Heinlein in Dimension by Alexei Panshin: a review

Best thought of as a reader’s companion.

Heinlein in Dimension is a surprisingly controversial book, for reasons which haven’t got a lot to do with its (de)merits. It was already controversial before it was completely written, and consequently had a very odd publication history. Over four decades later, neither Panshin nor his critics have been able to come to terms with this book’s reputation, and that reputation, unfortunately, has come to dominate far too much of the ongoing discussion of Heinlein’s merits and Heinlein’s legacy.

While Heinlein in Dimension is neither perfect nor definitive, it’s a decent, though often misguided, analysis of Heinlein’s work through 1967. Some of the commentary is painful to read, and parts are just plain wrong, but the context is an author pioneering in difficult terrain. On the one hand, Panshin shows some improbable blind spots, which severely damage the book; on the other, he makes some valuable observations about Heinlein’s themes and methods.

The book is neither as good as many think nor as terrible as others claim. And it’s really quite necessary to reject some folks’ claim that Panshin has polluted the waters for his successors, as Heinlein was already both intensely private and prone to misleading statements about his life. All these years later, we really ought to move the discussion to another place.

In sum, this was an adequate first critical venture. Worth a read, but you’ll certainly find things you disagree with.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

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