Starting in 1950, Heinlein’s short stories were collected into several regular-sized collections as his career progressed. Then in 1967, he published his first super-collection, The Past Through Tomorrow. That single volume assembled nearly all of his Future History stories into one big book. It’s been reprinted a number of times, sometimes as a two-volume paperback. They are all out of print at the moment, and the various hardback and SFBC editions can sometimes be rather expensive to buy used. However, until someone publishes a well-considered Best of Robert A. Heinlein collection, The Past Through Tomorrow is the best single-volume collection of his short stories.
One of the most interesting of The Past Through Tomorrow reprints was from Gateway/Orion because it included the stories “Let There Be Light,” “Universe,” and “Common Sense,” three titles in the Future History series left out of the original hardback. There was even an ebook edition from that publisher, so you were lucky if you snagged it when it was in print. Not only does it seem to be the only complete version of the Future History stories according to ISFDB, but the stories are ordered by how they were set in Heinlein’s imaginary future. I’d love a great audiobook edition of this super-collection.
However, this still out leaves many of Heinlein’s most famous stories. Heinlein’s next super-collection came out in 1980, Expanded Universe: The New Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein. I don’t recommend readers new to Heinlein buying this volume. It’s mostly rarely reprinted stories along with some obscure essays and trunk stories. Perfect for the hardcore Heinlein fan, but it will probably be disappointing to average readers. Nor do I recommend new readers buy Requiem: New Collected Works by Robert A. Heinlein and Tributes to the Grand Master which came out in 1992, four years after Heinlein died. It does have some nice rare selections for the devoted Heinlein fan, but nothing that would impress a reader new to Heinlein. It does contain tributes by writers who loved Heinlein.
The next super-collection that contains good to great stories is The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein, which came out in 1999. Again, out of print, but it contains some of Heinlein’s best stories and is the perfect supplement to The Past Through Tomorrow.
The last super-collection is Off the Main Sequence: The Other Science Fiction Stories of Robert A. Heinlein. It was from the Science Fiction Book Club in 2005. The goal of the collection was to collect stories left out of The Past Through Tomorrow and other odds and ends that haven’t been well collected or anthologized. Again, I don’t recommend this volume for new Heinlein readers.
If you like what you read in The Past Through Tomorrow and The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein then I’d recommend tracking down a used copy of Off the Main Sequence. However, it might be easier to buy Heinlein’s original collection Assignment in Eternity that’s still in print to get “Jerry Was a Man,” which is a good story, “Gulf” which is an infamous story that I particularly dislike, and two rather bizarre stories “Elsewhen,” and “Lost Legacy.” But we’re treading into hardcore fan territory here.
Heinlein’s original collections seem to stay in print, in one form or another, and if you buy all of them, along with Methuselah’s Children you can mostly reassemble The Past Through Tomorrow. Here are their original covers:
James Wallace Harris, 10/23/22
6 thoughts on “Heinlein’s Super-Collections”
Many thanks for this overview, Jim, cover images (which I always enjoy) and all! One of the things I like about The Past Through Tomorrow is the introduction by Damon Knight. (At the beginning he has a brief alternate-history vision of what Heinlein would have done had he not become a writer.)
Carl, I just went and reread that introduction by Damon Knight. I was impressed by how much Knight knew about Heinlein at the time. I wonder if it was from personal knowledge or if was it already published elsewhere. I’m guessing a lot of what Knight said was newly revealed in 1967. I remember reading that intro now too because back in 1967 I wanted to know more about Heinlein. I was also impressed by how much Knight said in so few pages.
For those of us who just wish to sample Heinlen’s writing, rather than craving paper copies,most of these are in The Open Library.Along with many critiques😉
I take it you mean https://openlibrary.org/ ? I wasn’t familiar with that site.
Yes.It’s wonderful..I lose myself for hours following all the byways.If something isn’t there it just MIGHT be on Internet Archive which also has magazines,soundbites films!