The Book – Robert A. Heinlein
The Author – William H. Patterson Jr.
The Review –
This is the second of a two-part complete biography of one of the most important, seminal authors (not merely of Science-Fiction) of the 20th Century. BrainRants made me aware of Part 1 last year, and recently, another blogger reminded me that book two was available.
The complete title is, Robert A. Heinlein – In Conversation With His Century. That needs to be remembered when accessing library or bookstore web catalogs. Enter only ‘Robert A. Heinlein,’ and you get, We have 800 listings for Robert Heinlein, which one did you want? I want the one written by Patterson. The sub-title of Volume 1 was ‘Learning Curve.’ The sub-title of this Volume is, ‘The Man Who Learned Better.’ It covers his career from 1948 to 1988.
For someone like me, used to reading novels, with their character development and plot twists, reading this tome was a ….learning curve. Were it not for its subject, it would be as exciting as reading a telephone book. (Remember those?) But this was a man who met and talked to Presidents and Prime Ministers; who awed, and was adored by, astronauts who went into space and walked on the Moon, and scientists who put them there, and a probe on Mars.
I see why those with little intellect, or lives of their own, hang on every video-provided nuance of “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.” The author casts a very fine net, down to what Heinlein had for breakfast on particular days. Scrambled eggs, sausage, coffee and toast on April 17, 1957.
The ‘Rich And Famous Lifestyle’ of a profoundly successful author is not all that we might imagine – or rather, it’s far more than many of us would want. Not only did Heinlein (and many like him) have to keep grinding out grist for the publishing mill, but he had to keep in constant touch with lawyers, editors, publishers and agents.
He had a New York agent, a California agent, and a European agent. There was an agent who failed to promote Heinlein’s work. There was an over-zealous NY agent who invaded the California agent’s territory long-distance. There were editors who revised his works without his permission, or even his knowledge in a couple of cases, completely changing the thrust of a story.
Agents sold rights to stories they were not authorized to do. Publishers printed work they had not paid for. He lost money twice in the movie industry, when projects collapsed. One studio used creative bookkeeping to withhold payments for a successful movie, while another simply pirated his idea, and retitled it. Which brings us back to the lawyers.
Back before the internet, he had to deal with most of this at the speed of ink. When he moved to Colorado, he was on a party-line telephone with six neighbors for over a year. One of his later notes said that he finally had to give up helping fans with theses, term papers, and dissertations.
He corresponded with other authors, giving and receiving commendations and inspiration for story lines. Occasionally, he would pen a promo or review for another writer. While he pumped out a stupendous amount of prose during his working life, it was far overshadowed by the mass of mundane, unpaid writing he had to do.
‘All You Zombies’ is considered one of the greatest short-stories ever written. A time-travelling hermaphrodite becomes his/her own mother, father, and child. It was written as a submission to Playboy Magazine, who turned it down – because of the implied sex??!
As a way to give back to a country he cared very much for, Heinlein did at least two important things. He promoted and supported NASA, and the space program. While many civilians complained about the waste of money, Heinlein knew that every dollar invested in NASA returned $14 to the economy – and that was even before the Silicon Valley bubble, powered by the newly developed micro-processors.
He had had a variety of medical afflictions over the years, and had a very rare blood type. His life had been saved at least twice by transfusions provided by the Rare Blood Association. He established grassroots blood donor clinic organizations, and he helped make the likes of Rare Blood, and the American Red Cross stronger and more efficient, donating both expertise and money.
While the book could seem dry and tedious, the life of the man it revealed was just awe-inspiring. I am glad I spent the time and patience. I highly recommend the pair.