Review of "Robert A. Heinlein : A Reader's Companion"
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Author:  RobertPearson [ Thu Nov 10, 2011 1:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Review of "Robert A. Heinlein : A Reader's Companion"

(Posted recently at Amazon. All of my book reviews can be found at

This book is a serious attempt at an academic reference (with Opus numbers and all that) but anyone who really loves Heinlein's work should have it. I read it from cover to cover and enjoyed it rather like a good story in itself but, admittedly, I have read almost every available piece of Heinlein's writing. There was new information even for me on a few of the never-reprinted stories, on his non-fiction and on the background of some of the works.

This book specifically takes a "no spoilers" appraoch, so no need to wait to get it until you have read them all.

Since the publication of "A Reader's Companion," the first volume of the sweeping Heinlein biography Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve has been published and it answers a few of the questions posed in this book, and corrects a few minor errors and misapprehensions that Gifford had in 2000, but that is to be expected. If you like Robert Heinlein and his work, get both of them!

Author:  holmesiv [ Thu Nov 10, 2011 6:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Review of "Robert A. Heinlein : A Reader's Companion"

Wonder how much of the list price goes to Gifford, the author, as opposed to Amazon.

Author:  JamesGifford [ Fri Nov 11, 2011 6:20 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Review of "Robert A. Heinlein : A Reader's Companion"

Happy Nigel Tufnel Day, all.

Thanks for the review, Robert; I believe it's the first new one in nearly ten years. How time flies. Fortunately, the handful of almost embarrassingly positive reviews early on have proven enough, as the book remains a see-want-buy for any Heinlein aficionado who comes across the listing. (There is the one review that complains that it doesn't have full summaries of each work; the poor fellow should have been looking in the Cliff Notes rack.)

RAHARC continues to sell steadily, through Amazon and directly from NSP. That and the unendingly positive response from readers is one of the most satisfying things about my long RAH career. (By the way, HolmesIV, Amazon's cut is about 20% - quite reasonable, really.)

There are a few errors - very few. Even with the full reveal of the bio and archives all corrections and reasonable additions fit on a page or two, another facet I am quite proud of. The errors are mostly typos and editing mistakes; the few that are factually incorrect, and the omissions and glosses, come from working in a near-vacuum. At the time RAHARC was researched and written, nearly everything published was questionable or wildly inaccurate, and nothing could be trusted. I had to go to primary sources on each and every work, a herculean slog in those pre-internet, pre-online archives, pre-eBay, pre-ABEbooks, pre pretty much everything days. Bill's deeply detailed delving turned up a few errors but far, far fewer than I had any right to expect.

I may or may not do a second edition. On the one hand, I have pretty much set aside further RAH work, after two or three deflected attempts to do so (February 2005 comes to mind; Peter can explain why). I would also be torn between a simple, clean update and expanding the material; the first would be a gateway drug to the second and I just don't have time to devote another 2-3-5 years to it. Better folk than me have taken up the work and I would be outclassed unless I devoted enormous resources of time and effort to it... not likely to happen. I remain pleased that it has worn so well, with so few shortcomings, in the decade since it was published.

Maybe here is a good place to throw in a sad little story that's not much known outside the small inner community. It's been ten years; I doubt it can hurt anyone now.

I spent approximately ten years developing, researching and producing RAHARC, meticulously assembling and vetting fragments. At a certain point, I had to cry quit on unfinished threads, polish the rough edges, and send it to print. (I could have spent years more fining down those details... already had spent an extra 3 years for reasons of personal delay, good in that information continued to trickle in during that time.)

The one person that I hoped would appreciate the effort and the result was, of course, Virginia Heinlein. She received one of the 12 specially bound presentation copies (much like the 100 special editions). I received a gracious acknowledgement note, and, later, a longer letter that can be summarized as polite but exasperated. Thereafter she never said anything that wasn't completely polite and gracious... but.

From others in closer contact with her, I found out she was first furious and later resigned over RAHARC; to her eyes, it had so many errors, omissions and gloss-overs as to be a sloppy, half-hearted effort and no credit to her husband or his works. (Sample: I listed only three of RAH's siblings by name instead of all six. Never mind that there was no particular reason to include all six names, and if you take a time machine back to 1999 I would challenge you to find those other three names with any accuracy and any reasonable level of effort - I did try) - that I had omitted this essential information made me yet another sloppy, unreliable pseudo-scholar. Nothing could have stung more than to be lumped in with Panshin, Franklin, Stover, Slusser et al. - lazy, vampiric hacks whose works I had deliberately set out to eclipse and undermine.

In the two years or so between RAHARC's appearance and Virginia Heinlein's death, she never failed to treat me politely in paper, email and chat correspondence, but I was forever marked as a not-worthy. Like her husband, once someone had transgressed, or if they imagined someone had transgressed, there was no true going back. (I had an interesting exchange with Arthur C. Clarke on this point; nuf sed.) Bill and others pressed my case when they could, but it did no good. What should have been the boost phase of my scholarly career turned into something of a Flopnik... without VH's approval and acceptance, I was not acceptable for any of the many tasks that started to arise with the new ascendance of a serious Heinlein community and studies... an ascendance for which, ironically, RAHARC was catalyst and initial fuel. (Other fuel was my then-carefully maintained and detailed Heinlein website and my extensive participation in online forums, sharing all details I had unearthed as the only working Heinlein scholar of that era - and I was out to piss off and deflate the "hoarders" of the prior decades.)

Specifically because of Mrs. Heinlein's slap judgment of the book and me, I was overlooked, passed over and left out of projects and efforts that followed - the biography, the VE and most especially the Heinlein Society. Along with Bill, I worked long, hard hours on the initial development of the Society and I am still proud to say there are aspects of it that were shaped by my hand and insistence. However, it was made clear early on that I could not be part of the board nor any public name associated with it, lest she withdraw or limit her support. She instead warmed to... other persons better at cozening and flattering, and the result - nearly eight years of dark ages for the organization - is documented elsewhere here.

Forgive me if I don't think much of the late great lady's ability to judge people, and if that doesn't color my understanding of how the mister categorized people. Bill has been far too kind in his treatment of RAH's ability to dismiss people for trivial and even imagined reasons.

Yes, I was once bitter about this. Bitterness long ago became something packed in the cases of Heinlein research materials, rarities and relics in the depths of my basement office. Once in a while, part of me wonders what might have been had her judgment not been quite so... arbitrary. But only once in an increasingly infrequent while; I have new projects to engage me and none have towering, idiosyncratic figures to woo, avoid or fear.

And in the end, as I look at today's three book orders on the desk in front of me, eleven and a half years after publication, I have the incredibly deep satisfaction that RAHARC survives in every sense of the word. But then you could look up "pyrrhic" in any good dictionary, too.

Author:  holmesiv [ Fri Nov 11, 2011 5:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Review of "Robert A. Heinlein : A Reader's Companion"

Very interesting. Just goes to show that everyone born of woman is human.
I'm glad you get 80 percent. I only get 66. And only 35 percent for my public domain edition of The Education of a Poker Player.

Author:  RobertPearson [ Mon Nov 14, 2011 1:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Review of "Robert A. Heinlein : A Reader's Companion"

James, thank you for sharing your very interesting story. It adds to what I had deduced about Ginny and the Heinlein Society from a number of clues across the websites, comments here and in other places.

I am not an insider in any sense but have gotten more serious about RAH in the last year or so after just being a reader and admirer since age 11. I have ambitions to make some minor contribution to RAH scholarship in the future.

I would just like to thank you again for your book, and add that when I said "errors" I think that they could fit in a couple of lines, much less a page or two. It is a remarkable achievement. I believe in a few places you said something was unclear or unknown, and additional information 11 years later certainly doesn't make it an error.

Heinlein himself seems to have made more errors in Expanded Universe than you did in your book, and to paraphrase Elmer Keith, Hell, He Was THERE.

Author:  JackKelly [ Tue Feb 05, 2013 7:34 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Review of "Robert A. Heinlein : A Reader's Companion"

JamesGifford wrote:
Maybe here is a good place to throw in a sad little story that's not much known outside the small inner community. It's been ten years; I doubt it can hurt anyone now....

Wow. Just wow. I've been away from the Forum for over a year and this is the first time I've seen this. It explains SO much. I began corresponding with Jim nearly 20 years ago regarding this book, and followed it's development through publication with much anticipation, subsequent HUGO nomination, etc. I had no idea of Virginia's reaction. Well, it has been 10 years since Ginny's death, so no harm done spilling the beans now. I'm just so sorry it went down that way.

Author:  sakeneko [ Tue Feb 05, 2013 7:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Review of "Robert A. Heinlein : A Reader's Companion"

I am too. :/ In retrospect, it would have been much better for the society if things had happened differently. But even good people are not always smart, or wise, about everything.

Author:  mostlyclassics [ Sun Mar 22, 2015 4:39 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Review of "Robert A. Heinlein : A Reader's Companion"

Indispensable! Thanks, Jim, for your efforts.

Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader's Companion sits on my bookshelves now, immediately between the Virginia Edition and Bill Patterson's two-volume biography.

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