Since Heinlein’s death — actually, well before he died but the situation became more acute post-mortem — the genre has been trying to find the writer who will replace the Grand Master. Various names have been bandied about. Spider Robinson has long been a contender and was tapped to finish, Variable Star, a partial manuscript Heinlein left behind. Charlie Stross’s Saturn’s Children was an homage/pastiche/tribute of Heinlein’s Friday. John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War books get dropped in the Heinlein hopper as well, if only because they capture RAH’s clear prose and smart heroes.
Admittedly, it’s a silly task, this trying to find someone who will give readers the same experience as one of the field’s icons. Writing in another person’s style is akin to wearing another person’s underpants. It’s unsettling and uncomfortable on a number of levels.*
But if I had to anoint one current writer as the one who captures that feeling I get when I read Heinlein, I would drip the oil on John Varley‘s forehead.
I have read Steel Beach more times than I can count, frankly, and love it more each time. Ditto The Golden Globe. My abiding affection for these books comes not from their Heinlein-ness but from their Varley-ness, whose work has a singular voice that hits all of the best notes of Heinlein’s work while investing it with a greater sense of human failings and modern panache.
This carries into Varley’s last three titles — the Red Thunder, Red Lightening, Rolling Thunder series — that are clear hat-tips to Heinlein’s juveniles without ever attempting to imitate them. Varley knows that a wide number of his readers will get all of the Heinlein references** but doesn’t let them stand in the way of spinning his adventure stories that rely both on the moxie of his young heroes and on the reader’s knowledge of the last 30 years.
So while I wait for Varley to publish his next book, whose work do you think captures the Heinlein voice and ethos while still maintaining their own voice and ethos? And do you think it is fair to label any given writer “the next Heinlein?”
* Some of those titles succeed because the writers in question never tried to bend their voice into a strange shape. And some of those titles, imo, fail because the writers tried too hard to make it work.
** Two of my favorites are from Rolling Thunder:
1) “Somebody once said that teenagers should be raised in a barrel and fed through the bunghole, then decanted when they’re twenty. I should know; I admit it, I was a prime candidate for encooperage…until recently.”
2) SPOILERISH: “I’m going to miss my home, the Red Planet. But now I’m between planets. Now it’s time for the stars.”