Weapon" being defined
as one against which there is no effective defense and which kills
indiscriminately over a very wide area. The earliest of the five types, the
A-bomb, is now known to be possessed by at least five nations, at least
twenty-five other nations have the potential to build them in the next few
But there is a possible sixth type. Earlier this year I attended a seminar
at one of the nation's new think-factories. One of the questions discussed
was whether or not a "Doomsday Bomb" could be built a single weapon which
would destroy all life of all sorts on this planet; one weapon, not an
all-out nuclear holocaust involving hundreds or thousands of ICBMs. No,
this was to be a world-wrecker of the sort Dr. E. E. Smith used to use in
his interstellar sagas back in the days when S-F magazines had bug-eyed
monsters on the cover and were considered lowbrow, childish, fantastic.
The conclusions reached were: Could the Doomsday Machine be built? yes,
no question about it. What would it cost? quite cheap. A seventh type
hardly seems necessary.
And that makes the grimness of "Solution Unsatisfactory" seem more like an
Oz book in which the most harrowing adventures always turn out happily.
"Searchlight" is almost pure extrapolation, almost no speculation. The
gadgets in it are either hardware on the shelf, or hardware which will soon
be on the shelf because nothing is involved but straight-forward
engineering development. "Life-Line" (my first story) is its opposite, a
story which is sheer speculation and either impossible or very highly
improbable, as the What-If postulate will never be solved I think. I
hope. But the two stories are much alike in that neither depends on when it
was written nor when it is read. Both are independent of any particular
shape to history; they are timeless.
"Free Men" is another timeless story. As told, it looks like another "after
the blowup" story but it is not. Although the place is nominally the
United States and the time (as shown by the gadgetry) is set in the
not-distant future, simply by changing names of persons and places and by
inserting other weapons and other gadgets this story could be any country
and any time in the past or future or could even be on another planet and
concern a non-human race. But the story does apply here-and-now, so I told
it that way.
"Pandora's Box" was the original title of an article researched and written
in 1949 for publication in 1950, the end of the half-century. Inscrutable
are the ways of editors: it appeared with the title 'Where To?" and
purported to be a non-fiction prophecy concerning the year 2000 A.D. as
seen from 1950. (I agree that a science fiction writer should avoid
marihuana, prophecy, and time payments but I was tempted by a soft
Our present editor decided to use this article, but suggested that it
should be updated. Authors who wish to stay in the business listen most
carefully to editors' suggestions, even when they think an editor has been
out in the sun without a hat; I agreed.
And reread "Where To" and discovered that our editor was undeniably
correct; it needed updating. At least.
But at last I decided not to try to conceal my bloopers. Below is
reproduced, unchanged, my predictions of fifteen years back. But here and
there through the article I have inserted signs for footnotes like this:
(z) and these will be found at the end of the 1950 article . . . calling
attention to bloopers and then forthrightly excusing myself by
rationalizing how anyone, even Nostradamus, would have made the same
mistake . . . hedging my bets, in other cases, or chucking in brand-new
predictions and carefully laying them farther in the future than I am
likely to live . . . and, in some cases, crowing loudly about successful
(And Why We Didn't Get There)
Most science fiction consists of big-muscled stories about adventures in
space, atomic wars, invasions by extra-terrestrials, and such. All very
well but now we will take time out for a look at ordinary home life half
a century hence.
Except for tea leaves and other magical means, the only way to guess at the
future is by examining the present in the light of the past. Let's go back
half a century and visit your grandmother before we attempt to visit your
1900: Mr. McKinley is President and the airplane has not yet been invented.
Let's knock on the door of that house with the gingerbread, the stained
glass, and the cupola.
The lady of the house answers. You recognize her your own grandmother,
Mrs. Middleclass. She is almost as plump as you remember her, for she "put
on some good, healthy flesh" after she married.
She welcomes you and offers coffee cake, fresh from her modern kitchen
(running water from a hand pump; the best coal range Pittsburgh ever
produced). Everything about her house is modern hand-painted china,
souvenirs from the Columbian Exposition, beaded portieres, shining
baseburner stoves, gas lights, a telephone on the wall.
There is no bathroom, but she and Mr. Middleclass are thinking of putting
one in. Mr. Middleclass's mother calls this nonsense, but your grandmother
keeps up with the times. She is an advocate of clothing reform, wears only
one petticoat, bathes twice a week, and her corsets are guaranteed rust
proof. She has been known to defend female suffrage but not in the
presence of Mr. Middleclass.
Nevertheless, you find difficulty in talking with her. Let's jump back to
the present and try again.
The automatic elevator takes us to the ninth floor, and we pick out a door
by its number, that being the only way to distinguish it.
"Don't bother to ring," you say? What? It's your door and you know exactly
what lies beyond it
It's a suburban home not two hundred miles from the city. You pick out your
destination from the air while the cab is landing you a cluster of
hemispheres which makes you think of the houses Dorothy found in Oz
You set the cab to return to its hangar and go into the entrance hall. You
neither knock, nor ring. The screen has warned them before you touched down
on the landing flat and the autobutler's transparency is shining with:
PLEASE RECORD A MESSAGE.
Before you can address the microphone a voice calls out, "Oh, it's you!
Come in, come in." There is a short wait, as your hostess is not at the
door. The autobutler flashed your face to the patio where she was reading
and sunning herself and has relayed her voice back to you.
She pauses at the door, looks at you through one-way glass, and frowns
slightly, she knows your old-fashioned disapproval of casual nakedness. Her
kindness causes her to disobey the family psychiatrist; she grabs a robe
and covers herself before signaling the door to open.
The psychiatrist was right; you have thus been classed with strangers,
tradespeople, and others who are not family intimates. But you must swallow
your annoyance; you cannot object to her wearing clothes when you have
sniffed at her for not doing so.
There is no reason why she should wear clothes at home. The house is clean
not somewhat clean, but clean and comfortable. The floor is warm to
bare feet; there are no unpleasant drafts, no cold walls. All dust is
precipitated from the air entering this house. All textures, of floors, of
couch, of chair, are comfortable to bare skin. Sterilizing ultra-violet
light floods each room whenever it is unoccupied, and, several times a day,
a "whirlwind" blows house-created dust from all surfaces and whisks it out.
These auto services are unobtrusive because automatic cut-off switches
prevent them from occurring whenever a mass in a room is radiating at blood
Such a house can become untidy, but not dirty. Five minutes of
straightening, a few swipes at children's fingermarks, and her day's
housekeeping is done. Oftener than sheets were changed in Mr. McKinley's
day, this housewife rolls out a fresh layer of sheeting on each sitting
surface and stuffs the discard down the oubliette. This is easy; there is a
year's supply on a roll concealed in each chair or couch. The tissue sticks
by pressure until pulled loose and does not obscure the pattern and color.
You go into the family room, sit down, and remark on the lovely day. "Isn't
it?" she answers. "Come sunbathe with me."
The sunny patio gives excuse for bare skin by anyone's standards;
thankfully she throws off the robe and stretches out on a couch. You
hesitate a moment. After all, she is your own grandchild, so why not? You
undress quickly, since you left your outer wrap and shoes at the door (only
barbarians wear street shoes in a house) and what remains is easily
discarded. Your grandparents had to get used to a mid-century beach. It was
no easier for them.
On the other hand, their bodies were wrinkled and old, whereas yours is
not. The triumphs of endocrinology, of cosmetics, of plastic surgery, of
figure control in every way are such that a woman need not change markedly
from maturity until old age. A woman can keep her body as firm and slender
as she wishes and most of them so wish. This has produced a paradox: the
United States has the highest percentage of old people in all its two and a
quarter centuries, yet it seems to have a larger proportion of handsome
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