Robert Heinlein and my wife

I was originally intending to write a post about what my family and I have been reading lately. But I’ve ended up focusing specifically on what my wife, Kerri, has been reading. Why? Because she’s been reading books by an author significant to my reading past.

It all started when she asked me to recommend some books. (She’s a much faster reader than I, and is always running out of reading material.) So I thought it was high time to introduce her to the books of Robert Heinlein, the acknowledged “dean of science fiction writers” (well, so says Wikipedia… so, of course it must be true).

Robert Anson Heinlein (1907 –1988) was the American writer of numerous best-selling science fiction novels. Four of his books won the Hugo Award and he was the first recipient of the Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement, given by the Science Fiction Writers of America.

I was in Year 7 when I discovered Heinlein. Well, actually, it was my school librarian who placed a copy of Citizen of the Galaxy in my hands, assuring me that I’d like it. She was right… I LOVED it! And that year, I proceeded to read all the Heinleins in my school library… which was only about four or five. Over the years I went on to read many of his books, until one fateful day… but I’ll get to that later. For now, let’s get back to Kerri.

I would have liked her to start with Heinlein’s juvenile novels — something like Time for the Stars or Citizen of the Galaxy (my two favourites) — but she said she wanted a grown-up book. I sighed, for I never thought Heinlein’s grown-up stuff anywhere near as good as his books for younger readers. I scoured the bookshelves in our library (Yes, we have a little library in our home. As we are a family of book lovers, it seemed like a logical idea, when we built our new house, to include a library.) for Heinleins. Alas there were only three grown-up books — Job, Glory Road and Waldo + Magic Inc. It was then that I remembered that I had actually given her Job to read many years ago, and I seem to remember that she thought it was okay but not good enough to get her to read more of his stuff. So I gave her Waldo + Magic Inc, as this was the one I enjoyed most out of these three.

Waldo + Magic Inc is actually two novellas in one book. Kerri enjoyed Waldo, despite it being “a little too heavy on the science stuff”, and also enjoyed Magic Inc, despite it being “heavy on politics in one overly-long section”. After she finished the book, she asked if I had any more Heinlein.

And so it was with much trepidation that I handed over Glory Road. This was the book that put me off reading Heinlein. Long, meandering and silly is how I remember it. It was a fateful day when I first picked up that book… because I’ve never read a Heinlein since. A similar thing happened to me with Stephen King after I read his dreadfully long and boring sci-fi horror, The Tommyknockers… but that’s another story. Back to Heinlein.

“It’s not a great book,” I warned. “Are you sure you want to read it? Wouldn’t you prefer one of his teen books? They’re much better!” No, she wanted Glory Road. She was about half way through the book, when we had friends over for dinner. She launched into a diatribe about this stupid book that I had told her to read. When revealed as Glory Road, the dinner guests all rolled their eyes and said, “if you want good Heinlein, go read The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress”. Alas, it is not on our bookshelves. I’ve never read this book (as I said, I’d been put off reading Heinlein by Glory Road). But now I’m thinking it might be time to dip back into the past and dig out a copy of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and perhaps some of his other books I never got around to reading.

By the way, Kerri still hasn’t finished reading Glory Road. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to get her to reader another of his books?

Anyone out there read any of Heinlein’s books? Glory Road perhaps? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

And tune in next time to find out about a Melbourne-based literary app for your iPhone (assuming you have one, that is… and even if you don’t, tune in anyway… it will be interesting… I promise).

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… 112 followers and rising!

The first sentence

A writer needs to get the attention of his/her readers as soon as possible — to make them want to read further, to make them not put the book back onto the bookshop shelf in favour of another book. There are many ways to do this and it can take anywhere from a single word to an entire chapter. But what I want to write about today is that all-important first sentence.

A book’s first sentence can be long or short, descriptive or elusive, intriguing or demanding, full of purple prose or stated matter-of-factly — but its purpose is to begin the story and hook the reader. Some writers do this better than others.

Today, I simply want to share with you some of my favourite opening sentences — some with comments, other without. These are not necessarily my favourite books, these are just sentences that I found had grabbed my attention and made me remember them. I am presenting them in splendid isolation from the remainder of the text to which they belong. Have a read and see if you can guess from which books I have extracted them — I’ve listed the books at the end of the post.

1. I’m going to start with my all-time favourite — a truly memorable and intriguing sentence that sets up reader expectations. It’s a very recognisable sentence and also a rather long one — far longer than is fashionable to write in this day and age.

“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.”

2. Another absolute classic:

“The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

3. A little gruesome, but memorable.

“Physicist Leonardo Vetra smelled burning flesh, and he knew it was his own.”

4. “I heard a story once about a little kid who came home from school and found his mother dead on the kitchen floor.”

5. “I keep thinking that I have a tunnel in my chest.”

6. What I love about this sentence is the way ‘dæmon’ is written with such everyday matter-of-factsness.

“Lyra and her dæmon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.”

7. “I know a place where there is no smog and no parking problem and no population explosion . . . no Cold War and no H-bombs and no television commercials . . . no Summit Conferences, no Foreign Aid, no hidden taxes—no income tax.”

8. “When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.”

9. Okay, okay — this is one sentence plus one extra word. But that one extra word makes all the difference.

“It wasn’t even five o’clock and Milo had already murdered Mrs Appleby. Twice.”

10. “Aubrey Fitzwilliam hated being dead.”

11. “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”

12. “All children, except one, grow up.”

13. “Later, while I was facing the Potter Moth, or fleeing for my life from the First Ones, or helping man a cannon aboard Jack Havock’s brig Sophronia, I would often think back to the way my life used to be, and to that last afternoon at Larklight, before all our misfortunes began.”

14. “Through the ruin of a city stalked the ruin of a man.”

15. “Something eerie came over European civilization in the early twentieth century and led to a madness which was called ‘the Great War’.”

So there you have it — some of my favourite opening sentences. They probably say more about me than the books they come from. There are probably other ones out there that I may like better… but either I haven’t read them yet, or I read them so long ago that I can’t remember them, or I was simply unable to get my hands onto a copy of the relevant book to check the quote.

But what about all you people out there in the blogosphere? What are your favs? Leave and comment and share an opening sentence.

And tune in next time for some random quotes.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Here are the books:

1. The War of the Worlds by HG Wells, 1898.

2. Neuromancer, William Gibson, 1984.

3. Angels and Demons, Dan Brown, 2000.

4. The Inner Circle, Gary Crew, 1986.

5. After the First Death, Robert Cormier, 1979.

6. Northern Lights, Philip Pullman, 1995.

7. Glory Road, Robert Heinlein, 1963.

8. Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz, 2000.

9. The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler, Paul Collins, 2009.

10. Blaze of Glory, Michael Pryor, 2006.

11. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Dauglas Adams, 1979.

12. Peter Pan, JM Barrie, 1911.

13. Larklight, Philip Reeve, 2006.

14. Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth, Terrance Dicks, 1977.

15. The First A.I.F.: A Study of its Recruitment 1914-1918, LL Robson, 1970.