Monday, April 28, 2014

Ossa Della Terra


It must be Italy week!  In the mail today are my copies of Ossa della Terra -- in English, Bones of the Earth.

I spent roughly a year researching that novel, interviewing scientists, going to conferences, traveling to view specific fossils.  By the end of that year, I could sit on any conversation between paleontologists and understand every word they had to say.  I couldn't contribute to that conversation, mined you. But I could follow it.

More than that, whenever I finished a chapter I ran it past Bob Walters, the dinosaur reconstruction artist, and some time later he would return it to me with an insultingly thick list of corrections.  I would incorporate them into the chapter and then run it past Ralph Chapman, then at the Smithsonian.  Who would return an equally thick list of corrections to be made.

At the time of publication, Bones of the Earth was as accurate as any dinosaur novel ever written.

That happy state lasted for most of a year before subsequent discoveries began invalidating parts of the novel.

But, my God, what a lot of fun that book was to research.

And sad news . . .

I learned recently that William H. Patterson, Jr., died this April 22.  Patterson wrote the authorized biography of Robert H. Heinlein, published in two parts as Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century, Vol. 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve (2011), and Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century, Vol. 2: The Man Who Learned Better, which is forthcoming.

I did not know Patterson very well -- a few pleasant conversations, and that's pretty much it.  But I did get to watch from the sidelines, a little, as his massive (and massively titled) magnum opus was created.  The fight over what was to be included and what was not was prolonged and many-sided, and I can't pretend to be well informed enough about it to give you a recap.  Suffice it to say, the biography was a lot of work.  Some of it caused by Heinlein himself, who put a great deal of effort into pruning his paper paper trail, in order to hide parts of his past which I rather suspect would only have made us like him the more.

But while he did not live to see the second volume published, Patterson did get to clutch the first and to see it nominated for a Hugo Award.  He was a great admirer of RAH, and I know it meant a lot to him to finish the project and to see it acclaimed.

You can read the Locus Online notice here.



Sandy said...

I'm shocked to hear of the death of Mr. Patterson so soon after the end of his work on Volume II of the Heinlein biography and so young, too!It suggests to me that he may have been quite ill as he labored to finish his huge task. I hope that did not color his interpretation of Heinlein's later life and works excessively. But that's for critics to battle over, I suppose.As one who has been stuck on a long non-fiction editing project in the past while in a period of ill health, I sympathize with him -- and his family, if any. It must be torture to watch a loved one drag themselves to their desk and push themselves to finish a big project they must complete.

Michael Swanwick said...

I spoke with him at the Worldcon last year and he appeared dapper and chipper and not at all in ill health. Some of which must have been assumed, because he lost part of a foot to diabetes shortly thereafter. But he seemed happy and in good sorts. Of course, his book was on the Hugo ballot, and he'd just finished volume 2, so he had that tremendous chore behind him...

Sandy said...

Thanks, Michael, that makes me feel a bit better. As someone without major publishing experience, I had the wrong idea of just when Patterson would have completely wound up his work on proofing the Volume II page proofs and other post-production odds and ends. Still, it makes me sad to think he won't be reading the reviews...