The Past Through Tomorrow (Berkley Medallion, January 1975). Cover uncredited
I’ve never been a big Heinlein fan. Not my fault. I enjoyed Starship Troopers well enough, but the next two novels I tried — The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and especially Friday — I bounced off pretty hard. I never tried again.
It didn’t help that I made most of my discoveries through short fiction in those days, and Heinlein almost never showed up in anthologies. Sometimes editors would apologize for omitting him, admitting (with some frustration) that they just couldn’t get the rights to the Heinlein tales they wanted. The problem was that by the mid-70s Heinlein was a star, the top-selling author in the field, and his entire short fiction catalog was locked up in his own bestselling collections.
I read collections, of course. Lots of them. But the seminal Heinlein collection, the one containing virtually all of his really important short work — including classics like “The Roads Must Roll,” “Blowups Happen,” “The Man Who Sold the Moon,” “Gentlemen, Be Seated,” “The Green Hills of Earth,” “Logic of Empire,” “The Menace from Earth,” “If This Goes On —”, and the short novel Methuselah’s Children — was the massive The Past Through Tomorrow. And that 830-page beast was just a bridge too far for a traumatized veteran of the first 100 pages of Friday.
[Click the images for Heinlein-sized versions.]
The result is, of course, that when I talk about really important 20th Century SF writers — which is kinda my thing? — I never mention Heinlein. Nope, nope.
But there’s been enough distance with my early failures with Heinlein now, not to mention a growing awareness of a big hole in my SF education. And I find myself increasingly curious about what I missed out on by not reading Heinlein in my youth. Besides a bunch of right-wing libertarian politics, obviously.
I picked up The Past Through Tomorrow recently, and I was impressed all over again at just how many true SF classics are packed within its pages. I can almost forgive its length, given that it contains 21 stories, three novellas (“The Man Who Sold the Moon,” “Logic of Empire,” and “Coventry”) and a complete novel, Methuselah’s Children. The stories within were published across four decades, from 1939 to 1962, first in John W. Campbell’s Astounding and later in places like Argosy, Blue Book, The Saturday Evening Post, and Scientific American.
Here’s the complete Table of Contents.
Introduction by Damon Knight
“Life-Line” (Astounding Science-Fiction, August 1939)
“The Roads Must Roll” (Astounding Science-Fiction, June 1940)
“Blowups Happen” (Astounding Science-Fiction, September 1940)
“The Man Who Sold the Moon” (The Man Who Sold the Moon, 1950)
“Delilah and the Space-Rigger” (The Blue Book Magazine, December 1949)
“Space Jockey” (The Saturday Evening Post, April 26, 1947)
“Requiem” (Astounding Science-Fiction, January 1940)
“The Long Watch” (The American Legion Magazine, December 1949)
“Gentlemen, Be Seated” (Argosy Magazine, May 1948)
“The Black Pits of Luna” (The Saturday Evening Post, January 10, 1948)
“It’s Great to Be Back!” (The Saturday Evening Post, July 26, 1947)
“—We Also Walk Dogs” (Astounding Science-Fiction, July 1941)
“Searchlight” (Scientific American, August 1962)
“Ordeal in Space” (Town & Country, May 1948)
“The Green Hills of Earth” (The Saturday Evening Post, February 8, 1947)
“Logic of Empire” (Astounding Science-Fiction, March 1941)
“The Menace from Earth” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 1957)
“If This Goes On —” (Astounding Science-Fiction, February 1940)
“Coventry” (Astounding Science-Fiction, July 1940)
“Misfit” (Astounding Science-Fiction, November 1939)
Methuselah’s Children (Astounding Science-Fiction, July-August 1941)
Robert A. Heinlein was one of Campbell’s most famous discoveries, and certainly the one that Campbell was most proud of. Alec Nevala-Lee, when discussing his groundbreaking non-fiction book Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, said, “Heinlein was the author Campbell was waiting for,” and I think that’s precisely right. Heinlein’s first published story was “Life-Line” in the August 1939 issue of Astounding; more rapidly followed and within a year Campbell was lauding Heinlein in his editorials as “a major science fiction writer.”
Astounding issues with Robert A Heinlein cover stories: June 1940, March 1941, July 1941. Covers by Hubert Rogers
Robert A. Heinlein didn’t create the Future History (that distinction is usually given to pulp writer Neil R. Jones, whose popular Professor Jameson tales appeared in Amazing Stories in the early 30s), but John W. Campbell coined the phrase in Astounding to refer to the ambitious and wide-ranging vision of the future Heinlein was creating, brick by brick, in his early stories. Nowadays the phrase has become so closely associated with Heinlein that “Future History” defaults to an entry on Heinlein in Wikipedia, one that begins this way:
Future History is a series of stories created by Robert A. Heinlein. It describes a projected future of the human race from the middle of the 20th century through the early 23rd century. The term Future History was coined by John W. Campbell Jr. in the February 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Campbell published an early draft of Heinlein’s chart of the series in the May 1941 issue.
Heinlein wrote most of the Future History stories early in his career, between 1939 and 1941 and between 1945 and 1950. Most of the Future History stories written prior to 1967 are collected in The Past Through Tomorrow, which also contains the final version of the chart. That collection does not include “Universe” and “Common Sense;” they were published separately as Orphans of the Sky.
Groff Conklin called Future History “the greatest of all histories of tomorrow.” It was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best All-Time Series in 1966, along with the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the Lensman series by E. E. Smith, the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, and The Lord of the Rings series by J. R. R. Tolkien, but lost to Asimov’s Foundation series.
Campbell’s chart of Heinlein’s Future History tales has been updated and expanded many times over the decades. Here’s a version that covers most of the stories in The Past Through Tomorrow (click for more legible version).
And here’s the more detailed version that appeared in The Man Who Sold the Moon.
The Past Through Tomorrow was published in hardcover by Putnam in 1967, and reprinted in paperback by Berkley Medallion in 1975. The paperback version is 830 pages, priced at $1.50. The cover artist is uncredited.
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