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October Community Webcast – Wednesday October 15
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Robert A Heinlein: Revisiting a Childhood Favorite
Karl-Henry Martinsson    

rah_havespacDuring the last couple of weeks I have revisited some of the sci-fi classics I read when I was young. Robert A Heinlein was always one of my favorites. In what would be considered middle school in the US (4th-6th grade) we had one hour each week when the class was reading whatever book we had picked out in the library. At one time, I think it was in 5th grade, I read the Swedish translation of "Have Space Suit -- Will Travel". The other week I listened to this book as an audio book. This one was actually more of a radio theatre play, with different actors playing the different parts. I then followed this by listening to "Citizen of the Galaxy" and "Double Star".

The books were written in 1956, 1957 and 1958, and I noticed something interesting. Despite them taking place in the future, where space travel (even faster than light) is possible, and with all kinds of exotic technology available, many things we take for granted today are lacking.

In "Double Star", the main character is studying using an encyclopedia in the ships library. As we know today, online encyclopedias like wikipedia and internet searches have all but killed off the traditional printed encyclopedia. There is no way for a printed publication to stay current. If a celebrity or any other person dies, within minutes their wikipedia page will be updated with date/time and cause of death.

In "Citizen of the Galaxy" the missile control computers onboard the trade ships are manned by young adults with good math abilities. They seem to be somewhat aided by a rudimentary computer, but it is mainly the operator who calculate trajectory and time for release of the missiles. The result is recorded on a spool (which can be read by humans, so probably some kind of paper-like material). The concept of digital storage did not exist, and I am sure any PC (or even smart phone) today could perform the calculations needed much faster than any human, and with greater accuracy.

Some of the books also talk about huge archives, using micro film. Even if that still today is a great medium for long term storage, it is not the best choice for the kind of short term archiving used in the books. Again, the concept of digital storage does not appear in the books. The books basically build on the technology known in the 1950's, but "enhanced" as imagined in the future.

However, there is on interesting thing in "Double Star". When recordings are made (for public broadcasts), they are "stereoscopic", i.e. 3D. It is not until the last year or two we have actually seen 3D television become common. Personally I believe that we soon will see 3D television sets where we don't need to use special glasses (several manufacturers already have those) and that more and more tv shows and even news will be in 3D.

All this is not a slam on Robert A Heinlein or any other sci-fi writer from the past. It just illustrates how hard it is to predict a paradigm shift like PCs or the development of technology. For being almost 60 years old, the books are still very enjoyable. If you have not experienced Robert A Heinlein yet, pick up one of his books or an audiobook at the library, bookstore or favorite online retailer.



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http://www.bleedyellow.com/blogs/texasswede/entry/robert_a_heinlein_revisiting_a_childhood_favorite
Feb 18, 2012
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