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Another forgotten interview 
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Heinlein Biographer

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Post Another forgotten interview
Was going through a bunch of old (1980-82) Science Fiction Reviews I purchased recently and found this uncatalogued short interview done at Robert A. Heinlein Day in Butler MO 4/17/80. I'm posting here the entry done for the Miscellaneous Nonfiction Volume 2 of the Virginia Edition as it contains all the information:

Interview by David A. Truesdale, conducted at the Robert A. Heinlein Day, April 17, 1980, in Butler, Missouri. [2007 words]

Headnote: First published in Science Fiction Review No. 36 (August 1980), pp. 49-51.

Endnote: Heinlein gave out few interviews during his working lifetime, perhaps realizing that the deal was a little one-sided: it would do more for the periodical’s circulation than it would do for his sales figures -- and eat into his working time besides. But when his birthplace of Butler, Missouri proclaimed April 17, 1980, as Robert A. Heinlein Day, he took the day off and made numerous exceptions, as detailed in this interview by David Truesdale.

This interview was published in the leading fanzine of the day, Richard E. Geis’s Science Fiction Review, amid a flurry of puzzled and disappointed reactions in this and the preceding two issues of SFR to Heinlein’s groundbreaking new novel, The Number of the Beast. Truesdale inserts a his own puzzled and disappointed reactions gratuitously into the forematter for the review. Nevertheless, this interview contains the best picture of the goings-on in Butler on Heinlein Day -- better, in fact, than the reportage in the mainstream press. And the interview itself provides some very illuminating statements on how very intentional The Number of the Beast was: elements that rigid genre readers object to were there because he thought they belonged there.

Production Note: Text follows:

"Robert A. Heinlein Interview Conducted by David A. Trusdale"

Robert A. Heinlein’s triumphant return to the town of his birth, Butler, Missouri, was, in his own words, a "day I will never forget." April 17th [1980] was proclaimed Robert Heinlein Day in the small farm community (pop. 3,984) and the entire town turned out to greet their favorite son, the SF world’s first acknowledged Grand Master of the form.

Even as short a time as one year ago, however, such a festive occasion would have been at best dampened, at worst difficult to bring off at all, for science fiction’s most influential author was in poor health and admittedly senile. As Guest of Honor at the World Science Fiction Convention hosted in Kansas City in 1976 he appeared but a walking simulacre of his former self. Difficult, forgetful, rambling, he was even roundly booed while in the midst of his Guest of Honor speech following some reactionary remarks he had made.

Then, last year, thanks to one of the miracles of modern science that in years gone by would have seemed science fictional itself, Heinlein was not only restored to full health and mental alertness but has now produced a new novel, The Number of the Beast, and a retrospective collection of stories forthcoming this summer, Expanded Universe. The latter will probably be the closest thing to an autobiography we will ever see from the 72-year old Heinlein.

As detailed by Heinlein in the March issue of Omni magazine, it was a dangerous and delicate brain operation involving micro-laser surgery to by-pass a blocked artery that saved him.

Having just returned the previous day from his fourth global cruise from which he was in convalescence, the chipper and jovial Heinlein privately began his day by visiting the Bates County Museum, then enjoyed a luncheon with relatives prior to speaking to students at Butler High School. He then sat in review while a brief parade consisting of a marching band, several theme floats and local groups wound its way around Butler Square to pay homage to their hometown hero, who accepted the tribute with smiles and applause, obviously pleased with the whole affair.

Mid-afternoon saw Heinlein presented with several plaques during a reception at City Hall (one from the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, bestowing upon him lifetime membership). He then graciously signed scores of autographs for enthusiastic fans and even granted several interviews with visiting media representatives, a boon that reporters who vainly attempted to interview him several years ago will readily appreciate. Following a semi-private dinner, the rejuvenated Heinlein attended a public meeting at the Butler Public Library, rounding off a thoroughly rewarding day for those lucky enough to have attended.

Having just finished a bound set of uncorrected advance proofs of The Number of the Beast I was most anxious to speak with Mr. Heinlein about the book. To be quite honest, I felt the book to be terribly overlong. There was no plot to speak of, the characters were flat, interchangeable and difficult to relate to on any reasonable level, and what Mr. Heinlein felt to be amusing, though irritating bickerings among the four protagonists as to who would captain the ship (along with the boring and repeated inner-workings as to how the ship, Gay Deceiver, would jump from one universe to the next), I felt were so much wasted space. In short, I found the book to be nothing more than an overlong working exercise, a study in how to become proficient in auctorial over-indulgence. I have rarely read so poor an effort from so good a writer, and am left with the hope that his next novel has to be better.

I spoke with Mr. Heinlein as he was signing autographs for fans in Butler, kneeling beside him with my cassette picking up anything and everything -- from crowd noise to his pleasantries with well-wishers and fans, and yes, even my few questions and answers. Despite my adverse feelings toward The Number of the Beast, I was totally taken with Heinlein and was grateful for the rare opportunity to speak with him. Herewith, our brief conversation:

SFR: Why was the detailed, repeated explanations as to the programming of the computer Gay Deceiver each time the ship "jumped" from one alternate universe to another? Were the mechanics for each jump necessary?

HEINLEIN: I didn’t realize I had explained it too much. I felt it was necessary to show how they swapped around. I thought it was necessary, that’s all.

SFR: There seemed endless bickering among the four protagonists as to who would captain Gay Deceiver. There were at least four changes of command, each time preceded by pages of arguing and decision-making that seemed to slow the development of the book. Any reason for this?

HEINLEIN: The story was intended to be entertaining. I did not set out to teach any lessons. I set out to entertain. If it entertained you, then, it was successful.

SFR: You seemed to have had a lot of fun while writing this book, especially so in the latter chapters when so many SF personalities were name-dropped in. Was it a particularly fun book for you to write?

HEINLEIN: Oh, I had fun in writing that book. Sometimes writing can become a bit tedious, but that was a fun one practically all the way through.

SFR: On one of the worlds Zebediah and the crew briefly visit you once again professed the belief that there is justice in strict punishment for criminals -- and even go so far as to have this particular alternate world’s police cripple a hit-and-run convict by breaking his legs with a drawn cart. Hasn’t history shown that "eye-for-an-eye" retribution doesn’t deter crime?

HEINLEIN: I have portrayed all sorts of cultures in the course of my stories. I don’t necessarily favor that particular culture per se. But I do believe in punishment. I do not think that our present method of patting criminals on the head and saying, "Now, dear boy, don’t do it again" works. We have too many people commiting murders who’ve already committed murders. Out in California we’ve got ‘em by platoons. And I don’t think that history has shown that retribution doesn’t work. One thing that history does prove is that if you hang a murderer he never commits another murder. History has proved that.

SFR: It seems as if, after briefly introducing the evil aliens, the "Black Hats," that you just dropped them from the book (for all intents and purposes). Aside from sporadic, brief referrals to them during the course of the book, was there a reason you ignored them? Were they really necessary?

HEINLEIN: I thought they were necessary or I wouldn’t have put them in there.

SFR: Now that science fiction has blossomed economically, do you believe, as Fred Pohl does, that Bigness may indeed by Bad for a writer?

HEINLEIN: I don’t see why it should be bad or good. There has always been a market for anybody who really had good stuff to print.

SFR: You don’t think it spoils a writer into writing only what the audience wants, instead of being creative?

HEINLEIN: You have a hidden premise in your question. You assume that writing what the audience wants is not being creative. You have to be extremely creative to write what the audience wants, instead of writing what everybody else is and the audience is tired of.

SFR: Would you say a little about the novel upcoming, after The Number of the Beast?

HEINLEIN: I never have anything to say about a book until after I’ve finished it and it’s ready for publication. I do have a retrospective collection appearing in July, and it’s the closest thing to an autobiography I expect to write. It’s called Expanded Universe.

SFR: How do you feel about critics and reviewers?

HEINLEIN: You’ve read The Number of the Beast. You’ll find the answer in the last chapter.

SFR: You don’t hold many of them in the highest regard then, do you?

HEINLEIN: I have never seen anything that was ever any use to me from a critic; nothing that would enable me to write a better book the next time.

SFR: Several years ago, Phil Klass --

HEINLEIN: The one who’s a college professor? [William Tenn]

SFR: Yes. In an argument he had with you many years ago, he expressed the view that the liberated social structure in Stranger In a Strange Land was correct for the short term, but definitely not for the long run. You espouse this same sexually liberated viewpoint in Number. What do you think of his assessment?

HEINLEIN: I say it’s a bunch of twaddle.

SFR: Do you keep up with the science fiction being written today?

HEINLEIN: Oh, yes, I’ve just finished A Heritage of Stars by Clifford Simak. Everything Cliff Simak does is good. The man’s very intelligent, and he always does a good job.

SFR: Could you tell a little about your brain surgery?

HEINLEIN: Get hold of the March issue of Omni. I have an article in there that’s based on the testimony I gave before Congress. It has all the details that a layman would be interested in, plus a reference to the technical description of the operation. They sawed through my skull right here (pointing to the left temporal region), went in and rearranged the arteries. I was senile before that. It’s one of those go-for-broke operations. They either fix you up or they kill you; that was the bet. I took the gamble and won.

SFR: Are you a gambler?

HEINLEIN: You have to be a born gambler if you want to be a freelance writer.

SFR: And an optimist?

HEINLEIN: Not necessarily. I tend to be a pessimist rather than an optimist, except for an abiding conviction that the human race is too tough to kill.

SFR: Do you think the human race deserves to spread itself among the stars?

HEINLEIN: There’s no "deserve"about it; it’s whether or not you can do it. Since the human race has remained mean, ornery, stubborn for all these many, many millennia, I assume there must be survival value in it. I do not expect us to become sweetness and light. If we ever become sweetness and light, why, move over dinosaurs, here we come.

SFR: In your GoH speech at MidAmeriCon in 1976 you said you believed this planet was all used up and we should find another place to live. Does what you just expressed go along with this view? Do you still believe it’s time we moved on?

HEINLEIN: I believe very strongly that we’ve got to get viable colonies on other planets for the safety of the race. We know that even if we don’t blow up this planet now, that eventually it’s going to be worn out, that our star is going to be worn out, that our star is going to be worn out; that if we expect to live for the next thirty billion years we’ve got to have more room and more baskets for our eggs. We can be wiped out on one planet by natural catastrophes as well as man-made catastrophes, so we need to have more places to live.

SFR: Do you stay abreast of all the new developments in the sciences?

HEINLEIN: I work very hard at it. As Alice said in Through the Looking Glass, you have to run as fast as you can just to stay in one place. The art is increasing much faster than I’m able to keep up with it.

SFR: Do you think, as Arthur C. Clarke does, that those alive in the year 2000 will most likely be able to live another 100 or 200 years?

HEINLEIN: It’s possible. I think the time is coming when the question of how long we will live will be a matter of personal choice, but I don’t know when that will be, and I’m not qualified to have an opinion.

SFR: What do you feel about cryogenics?

HEINLEIN: (Chuckling) Pretty chilly. In Time for the Stars I suggested one use for it -- not original with me -- that cryogenics could be used to put a man on the shelf until science or medicine has solved the problem.

SFR: Have you ever considered being frozen?

HEINLEIN: I hadn’t planned on it. I plan on being cremated.

SFR: One final question, please. Do you have any feelings one way or the other -- to change the topic from science fiction for a moment -- on the Iranian [hostage] situation? About President Carter’s handling of it?

HEINLEIN: This is not a political interview, and I am hindered by the situation from using scatological language, so let’s leave the matter alone. (A short pause). I’m sore as hell.

SFR: Thank you very much, Mr. Heinlein.


Tue Jun 29, 2010 10:11 am
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Post Re: Another forgotten interview
Classic. Thank you, Bill. The only Heinlein quotes I've ever seen from the Butler festivities are the short .wav files on Jim's original site. This is great.


Tue Jun 29, 2010 10:38 am
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Heinlein Nexus

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Post Re: Another forgotten interview
Bill, you don't suppose the fellow kept his tapes?


Tue Jun 29, 2010 10:56 am
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Post Re: Another forgotten interview
Nice, thanks.

Just re-reading EU, which he references there, and yep, RAH reiterated the group marriage idea as legally protected/contractual by 2000. He may not have practiced it, but he clearly did believe it to be superior in many instances.

The last 30 years hasn't been so kind on the "facts" front, however, tho he'd probably say the legal protections and social acceptance isn't there --but then the latter usually comes along to cement facts-on-the-ground afterwards.


Tue Jun 29, 2010 12:37 pm
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Heinlein Nexus

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Post Re: Another forgotten interview
There is a serious attempt by polygamist fundamentalist Mormons to use the Supreme Court's rulings in recent years banning laws restricting sexual practices between consensual adults as the basis for overturning restrictions on multiple marriages.

Haven't any idea where the appeal is at right now, but it does point in the same direction RAH indicated.

Personally, one wife keeps me plenty....busy.


Tue Jun 29, 2010 5:12 pm
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Post Re: Another forgotten interview
RobertJames wrote:
There is a serious attempt by polygamist fundamentalist Mormons to use the Supreme Court's rulings in recent years banning laws restricting sexual practices between consensual adults as the basis for overturning restrictions on multiple marriages.

Sooo... theyyy... work to keep same-sex marriage banned to leverage their interest in polygynous (but no, no, never polyandrous or truly polygamous) marriage?

How sick. I know many who respect Mormons because of their famed uprightness and good manners, but at the core they are as sick, rotten and twisted as every other organized religion.

Mythology is not a justification for tyranny.

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In the end, I found Heinlein is finite. Thus, finite analysis is needed.


Tue Jun 29, 2010 7:13 pm
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Heinlein Biographer

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Post Re: Another forgotten interview
JamesGifford wrote:
RobertJames wrote:
There is a serious attempt by polygamist fundamentalist Mormons to use the Supreme Court's rulings in recent years banning laws restricting sexual practices between consensual adults as the basis for overturning restrictions on multiple marriages.

Sooo... theyyy... work to keep same-sex marriage banned to leverage their interest in polygynous (but no, no, never polyandrous or truly polygamous) marriage?

How sick. I know many who respect Mormons because of their famed uprightness and good manners, but at the core they are as sick, rotten and twisted as every other organized religion.

Mythology is not a justification for tyranny.

Yah. I don't see Mormons really being point-er-persons for liberalizing America's medieval sexual behavior laws.

And I think they should not be referred to as "polygamists," because as you point out, it's really polygyny they're interested in, and only that. There really is no common cause to be made.


Wed Jun 30, 2010 5:45 am
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Heinlein Biographer

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Post Re: Another forgotten interview
RobertJames wrote:
Bill, you don't suppose the fellow kept his tapes?

Dunno -- I'm still trying to figure out how to reach Truesdale.


Wed Jun 30, 2010 5:46 am
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Heinlein Biographer

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Post Re: Another forgotten interview
BillPatterson wrote:
RobertJames wrote:
Bill, you don't suppose the fellow kept his tapes?

Dunno -- I'm still trying to figure out how to reach Truesdale.

There's a fanzine he did 12 years ago, Tangent, online, but the Compuserve addy is no longer active.


Wed Jun 30, 2010 5:52 am
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Post Re: Another forgotten interview
A lot of those little Mormon sects are actually using welfare, based on claiming no legal marriage, to support those families, aren't they? Legally those are "single mothers and children with no father in the household to support them".


Wed Jun 30, 2010 9:13 am
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