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Heinlein Society - Scholastic/Academic articles


J. Neil Schulman's "The Heinlein Interview & Other Heinleiniana" Reviewed By Victor Koman

This is copyrighted material and may not be copied or reproduced in any form, including on other websites, without permission of the copyright holder.

His Master's Voice
A Review of
The Robert Heinlein Interview
and Other Heinleiniana
by J. Neil Schulman

I was a sophomore student at San Jose State University in 1974, having dropped out of my physics major and Naval ROTC career at the University of Colorado in Boulder the year before. Richard Nixon, for whom I cast my first vote in 1972, was still president and Garry Trudeau had only recently gained notoriety as a political cartoonist. The mutiny of the heroic third Skylab crew had ended mere weeks before. I had switched my major to writing and was in a class hosted by Barnaby Conrad, whose Santa Barbara Writers conference would — a few short months later — introduce me to Ray Bradbury, Ross Macdonald, James Michener, Christopher Isherwood, Sid Stebel, and Joan Didion, and change my life forever. But at that moment — March of 1974 — I encountered a different kind of change, not of career but of politics. It might not have been much of a switch in the eyes of some, but it was for me.

My parents were both Russian immigrants. My mother — the daughter of a Black Hussar, one of the Tsarina's personal guard — was taken by train across Siberia to safety in Harbin, China, where my father had been born to expatriate bourgeoisie. Both came to America in the 1930s where they finally met at a picnic. To say that I was raised in an anti-Communist household is stating it lightly. By the time I was in high school, I considered myself a Buckley conservative based mostly on his TV show Firing Line and the subtle way he could put down his opponents with a choice rejoinder. I hadn't read any of his books at that time.

What I had read was Robert A. Heinlein. As a tail-end Baby Boomer entranced by a Space Age that arrived at exactly the right time in my life, I discovered Heinlein at the Golden Age of Science-Fiction (12) in the otherwise pedestrian library of Raymond J. Fisher Junior High in Los Gatos, California. The cover of Rocket Ship ‘Galileo’ called out to me with its promise of off-world adventure. I was hooked from that point forward.

Through junior high and high school, I read more Heinlein, plus Isaac Asimov, Doc Smith, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke (with a deliciously lurid side-trip through the pulp brilliance of Lester Dent, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Walter B. Gibson).

I read Alexei Panshin's Heinlein in Dimension when I discovered it in a Denver bookstore in 1973. It was the first place I'd ever encountered the word "libertarian" (I had to look it up) and the first place I'd seen it associated with Heinlein's beliefs. I sensed that Panshin disapproved, but I thought that — of all writers — Heinlein resonated the most with what I personally believed. So one year later, in the bookstore at SJSU, I was ready for the life-altering encounter at magazine rack.

It came in the form of a little digest-sized, saddle-stapled fanzine called The Alien Critic, edited and mostly written by the legendary Richard E. Geis (OK, I'd never heard of him at the time, either). It was only issue 7 or 8 of what would eventually become the rightly revered Science Fiction Review, and I was fascinated by the contents and Geis's humor. I happened to flip to the back pages and saw that word again: Libertarian. This time, though, it had the word New in front of it. New Libertarian? I'd only just discovered the old ones! But what really caught my eye was "Six-Part Interview With Robert A. Heinlein."

I dashed a quick letter off to the editor — Samuel Edward Konkin III — and threw in some money. When the issues of NL arrived — only two of the six were available — it was as if I were peering into the mind of a most mysterious master. A complete set of the small-circulation magazine's issues with the interviews is worth a small fortune today, so putting the interview into paperback was a great service to Heinlein devotees.

All those thirty-years-gone feelings came back to me upon re-reading the interview. I could hear Heinlein's voice in Schulman's faithful transcription of the interview, and more important, I heard an exchange of ideas — on politics, religion, epistemology, and teleology — that one rarely encounters in an era schizophrenically split between powder-puff PR pieces and confrontational ambush interviews.

Schulman's first question is about time travel. Heinlein responds that belief — in the absence of any proof either way — is pointless. Heinlein, who was greatly influenced by Korzybski's General Semantics (and recommends S. I. Hayakawa's works to Schulman) takes issue with the interviewer's choice of words several times: "'you are part of an evolutionary organism,' not 'really only a part of.' Difference in emphasis, do you follow me?"

Schulman asks many of the questions we would have wanted to ask Heinlein, but many of those question produced answers so far afield from the topic (and far more intriguing) that to list the questions would actually do a disservice to the interview. Schulman, though, elicited from Heinlein statements and revelations that have been so often quoted and repeated that their source — this interview — has been obscured by time. Its publication in book form sets the record straight. Some of the choicest:

"I do not regard faith as a basis on which to believe or disbelieve anything. On the other hand, Neil, there are many things — practically all of the important questions of philosophy — [that] are not subject to final answers purely by reason."

"The accomplishment of NASA that I'm most impressed by is how they manage to take the most romantic subject I know of and by careful application make it incredibly dull."

"... you don't have to justify private enterprise on the basis of its being more efficient than government — although it usually is. Not always, but usually."

"The justification for free enterprise is that it's free."

"I would say that my position is not too far from that of Ayn Rand's; that I would like to see government reduced to no more than internal police and courts, external armed forces — with the other matters handled otherwise. I'm sick of the way the government sticks its nose into everything, now."

There's so much more that Schulman was able to elicit from Heinlein that to quote it all would be to reprint the interview. The easier thing to do is for you to buy it and read it.

Schulman, sometimes known as The Great Chutzpah for his incredible daring in approaching people and broaching subjects before which others with less resolve might quail, admits at several points in the interview to "abysmal ignorance." He confesses to having read no Larry Niven (this was 1975, before Niven really hit the big time), nor Asimov's Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun, nor Korzybski's Science and Sanity, nor Advent's The Science Fiction Novel. To be fair, Heinlein draws a blank at some of the books Schulman asks him about.

The interview, at 25,000 words or so, would make for a very slender volume, so Schulman added a significant amount of extra material. Some of it might be considered filler, but all of it is Heinlein-related and of interest to academics and completists. The book is arranged more-or-less chronologically, with the 1973 article, "Looking Upward Through the Microscope", which was written for the New York Daily News but not published until Reason printed it 2 years later. Ginny Heinlein wrote that Robert thought it was "the best article of the many, many written about him over the years." This was the article assignment that provided the reason for the interview and was created from the content of that interview. In one sense, it is a condensation of Heinlein's points made in the interview, yet it is valuable for the context into which Schulman places it.

Following that is a 1972 review (written for the late Samuel Edward Konkin III's New Libertarian Notes) of Revolt in 2100. Naturally, the focus is on the libertarian aspects of two of the three stories in the book: "Coventry" and "If This Goes On—". Schulman explains Heinlein's belief that revolution is a Big Business that requires logistics and lots of money — a theme he repeats in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which, Schulman notes, takes place in 2075, as does this story.

Schulman's next review, of Time Enough For Love, was actually purchased by the New York Times Book Review in 1973, but was spiked at the last minute. It led, nonetheless, to Schulman's meeting Heinlein.

A pair of mid-1980s letters (one to Libertarian Futurist Society newsletter Prometheus criticizing RAH's critics and one to the Heinleins asking if Robert has met the Glaroon or is, in fact, the Glaroon) precede a review of Job: A Comedy of Justice. Schulman gives some personal data on how Heinlein came to matter to him as part of a triumvirate that includes Ayn Rand and C. S. Lewis. Since, once again, the review was published in New Libertarian, the focus is on the libertarian aspects of the story, but he also contrasts Lewis's theology with what he perceives to be Heinlein's theology. Since RAH has never written a "This I Believe" about religion, Schulman does his best to glean a glimmer of Heinlein's faith — or lack of same. This review leads in to the interview itself.

Schulman concludes the book with four more items: a letter to fellow Prometheus Award winner Brad Linaweaver in which he explains that he's reluctant to review To Sail Beyond the Sunset because he fears it may be Heinlein's final novel; a review of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, wherein he states his personal view that modern popular libertarianism did not start with Atlas Shrugged but — for him, at least — started with Heinlein's novel of lunar revolution; his 1997 Prometheus Hall of Fame award acceptance speech for Methuselah's Children, which Virginia Heinlein asked Neil to do; and, finally, "Requiem", written in 1988, is a short, very personal recollection of what Heinlein meant to him, and his secret hope that RAH may have been spirited away to the Rejuvenation Clinic on Tellus Tertius.

"After all," Neil writes, "Robert A. Heinlein told the House Select Committee on Aging that he refused to die until he could die on the moon, and he wouldn't perjure himself to the United States Congress, would he?"

This is a book that should be in the well-read section of the library of anyone interested in the life and works of Robert A. Heinlein. Indeed, to quote Ginny Heinlein, J. Neil Schulman's Robert Heinlein Interview and Other Heinleiniana "should be on the shelves of everyone interested in science fiction."

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Death's Dimension

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Solomon's Knife

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The Heinlein Society was founded by Virginia Heinlein on behalf of her husband, science fiction author Robert Anson Heinlein, to "pay forward" the legacy of Robert A. Heinlein to future generations of "Heinlein's Children."