Robert Anson Heinlein (July 7, 1907 May 8, 1988) is widely considered one of the most influential and iconic writers of Sci-Fi and Speculative Fiction of the Twentieth Century. He is counted as one of the "Big Three" of Science Fiction along with Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. Often the standard to which other Science Fiction writers are compared, although he caught considerable flak for some of his recurring philosophical and political themes. His works range from space adventure Young Adult novels to political manifestos, and generally score towards the "hard" side of Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness.
Given his status among the pantheon of science fiction authors, Shout Outs to his work are very widespread in modern science fiction. He tends to be popular among the military as well, particularly for Starship Troopers, which has in the past been on the required reading lists for both the US Marine Corps and the US Navy.
Heinlein's most notorious and most dividing novel is Stranger in a Strange Land, an Author Tract which contributed hugely to the rise of the hippie movement. However, he's probably best known with the general public for penning Starship Troopers, which was very, very loosely adapted into a film.
Rare exceptions aside, nearly all of his characters are prodigies and geniuses, to the point where this can be considered his author trademark.
Heinlein has probably written — and in some cases created — every major form of story in Science Fiction, including:
- Revolution and its aftermath (The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and the first part of its sorta-sequel The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, "If This Goes On", later packaged in the collection Revolt in 2100)
- Organized crime invading an industry (Magic, Inc., "Let There Be Light")
- Space travel (The Rolling Stones along with most of his short stories)
- Time Travel and Paradoxes ("By His Bootstraps", "—All You Zombies—", Time Enough for Love, The Door Into Summer)
- The Multiverse and cross-universe travel (The Number of the Beast, Glory Road)
- Age extension and immortality (Methuselah's Children, Time Enough for Love, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress)
- Labor strikes by people critical to the economy ("The Roads Must Roll")
- Crabby old man has brain transplanted into gorgeous woman (I Will Fear No Evil)
- Generation ship; Society on a self-contained spaceship forming its own religious mythos (Orphans of the Sky/Universe)
- Problems of precognition and knowing the future ("Life-Line")
- War and the government it creates (Starship Troopers, frequently considered one of the best military novels ever written.)
- Slavery, freedom, and the forms each can take (Citizen of the Galaxy)
- Settling on and civilizing new and unfamiliar worlds (Farmer in the Sky, Tunnel in the Sky)
- Human-alien relations (Red Planet, Have Space Suit Will Travel, Space Cadet, Double Star, Starman Jones, The Star Beast, Stranger in a Strange Land).
- The transformative power of innocence plus observations of humanity from an Outsider (Stranger in a Strange Land)
- The idea of fiction creating worlds (The Number of the Beast and its sequels)
- The idea of heaven not being heaven without your loved ones. (Job: A Comedy of Justice)
- Artificial Intelligence (The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Time Enough for Love, and their sequels)
Heinlein's protagonists are typically geniuses, often with perfect memory and a love for mathematics. They have held opinions covering most of the political spectrum, to the point where the oft-made argument "Heinlein's heroes all have his political opinions!" needs to account for the fact that the sum total of "political opinions held by Heinlein protagonists" includes many mutually contradictory ideas. For that matter, Heinlein himself expounded the merits of wildly different political opinions; several of his earliest books were essentially guided tours through a couple of (non-Marxist) anarcho-libertarian future paradises — though these paradises also valued sexual freedom and the right to bear arms. He would later write of a yet another such (alien) paradise in his famous Author Tract Stranger in a Strange Land — and he would reference this paradise throughout much of his future work.
His protagonists can be expected to believe in sexual freedom, the right to bear arms, the death penalty, and private ownership and private enterprise, and to not be shy in expounding on those beliefs. Most believe in hard work and although they often suffer bad luck, in the end it pays off for them. Humans Are Special, a fact often expounded upon by his heroes, who are often, by birthright, training, or sheer openmindedness even "specialer" than regular humans. They also tend to be ridiculously smart. This has led to some (not always unwarranted) accusations of Sueism in Heinlein's writing. note Expect there to be at least one foolish and lazy person to contrast to the heroes. However, smart lazy people are usually respected — see "The Tale of The Man Who Was Too Lazy To Fail" in Time Enough For Love. (Usually, but not always. In The Puppet Masters, the main characters praise engineers but disdain scientists, as the latter merely sit around making up theories without actually building anything.)
Mutual respect and personal autonomy are key themes, and Polyamory is presented as the most rational and reasonable form of partnership. It's also not uncommon for Heinlein's heroes to explore the idea of incest — in any case, family bonds are always very strong. Education (particularly math and linguistics) is a vital (but personal and freely chosen) process, and on occasion there are allusions to naive forms of chaos magic (i.e. mankind's ability to manipulate nature simply by being clever).
In addition to that, throwing rocks at people who don't agree with one's personal beliefs is quite okay when one's personal beliefs are enlightened enough — although Heinlein's heroes tend to bluff rather than use lethal violence. Racism is also always rejected. Heinlein was indirect about it, but many (if not most) of his main characters are implied to be multiracial or at least not white.
His later books valued individual autonomy much more than the earlier ones, and his opinion of government, politics, and politicians changed accordingly. By the end, his opinion appeared to be that there are two types of politician: the Wide-Eyed Idealist who can't be trusted because anyone who can convince him it's for the greater good will get him to abandon a promise, and the Corrupt Politician who can be trusted because he knows he has a reputation to maintain as someone worth buying.
Heinlein's stories are populated by certain stock characters:
- The Genius Child: A very common character both in Heinlein's Young Adult novels and in his political work. The genius child is often completely unaware that he or she is a prodigy, and simply dreams of going into space and having wild space adventures. Some of these characters, however, fully know how smart they are, and learn an important lesson about humility. Knowing next to nothing about interstellar politics, they tend to wise up by the end of the story and accept responsibility for their actions. Kip, Max, Peewee, and the twins Cas and Pol embody this, and Valentine Michael Smith is this character type taken to its logical extreme.
- The Competent Man (sometimes woman): Essentially your classic leading man character, he or she is competent in a reasonably wide range of fields (usually including several languages, sciences and/or technologies), and usually is also The Man (or Woman) Who Learns Better, having learned an important lesson and experienced considerable personal growth by the end of the story. The latter aspect is more prominent in Heinlein's juveniles. This can also be an adult version of the Genius Child who already knows how to deal with adult life, or simply the Genius Child's close friend.
- The Wise Old Mentor (usually, but not always, male): Professor Bernardo de la Paz, Hazel Meade Stone, Joseph Bonforte, Jubal Harshaw, and of course Lazarus Long, who also falls into the above category.
- The Gorgeous Woman: Spirited, beautiful and complex. Many of them have red hair, like Heinlein's wife Virginia. In fact, it is often tempting to assume the Gorgeous Woman is essentially Virginia in various guises. Star, in Glory Road, is described as hundreds of women in one body, along with a number of men, and amply describes the more universal version of the character.
These characters are best seen in The Puppet Masters, which is also his Alien Invasion plot.
His characters are often very intelligent, highly skilled (or they quickly learn any skills needed), good at math, and sometimes without major mental or physical defect. On this last qualification, there are notable exceptions:
- Waldo, a physical and emotional cripple in need of redemption.
- Oscar Gordon, a self-described grunt with a prominent facial scar, whose genius mainly lies in forms of violence and the practical application of personal ethics. After serving his time in the military, he gets recruited from an endless beach vacation by Star.
- Juan Rico, another grunt, who doesn't have the stuff to join one of the more glamorous organizations but proves to be an above-average officer and the right man at the right time. In film adaptations they tend to forget he's only called "Johnny," not named that.
- The protagonist of "—All You Zombies—", a heartless cad with an intersexual condition (and a time machine).
- Manuel Garcia O'Kelly "Mannie" Davis, a one-armed computer engineer (lost the other arm in an accident), who is otherwise the archetype for a technically competent hero.
- While Roger Stone is a Competent Man, he freely admits that he's the least intelligent and adaptable person in his entire family, not to mention one of the least so among Heinlein's roster of Competent Men. He yet is the successful leader and moral conscience of the entire Stone family, and is perhaps the only being in the entire multiverse that Heinlein has written winning an argument with Hazel Stone.
- Hugh Farnham in Farnham's Freehold is not extensively educated or much more intelligent than the norm and his mathematical abilities are unknown, but he does have access to a long list of useful books, which come in handy when he becomes a freeholder.
- Podkayne Fries in Podkayne of Mars is a naive and optimistic 16-year-old girl who isn't really capable of understanding evil, and thus can't quite comprehend the villains or the seriousness of the political drama in the midst of which she finds herself.
- Podkayne's brother Clark, who in contrast is a sociopathic Preteen Genius only barely kept in check by his affection for his older sister — and who is only redeemed by Poddy's (near)-death as a result of the plots in which they've become entangled.
- Valentine Michael Smith from Stranger in a Strange Land is a human raised on Mars who is intelligent but with No Social Skills (but later becomes a charismatic preacher). Apparently Heinlein had a bet going with L. Ron Hubbard to see which one could inspire a cult... Heinlein lost, nanu-nanu. (But many people grok that it was a close race for a while there).
- While not a main character, the Boss (the mentor/competent man archetype) of Friday is a one-eyed cripple, and apparently a former resident of Luna. Friday herself is neurotically insecure as a result of her upbringing.
- Andrew Jackson "Pinky" (later "Slipstick") Libby, a mathematical genius (and lost Howard Family member), who was clumsy and socially awkward in his youth, and turned out to have the genetic disorder Kleinfelter's Syndrome.
Heinlein's most notable protagonist is Lazarus Long, a near-immortal rogue and Anti-Hero. Lazarus Long appears across much of Heinlein's work, often being both the Competent Man and the Wise Old Man. He is a strong proponent of the atheistic, libertarian, Free-Love Future worldview that became a trademark of Heinlein's work, and is a frequent target of criticism for being a Marty Stu and Author Avatar.
Heinlein's approach to female characterization is sometimes controversial. While his female characters are a reasonably varied lot, they tend to have a few things in common: The men spend a lot of time explaining things to them. They rarely end the story un-paired with a man, and they often see motherhood as their highest goal. Many stories feature underage (barely teenage) girls "bundling" with far older men. It should be considered, however, that at the time he wrote most of his novels an actively dominant female character was an extreme rarity, not to mention that his female characters usually tend to be guile action girls.
Heinlein's adult years were during the Cold War, and he was extremely hawkish, believing that the Soviets were a serious threat to the US, and that a strong military with lots of nuclear missiles was the only sane response. (For example, one of his character regarded the difference between the Soviets and mind-controlling alien slugs as nearly irrelevant). Further, he apparently supported Joe McCarthy's anti-communist witch hunts. His views were not uncommon at the time, but given that the Soviet Union folded shortly after Heinlein's death, understanding his Soviet-phobia can be difficult for modern readers, but is necessary to grokking his work. (Saying the genocidal hive-minded Bugs from Starship Troopers are stand-ins for the Soviets is not a stretch.)
He also invented and explored the concept of Pantheistic Solipsism in his later works, also known as "The World as Myth" philosophy: where powerful writers create universes via the act of writing. He uses this for multiple Crossovers between world lines, including at least one meeting between every major hero he created in a single scene. It's also noted that later characters would call him (as the author) out for the horrible actions his characters suffer if this idea is true.
His impact can be best seen in Larry Niven's short story The Return of William Proxmire where a fictional version of the infamously Luddite U.S. Senator Proxmire — who wishes to prevent the "waste" of the space program — decides to use time travel to cure Heinlein's pulmonary tuberculosis because every scientist and engineer "fanatic" in the space program credits him as being their inspiration. (For the interested, curing Heinlein means he rises to prominence in the Navy and pays attention in 1940 when Goddard tries to warn the military about the potential and dangers of rockets. When Proxmire returns to the present, Admiral Heinlein's Navy-run program has set up lunar colonies, orbital solar power stations, and prevented the Russians from developing ICBMs).
- "—All You Zombies—"
- "And He Built a Crooked House"
- Between Planets
- Beyond This Horizon
- "By His Bootstraps"
- The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
- Citizen of the Galaxy
- Destination Moon (wrote the novelization, and served as a script writer and technical consultant for the film)
- The Door into Summer
- Double Star
- Farmer in the Sky
- Farnham's Freehold
- For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs
- Glory Road
- "The Green Hills of Earth"
- Have Space Suit Will Travel
- "If This Goes On"
- I Will Fear No Evil
- Job: A Comedy of Justice
- "Magic, Inc."
- Methuselah's Children
- The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
- The Number of the Beast
- Podkayne of Mars
- The Puppet Masters
- Red Planet
- The Rolling Stones
- Sixth Column
- Space Cadet
- The Star Beast
- Starman Jones
- Starship Troopers
- Stranger in a Strange Land
- Time Enough for Love
- Time for the Stars
- To Sail Beyond the Sunset
- Tunnel in the Sky
- Variable Star
- "Blowups Happen"
- "Its Great To Be Back!"
- "Jerry Was A Man"
- "Let There Be Light"
- "Life Line"
- "The Long Watch"
- "The Man Who Sold The Moon"
- "The Menace From Earth"
- "Ordeal In Space"
- Orphans Of The Sky
- "The Roads Must Roll"
- Rocket Ship Galileo
- "Space Jockey"
- The Unpleasant Profession Of Jonathan Hoag
Works by Heinlein that are presently without trope pages include examples of:
- Achievements in Ignorance: Hugh Hoyland, the protagonist of Orphans of the Sky, on learning his people's world is actually a space ship, decides to teach himself how to pilot the ship. According to all common sense of astrogation, no single person can learn the necessary skills to fly a ship by himself, especially one of the size Hoyland was on. However, because all knowledge of this common sense was never printed in text, he never realized this and thus taught himself all the skills. This was repeated later in the novel when Hoyland, not realizing the difficulty of managing a landing and the sheer danger his life is in, successfully lands his craft on a planet.
- Ancient Tradition: "Lost Legacy". A benevolent secret society of people with psychic abilities lives under Mount Shasta. Their membership has included Abraham Lincoln, Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain and Walt Whitman. They help the protagonists refine their mental abilities and fight the opposition group that wants to keep humanity ignorant.
- And Man Grew Proud: In the novella "Universe" (expanded into the book Orphans of the Sky), passengers aboard a Generation Ship built by the Jordan Foundation remember:In the Beginning there was Jordan, thinking his lonely thoughts alone.
In the Beginning there was darkness, formless, dead, and Man unknown.
Out of the loneness came a longing, out of the longing came a vision,
Out of the dream there came a planning, out of the plan there came decision—
Jordan's hand was lifted and the Ship was born!
- Artificial Gravity: In "—We Also Walk Dogs", a company that advertises that it can deal with any problem is called on to bring about the invention of antigravity, to enable an interstellar peace conference whose delegates mostly come from planets with lower gravity than Earth.
- Bland-Name Product: "The Man Who Sold the Moon" features a rivalry between soft drink manufacturers "Moka-Coka" and "6+".
- Blinding Camera Flash: Used as a political dirty trick in "A Bathroom of Her Own". A political candidate is blinded by an unexpected camera flash, with a second picture being taken a moment later as he tries to recover. The picture from the second camera — showing the candidate looking confused, dazzled and dopey — is then used by his opponents in their attack ads.
- Bottled Heroic Resolve: "Coventry". The hero and a companion take a powerful stimulant called a "pepper pill" ("improbable offspring of common coal tar") in order to complete a long hike and deliver a vital message. The drug can cause heart attacks and burns the body's tissues to provide energy after normal reserves are gone, requiring days to recover from its use.
- Celestial Bureaucracy: Taken to 11 in Job. Inverted in Hoag with the Sons of the Bird.
- City in a Bottle: Orphans of the Sky is about a multi-generational space craft where the inhabitants lost the knowledge that they were on a ship (along with most other knowledge) after a failed mutiny, so the current generation thinks the whole universe is just the ship.
- The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: In "Lost Legacy". "The coroner's verdict of heart failure did not fully account for the charred condition of his remains."
- Couldn't Find a Pen: In "Goldfish Bowl", the protagonist is captured by aliens. He repeatedly scratches himself to make scars and form a message on his skin, so that if he doesn't get out alive he can still warn whoever finds his body.
- Crooked Contractor: In "It's Great to Be Back!", one of the troubles faced by two people who have recently returned to Earth from the Moon is dealing with a plumber who isn't a crook but refuses to help them for petty reasons.
- Deface of the Moon: In "The Man Who Sold the Moon", DD Harriman gets some of his financing for his moon trip by approaching rival soft drink companies and getting them to pay him not to paint their rival's logo on the face of the moon. And also by convincing another businessman, deeply opposed to Communism, that the Russians were planning to send up a mission to paint the Hammer and Sickle on the moon.
- Do Unto Others Before They Do Unto Us: In "Solution Unsatisfactory", one of the U.S. characters considers having everyone who knows about the secret of the radioactive dust shot, but decides that the enemies of the U.S. would eventually discover it and use it against the U.S. anyway. The U.S. goes ahead with creating and using the dust itself.
- The Exile: In "Coventry", the United States has used Applied Phlebotinum to put a force field wall around an area of the country. Because of the respect for human rights, it is the law that anyone may choose to go to Coventry rather than have to agree to psychological therapy for criminal or antisocial behavior. The protagonist, David MacKinnon, is a romantic idealist who imagines a paradise without the noisy interfering big government getting in the way of rugged freedom lovers.
- Eureka Moment: Played with, in Hoag, when the title character suddenly remembers who he is, mid-sentence, and even his personality and tone changes.
- Fantastic Noir: "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag".
- Food Porn: The restaurant menu and the breakfast food description in the short story "Cliff and the Calories".
- Foreseeing My Death: "Life-line". Professor Pinero builds a machine that can electronically predict the exact date and time of a person's death. He writes down when his own death will occur and seals it inside an envelope. When he's murdered, the envelope is opened and the prediction turns out to be correct.
- The Gadfly: In Rocket Ship Galileo, Dr. Cargraves adopts this role when debating with his three teenage apprentices, to get them to question their own assumptions and realize the importance of being able to prove their assertions. His contrary position is that the Moon might not have a "far side", because no one has ever seen it (the book was written before spacecraft were sent to photograph the far side).
- Generation Ships: Orphans of the Sky has the massive generation ship Vanguard whose inhabitants have forgotten their origins and fallen into barbarism, yet the ship still functions after centuries of neglect (albeit with an assist from Cargo Cult maintenance procedures). Guess they don't make them like they will have used to. An excerpt indicates the ship was specifically designed in a way that minimized the amount of automation and moving parts, thus reducing wear and tear and extending the functional lifespan of the ship.
- A Glitch in the Matrix: "They". A man realizes that something is wrong with the world when it's raining when he's outside his house, but when he goes upstairs and looks through a window it's clear and sunny.
- Going Critical: "Blowups Happen" is about a nuclear reactor which not only is in danger of exploding at any moment but is discovered to be capable of destroying all life on Earth by having such a massive explosion that the Earth's atmosphere is blown away.
- Good with Numbers: Andrew Jackson "Slipstick" Libby from the Future History series. In his introductory short story "Misfit", he replaces a spaceship navigation computer by performing all spatial calculations needed to navigate the ship in real time in his head. And his mathematical genius comes to light when he warns of a critical calculation error made in setting a small nuclear charge based on what he's learned about laying the charges just by watching the officer making the calculations. ("Slipstick" is an in-universe nickname for a slide rule, a type of analog calculation aid common before hand-held calculators got good enough to do things like logarithms.)
- Hover Bot: Friday. Police had Public Eyes that they used to perform surveillance. The Eyes had cameras that allowed an officer monitoring them to see what was going on, with a memory that could hold 12 hours of visual record. An unmonitored Public Eye floated around, following any object with the temperature of a human body.
- Immortality Promiscuity: Lazarus Long, prominent in novels like Methuselah's Children and Time Enough for Love'' lives for millennia and by the 40th century is a common ancestor to a majority of the long-lived Howards, largely due to Darwinist Desire. He does tend to marry most of his lovers, but is also polyamorous.
- Inscrutable Aliens: "Goldfish Bowl". Unknown creatures (it's not clear if they're from Earth or aliens) suck a huge pillar of seawater into a cloud and then return it to the ocean. They also send out fireballs that kidnap people. They're never seen by humans and don't communicate directly with humanity.
- Intangible Theft: In "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag", Ted and Cynthia Randall are private detectives who are hired by Jonathan Hoag to find out why he has amnesia about his daily work. The Sons of the Bird steal Cynthia's soul in an attempt to coerce Ted into giving up the investigation, leaving her in a coma.
- Just Before the End: "Year of the Jackpot" takes place in 1952 when a confluence of the cycles of human civilization are causing humanity to go crazy. There is horrible weather, a nuclear war, and just when things are looking up, the sun goes nova.
- Kindhearted Cat Lover: In "Ordeal in Space", the protagonist likes cats. Also, when he hears a kitten out on a ledge, he rescues it and cures his agoraphobia.
- Low Culture, High Tech: Orphans of the Sky. The characters live on a generation ship whose crew mutinied several generations back. By the time the novel takes place, the crew has become so backward that they think the ship is the whole Universe, and a large portion live as subsistence farmers. The only reason the ship still works is that it's powered by a reactor that can convert any matter into energy at pretty much 100% efficiency. Everything that is no longer useful, including the dead, is used as fuel for the reactor.
- Masquerade: In a number of stories, mainly relating to the nature of the universe. Usually has to do with the questions of creation, creator, and the fabric of the universe itself.
- In Number of the Beast, we are introduced to the notion of fiction as literal universe-building, raising the spectre of a Sliding Scale of Free Will vs. Fate.
- In Job, Hoag, and others; particularly that the universe can be changed, erased, and even recreated at will by God... or a god.
- Mega Meal Challenge: "Cliff and the Calories".Cliff: Have you ever had a Mount Everest?
Cliff: They start with a big platter and build up the peak with twenty-one flavors of ice cream, using four bananas, butterscotch syrup, and nuts to bind it. Then they cover it with chocolate syrup, sprinkle malted milk powder and more nuts for rock, pour marshmallow syrup and whipped cream down from the top for snow, stick parsley around the lower slopes for trees, and set a little plastic skier on one of the snow banks. You get to keep him as a souvenir of the experience.
Maureen: Oh, my!
Cliff: Only one to a customer and I don't have to pay if you finish it.
- Mirror Monster: In "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag", the Sons of the Bird are powerful evil entities that enter and exit our world through mirrors.
- Missing Floor: In Hoag, one of the protagonists track down where the title character works, but when he goes back to the building with his partner to show them, the floor doesn't exist.
- Missing Time: In "The Unpleasant Profession Of Jonathan Hoag", the title character experiences this every time he goes to work — everything between leaving home in the morning and returning in the evening is a blank. He hires a private detective to find out what it is he actually does. It turns out to be Alternate Identity Amnesia.
- Multiple Head Case: Joe-Jim the two-headed mutant from Universe.
- The Mole: In "Coventry", "Fader" McGee is a Secret Service agent.
- The Mutiny: In Orphans of the Sky (originally two short stories, "Universe" and "Common Sense"), the conditions on the generation ship are partly due to a mutiny during which the ship's piloting crew was killed off, the survivors later forgetting their original purpose.
- My Art, My Memory: "They". A man believed to be insane can play beautiful music on the violin. Later on he dreams about his past life in a higher level of being, including hearing music swelling out of every living thing — presumably the source of his musical ability.
- The Noun Who Verbed: "The Man Who Sold the Moon".
- Occupiers Out of Our Country: "Free Men" is about the resistance movement against invaders who occupied the US following the "Twenty Minute War". The origin of the occupiers is not specified.
- Omnibus: Servire published a 500+ page volume in 1970, titled Science Fiction Omnibus, a Dutch translation of four American Science Fiction Novels; The Big Eye by Max Ehrlich, The Man Who Sold The Moon by Robert A. Heinlein, Requiem by Robert A. Heinlein, and Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov.
- Out, Damned Spot!: In Hoag, the title character comes home every day with red gunk under his fingernails, which he then compulsively scrubs clean.
- Peaceful in Death: In "The Roads Must Roll", a man is murdered while trying to negiotiate with the striking workers. The main character is struck by the nobility of his expression, seeing him dead.
- Penal Colony: In "Coventry", the United States has used Applied Phlebotinum to put a force field wall around an area of the country. Because of the respect for human rights, it is the law that anyone may choose to go to Coventry rather than have to agree to psychological therapy for criminal or antisocial behavior.
- People's Republic of Tyranny: In the short story "Coventry", the most totalitarian nation in the Coventry is called "The Free State".
- Read the Fine Print: In The Man Who Sold the Moon, Delos D. Harriman, "the last of the Robber Barons", mentions that the roadways he owns that are used by most of the population to commute and move goods have small print on the ticket that says that the company will only "attempt" to get them or their goods to their destination and if the company fails it is only liable to refund the price of the ticket. Using the roadway means agreeing with this. Harriman says he got idea when he worked as a clerk for the Western Union telegram service. By signing the front of a telegram form most people didn't realize they were agreeing to all the small print listed on the back of the form. Harriman read the back in his free time on the job and admired it. This sort of caveat is actually fairly common in contracts, in the form of a "force majeure" clause that releases someone from a contractual obligation if uncontrollable circumstances make it impossible to comply.
- Rebellious Rebel:
- In "The Roads Must Roll", when the workers are organizing their strike on the grounds that transportion being so necessary, they should use their clout for extortion, one worker objects that the terms of their employment are not actually oppressive; when the strike actually occurs, he goes to the boss to offer his help. The strikers murder him in a parlay.
- In "The Long Watch", Interplanetary Patrol Lieutenant John Dahlquist, after a superior attempts to recruit him into a coup attempt, instead makes a Heroic Sacrifice by barricading himself in the nuclear armory and manually disabling all the nuclear weapons, taking a fatal dose of radiation in the process. He dies alone, sitting by the door he barricaded. Radiation levels are so high that robots must be used to recover his body and put it in a lead coffin for a hero's funeral.
- Secret Test: In the short story "Space Jockey", spaceship pilots are monitored to make sure they are psychologically stable. A space pilot is bothered by a "stupid tourist" who is secretly a psychiatrist to determine his state of mind before a flight.
- Self-Inflicted Hell: In the short story "Elsewhen", when a person dies, they get whatever afterlife they expect they will find. If they were very religious, they go to a form of heaven where they subsist with God, etc. But nobody ever ceases to exist because it's impossible to believe in annihilation.
- Space Base: In Rocket Ship Galileo, the protagonists discover a hidden Nazi base on the Moon after the end of World War II.
- Space Cadet: "Misfit", which takes inspiration from the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps.
- Space Madness: The main character of "Ordeal in Space" develops severe acrophobia after an EVA accident sends him adrift in space until rescue arrives, forcing him to give up space flight. He snaps out of it when he nerves himself up to rescue a kitten stuck on a ledge.
- Stupid Jetpack Hitler: Heinlein brought this trope into its modern form by creating Nazis with atomic spaceships on the Moon in Rocket Ship Galileo, written only a couple of years after WWII ended. For the readers of the time, the Nazis were probably the least fantastic part. Men on the Moon indeed!
- Tempting Fate: In "Lost Legacy",Brother Artemis, "God's Angry Man", faced the television pick-up. "And if these things be not true," he thundered, "then may the Lord strike me down dead!"
The coroner's verdict of heart failure did not fully account for the charred condition of his remains.
- Terminally Dependent Society: In "The Roads Must Roll", America has replaced all their roads with massive moving walkways, which have to be maintained by teams of engineers and mechanics for the country's economy to function. Then one of the engineers attempts to use his control over the roads to effect a coup.
- Thrown Out the Airlock: In Rocket Ship Galileo, one of the heroes threatens to do this to a Nazi prisoner to get him to talk. He has to partially carry it out before the Nazi cracks.
- Title: Requiem: The short story "Requiem" is about D.D. Harriman's attempt to fulfill his dream of landing on the Moon. He succeeds, but dies soon after landing.
- Tomato Surprise: "Columbus Was A Dope". Some men are in a bar, discussing the launch of a new space ship. One of the men declares that it's ridiculous for men to go out exploring when everything is fine just the way it is. It's revealed in the very last sentence of the story that the whole thing has been taking place on a bar on the Moon.
- Venus Is Wet: Venus is depicted as a swamp planet in the short stories "Logic of Empire" and "Tenderfoot on Venus", and in the novels "Between Planets" and "Space Cadet".
- Viewers Are Geniuses: Heinlein never dumbed down his juvenile sci-fi novels, as he wanted to encourage his readers to become interested in science.
- Watch the World Die: "Year of the Jackpot" is about a man who studies trends and realizes that the world is about to go to Hell in a hand basket. He and a young lady decide to live off the grid, as far away from civilization as possible, to avoid the madness and wait while everyone goes to pieces. His plan fails, as the story ends with the sun dying.
- Weight Woe: Maureen, called "Puddin'", in the short story "Cliff and the Calories". She thinks her boyfriend would like her better if she were thinner, so she tries desperately to lose weight.
- Your Soul Is Mine: In "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathon Hoag", the Sons of the Bird drain out the soul of one of the protagonists and place it in a bottle, leaving her in a coma.