Robert A. Heinlein, the dean of American SF writers, also wrote fantasy fiction throughout his long career, but especially in the early 1940s. The Golden Age of SF was also a time of revolution in fantasy fiction, and Heinlein was at the forefront. His fantasies were convincingly set in the real world, particularly those published in the famous magazine Unknown Worlds, including such stories as “Magic, Inc.,” “‘They–,'” and “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.” Now all of Heinlein’s best fantasy short stories, most of them long novellas, have been collected in one big volume for the first time.
Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) was one of the most influential SF writers of any era (four of his 31 novels won Hugos, and he was the first to receive the Science Fiction Writers of America Grand Master Award). The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein gives newer SF readers and fans a less-known side of his work and opportunity to savor crisp sentences filled with telling detail, sardonic observations of character, and engrossing tales.
The stories, originally published in the 1940s and ’50s, showcase Heinlein’s science-fictional approach to fantasy. Though magic works and the supernatural underlies ordinary life, the reader is always firmly anchored in a lawful reality. The setting is the USA, sometimes in the mid-20th century, sometimes in a near future, always featuring very American characters. It’s just that the salesman sells elephants and encounters fictional characters and ghosts (“The Man Who Traveled in Elephants”), the reporter covers a sentient whirlwind that collects old newspaper (“Our Fair City”), and the bartender is a time-traveling recruiter (“All You Zombies”). The ambitious, young California architect builds a house where doors and windows open on many places–but not to the outside he came in from (“And He Built a Crooked House”). And the paranoid patient’s reality is saner than you think (“They”). The three novellas: “Magic, Inc.,” “Waldo,” and “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” are vintage Heinlein; the last is a Lovecraftian tale of an amnesiac who hires PIs to find out what he does all day–what they uncover isn’t illegal but is supernaturally evil, and Hoag is neither perpetrator nor victim.
These stories feel a bit old-fashioned, but no one ignited the sense of wonder in readers better than Heinlein. This collection offers a golden opportunity to sample a master at his best. –Nona Vero
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