Monday, January 27, 2014

Heinlein Concluded


I'll have to confess that the only time I ever encountered Robert A. Heinlein -- I stood in line to get his autograph for a friend -- I wasn't greatly impressed.  Oh, I acknowledged his importance to science fiction and the virtue of most of his books.  But he held himself like a man who was posing for his own statue.  And his guest of honor speech at MidAmeriCon (the 1976 World Science Fiction Convention) was rambling, seemingly made up on the spot from whatever thoughts chanced to enter his head, and climaxed with the observation that "We will always have wars," presented as being something we should all be grateful for.

Not an easy guy to like.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I read the first volume of William H. Patterson Jr.'s biography of the man and found myself favorably revising my opinion of Heinlein.  He seems to have deliberately pruned the documentation of his life to make himself out to be the kind of cardboard hero that was presented for emulation in biographies aimed at boys, back when he was young.  But wherever a glimpse survived of the real man, he was a much more attractive fellow.  He was generous to friends.  He put up with the young Ray Bradbury (who was apparently a very disruptive presence) because he thought the lad had potential.  Most endearingly, early in his career he let down his guard and wrote to a friend demanding to know why John W. Campbell wouldn't simply tell him what sort of story he wanted, so Heinlein could simply write it for him.

Most new writers have been there.  We can all feel his pain.

In yesterday's mail I received an Advanced Reading Copy of Robert A. Heinlein In Dialogue With His Century: Volume 2, 1948-1988: The Man Who Learned Better.  There was a rumor circulating among often-reliable people that the biography had ballooned to three volumes, so it's a relief to discover that this is the concluding volume.  Writers, musicians, and other artists are most interesting when they're struggling to find their voices and make their names.  Success is, to use the technical term, far less "plotty."  So I'm glad the chronicles of Heinlein's success can be contained in a single book.

Volume 2 opens with Heinlein's early struggles almost at an end.  He's selling to the Saturday Evening Post, his work is in high demand, and he's knee-deep in the creation of George Pal's science fiction movie Destination Moon.  All he needs is for a few of the checks to actually arrive and the hardscrabble phase of his career will be over.

That's as far as I've gotten, but it's really all you need to know.  Either you're going to buy this book or you're not.  You know in which camp you lie.

Robert A. Heinlein In Dialogue With His Century: Volume 2, 1948-1988: The Man Who Learned Better (which has to be in the running for longest title of the year) will be published in June by Tor Books


skyknyt said...

One of my earlier memories of my father reading to me, it was Methuselah's Children with me seated on his lap, trying to keep up with him on the page. It's odd to me now that a man so opposed to Rand's politics spent so much of my childhood reading Heinlein aloud to me. It's one of those questions I wish he was still around to answer.

kittent said...

I can't wait. Thank you for letting me know that it's closer to being available. I can't wait.

Sandy said...

Ah, Michael, you shouldn't have revealed that you have an advanced copy because now people will be lining up in front of your house to borrow it! Now, hopefully, readers will get a detailed story of the breakup with Campbell and other pivotal events in RAH's career. I feel cheated that PBS doesn't do classy miniseries on influential American authors like Twain, Hemingway, Lovecraft, and Heinlein (to name a few) the way
BBC would.

Gregory said...

I'm most of way through & it holds up, indeed. I knew RAH for 20 years and he is hard to capture because he was so complex. But always direct, going for the clear path to show character and idea in his own hard light.

Gregory Benford

Jim Harris said...

Volume 2 explains the incoherent speech at MidAmeriCon - major medical problems. I finished the book yesterday and reviewed it at my blog. I'm now going around reading other reviews. Hope you post more when you finish. Overall I learned a lot about Heinlein I didn't know, but the book didn't explain how Heinlein created so much sense of wonder.

Michael Swanwick said...

Of course it couldn't. Hearing and dislikinf the speech, I nevertheless have to concede that he didn'tt SOUND like a man with medical problems. Just one who wasn't willing to suck up to his audience.