Robert A. Heinlein’s 1980’s Expanded Universe: The New Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein is a greatly expanded edition of 1966’s The Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein.
New Heinlein collections were not exactly common in 1980. News of an impending collection, which would include post-1966 published material and never-before-published material new to this volume, was a big deal to Heinlein fans forty-two years ago. Publisher Jim Baen of Ace did his best to make sure fans knew what was coming.
I was one of those fans.
Did the collection live up to the hype? Well … it was better than Number of the Beast.
It can be hard to avoid overlap between collections. Expanded Universe did not manage that; it contains a few stories like “Life-line” and “Blowups Happen” that were also available in Heinlein’s earlier tome, The Past Through Tomorrow. Ah, well. The overlap is not a large fraction of the total.
One suspects that there was a reason why many of the stories had never been reprinted prior to Expanded Universe. “They Do It with Mirrors” is an inoffensive but utterly unremarkable mystery that suggests Heinlein was wise not to try jumping genres. It is at least better than his stab at fiction for girls, “Cliff and the Calories.” “Cliff” is abjectly awful; about the only thing that could be worse would be a Heinlein novel about a girl traveling from Mars to Earth via Venus in company of her sociopath brother and her uncle.
It could be argued, however, that the heart of the tome is the essays, which range across a wide variety of subjects. The appeal of these will depend greatly on the degree to which one wants to be lectured at length by an increasingly querulous author utterly confident that he is as right about his assessment of Russian demographics as he is that ESP is completely factual. Note that I also am confident that Heinlein was just as right on one as the other but perhaps not in the same sense.
This was perhaps the last Heinlein work I approached enthusiastically rather than with studied caution. Non-fan readers without an interest in Heinlein may not find much of worth here, while readers interested in Heinlein for the first time may want to seek out The Past Through Tomorrow instead. Actual Heinlein fans will find his commentary on his own stories of interest.
There is, however, one absolute classic in the collection, a Heinlein worth seeking out on its own. That is 1941’s “Solution Unsatisfactory,” which (four years before Hiroshima) observed that the real secret to WMDs is that they can be created at all. It correctly predicted that a world in which many nations have WMDs would be a very dangerous one. The story ends with a solution but … well, read the title.
I am a bit surprised to discover that the one-volume edition of Expanded Universe is out of print, although it saved me the effort of pointedly overlooking the Baen edition, which I will ignore except to observe it had the requisite fugly Baen cover. Phoenix Pick offers a two-volume version.
Foreword (Expanded Universe) • (1980) • essay
A comparatively short introduction by Heinlein that makes up for brevity with braggadocio.
“Life-Line” • [Future History] • (1939) • short story
The invention of an infallible lifespan predictor yields tragic results.
“Successful Operation” • (1940) • short story
A surgical operation on a dictator produces unexpected results.
Blowups Happen • [Future History] • (1940) • novelette
Atomic power demands zero tolerance for human error, which in turn creates stress that contributes to human error.
Solution Unsatisfactory • (1941) • novelette
The development of weapons of mass destruction demands a global response lest humanity destroy itself. The solution that emerges is highly imperfect.
The Last Days of the United States • (1980) • essay
How to survive the Atomic Age on a national level! Although published in 1980, this is piece is part of a project to open American eyes to the challenges of the Atomic Age. Spoiler: he failed.
How to Be a Survivor • (1980) • essay
How to survive the Atomic Age on a personal level. Sure, this sounds like an interesting topic. Too bad that it eventually leads to Farnham’s Freehold.
Pie from the Sky • (1980) • essay
The upside of Atomic Doom.
“They Do It with Mirrors” • non-genre • (1947) • short story
A locked room mystery involving a stripper and a two-way mirror.
Free Men • (1966) • novelette
An incident in the struggle for liberty in atom-bombed and occupied America.
Whoever smashed America in this also put the boot to England and Russia, so England and Russia probably weren’t the culprits. Who has uranium and industry? Well, Canada and Belgium.
“No Bands Playing, No Flags Flying” — • non-genre • (1973) • short story
A brave patient leads by example.
“A Bathroom of Her Own” • non-genre • (1980) • short story
Experienced political agents struggle to save an idealistic girl politician from the cynical political machine that secretly controls her.
“On the Slopes of Vesuvius” • (1980) • short story
On hearing the facts about atomic bombs, an easily panicked man flees New York (and abandons his cat) … just in time.
Nothing Ever Happens on the Moon • juvenile • (1949) • novelette
An Earthborn greenhorn moon scout and his chum have to think their way out of a deadly natural trap on the Moon.
Pandora’s Box • (1966) • essay
RAH sets out to predict the future, knowing full well the odds against success.
Where To? • (1952) • essay
Heinlein predicts the future. Originally written in the 1950s, Heinlein produces updates for each new edition of this essay (1965 and 1980).
This is the usual hit and miss (featuring an old guy getting cranky that the world failed to meet his very reasonable expectations). Points for noticing the demographic transition.
Heinlein dwells at length on how accessible the Solar System could be, given only a ship capable of a sustained one gravity acceleration, without ever acknowledging the profound challenges involved in building such a drive. It’s an interesting discussion completely irrelevant to any circumstances we could expect to find ourselves in in the foreseeable future.
“Cliff and the Calories” • non-genre • [Puddin’] • (1950) • short story
A teenage girl with body issues struggles with her weight without even thinking to ask her boyfriend what weight he would prefer her to be.
Ray Guns and Rocket Ships • (1952) • essay
In defense of SF! Essay contains the term “speculative fiction,” which I think RAH may have coined.
The Third Millennium Opens • (1956) • essay
More prognostications. Heinlein is absolutely certain ESP is a thing that is real.
Who Are the Heirs of Patrick Henry? • (1958) • essay
Heinlein fulminates against what he deems ill-considered arms control treaties. This long after the Cold War, it’s hard to believe there was a time when right-wing Americans intensely distrusted the Russians.
“Pravda” Means “Truth” • (1960) • essay
RAH’s thoughts on Russia, having had the unfortunate experience of visiting the Soviet Union just as the U2 (not the band) crisis was kicking off.
Inside Intourist • (1960) • essay
A guide to touring Russia, which boils down to “behave like a stereotypical American tourist.” I wonder how many less well-connected SF fans tried this and ended up in a Soviet landfill?
“Searchlight” • [Future History] • (1962) • short story
The search for a girl lost on the Moon succeeds thanks to innovative use of stock technology.
The Pragmatics of Patriotism • (1973) • essay
Why patriotism is good.
Paul Dirac, Antimatter, and You • (1975) • essay
An essay on Dirac, the most interesting aspect of which is the sudden appearance in the essay of Thomas C. Van Flandern, whom Heinlein praises lavishly.
Larger Than Life: A Memoir in Tribute to Dr. Edward E. Smith • (1980) • essay
A tribute to Smith.
Spinoff • (1980) • essay
Heinlein firmly asserts the technological benefits from NASA’s efforts greatly outweigh its costs.
The Happy Days Ahead • (1980) • essay
A thinly disguised Nichelle Nichols becomes American president and easily fixes everything just the way Heinlein would fix it.