Future History (Heinlein)

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Universe was a 1941 story from Heinlein's Future History series (shown here in the 1951 Dell edition).

The 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.[1]

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 the Future History "the greatest of all histories of tomorrow".[2] 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.[3]


For the most part, The Past Through Tomorrow defines a core group of stories that are clearly within the Future History series. However, Heinlein scholars generally agree that some stories not included in the anthology belong to the Future History series, and that some that are included are only weakly linked to it.

James Gifford[4] adds Time Enough for Love, which was published after The Past Through Tomorrow, and also "Let There Be Light", which was not included in The Past Through Tomorrow, possibly because the collection editor disliked it or because Heinlein himself considered it to be inferior. However, he considers Time Enough for Love to be a borderline case. He considers The Number of the Beast, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, and To Sail Beyond the Sunset to be too weakly linked to the Future History to be included.

Bill Patterson includes To Sail Beyond the Sunset, on the theory that the discrepancies between it and the rest of the Future History are explained by assigning it to the same "bundle of related timelines" in the "World as Myth" multiverse.[5] However, he lists a number of stories that he believes were never really intended to be part of Future History, even though they were included in The Past Through Tomorrow: "Life-Line" (which was written before Heinlein published the Future History chart; however, Lazarus Long does reference the protagonist of "Life-Line" and his device in Time Enough for Love), "The Menace from Earth", "—We Also Walk Dogs", and the stories originally published in the Saturday Evening Post ("Space Jockey", "It's Great to Be Back!", "The Green Hills of Earth", and "The Black Pits of Luna"). He agrees with Gifford that "Let There Be Light" should be included. The story "—And He Built a Crooked House—" was included only in the pre-war chart and never since.

The Heinlein juveniles do not hew closely to the Future History outline. Gifford states that "Although the twelve juvenile novels are not completely inconsistent with the Future History, neither do they form a thorough match with that series for adult readers. It is not often recognized that they are a reasonably consistent 'Future History' of their own... At least one major story specified in the Future History chart, the revolution on Venus, ended up being told in the framework of the juveniles as Between Planets."[6] The novel Variable Star, written by Spider Robinson from Heinlein's detailed outline, incorporates some elements of both the Future History (such as references to Nehemiah Scudder) and the universe of the Heinlein juveniles (for example, torch ships and faster-than-light telepathic communication between twins). The adult short story "The Long Watch", included in Future History story collections, connects to Space Cadet through the character of (John) Ezra Dahlquist, the central character of the first, memorialized in the second.[7]

Patterson cites "World as Myth" as a way of accounting for the deviation of real history from Heinlein's imagined future as well as inconsistencies between stories, writing, "Heinlein in the World as Myth books redefined the Future History as a timeline (or bundle of related timelines) ... which allows the 'Future History' to be a hard-edged term and yet nevertheless contain inconsistencies (i.e., any inconsistency belongs to a closely-related timeline)."[5]

Stories never written[edit]

The chart published in the collection Revolt in 2100 includes several unwritten stories, which Heinlein describes in a postscript. "Fire Down Below", about a revolution in Antarctica, would have been set in the early 21st century. Three more unwritten stories fill in the history from just before "Logic of Empire" in the early 21st century through the beginning of "If This Goes On—". "The Sound of His Wings" covers Nehemiah Scudder's early life as a television evangelist through his rise to power as the First Prophet. "Eclipse" describes independence movements on Mars and Venus. "The Stone Pillow" details the rise of the resistance movement from the early days of the theocracy through the beginning of "If This Goes On—".

These stories were key points in the Future History, so Heinlein gave a rough description of Nehemiah Scudder which made his reign easy to visualize—a combination of John Calvin, Girolamo Savonarola, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, and Huey Long. His rise to power began when one of his flock, the widow of a wealthy man who would have disapproved of Scudder, died and left him enough money to establish a television station. He then teamed up with an ex-Senator and hired a major advertising agency. He was soon famous even off-world—many bonded laborers on Venus saw him as a messianic figure. He had muscle as well—a re-creation of the Ku Klux Klan in everything but name. "Blood at the polls and blood in the streets, but Scudder won the election. The next election was never held." Though this period was integral to the human diaspora that would follow several hundred years later, Heinlein stated that he was never able to write them because they featured Scudder prominently; he "dislike(d) him too much".

Nehemiah Scudder already appears in Heinlein's earliest novel For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs (written 1938–1939, though first published in 2003). Scudder's early career as depicted in that book is virtually identical with the above—but with the crucial difference that in the earlier version Scudder is stopped at the last moment by the counter-mobilization of Libertarians, and despite mass voter intimidation carries only Tennessee and Alabama. In fact, the Libertarian regime seen in full bloom in that book's 2086 came into being in direct reaction to Scudder's attempt to impose puritanical mores on the entire American society.


  1. ^ "Robert A. Heinlein: The Future History Chart".
  2. ^ Conklin, Groff (April 1951). "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 59–61.
  3. ^ Asimov, Isaac (April 1994). I. Asimov: A Memoir. ISBN 0-553-56997-X.
  4. ^ Gifford, James (2005-03-29). "The RAH FAQ". Retrieved 2006-09-18.; Gifford, Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader's Companion, 2000, pp. 11–16.
  5. ^ a b Patterson, Bill (19 October 2006). "definition of Heinlein's Future History" (newsgroup post). rec.arts.sf.written. Google Groups. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  6. ^ Gifford, Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader's Companion, 2000, p. 24
  7. ^ Gifford, p. 116

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