View unanswered posts | View active topics It is currently Tue Oct 21, 2014 10:22 pm



Reply to topic  [ 39 posts ]  Go to page 1, 2, 3, 4  Next
12/16/2010 Critics Review of Patterson's Heinlein Biography 
Author Message
User avatar

Joined: Tue Dec 02, 2008 6:24 am
Posts: 264
Location: Northwest Georgia
Reply with quote
Post 12/16/2010 Critics Review of Patterson's Heinlein Biography
This online discussion is scheduled for the above date at 9:00 PM EST

Critics Review of "Learning Curve"
Subtitled: How Some Critics Understood/Misunderstood Patterson's Heinlein Biography
(Note: Some of the URLs are in quotes, because the Forum only allows 5 direct links. Just cut and paste without the quotes.)

Critics never cease to amaze me. The majority of reviews that I came across were for the most part complimentary and showed how their insight into Heinlein the man/writer was either totally changed, or at the least, enhanced. This discussion is intended to look at various critics writing about Bill Patterson's biography of Robert A. Heinlein. In the first section, I am going to describe a couple of favorable reviews and show how they perceive the biography and the man.

In the second section, I will describe some reviews which are sometimes favorable, but often show what I consider to be total misunderstandings of the biography and even worse, those which complain about style or format or other nit-picky things.

The misunderstandings should form the jump off to our discussion. I plan to simply state what I consider to be misunderstandings or misstatements and ask you, the reader, to try to find out where you think the critic is coming from, or in other words, where did he get that idea?

Of course, this means that you have to have a better than a cursory reading of the biography. If you haven't yet read it for the first time, I suggest that you get started and be on the lookout for answers. (Buy a copy if you don't have it yet!) It also means that you might have to read it again to look for answers. Have fun.

Section 1: Favorable Reviews (This is only a small sampling)
John Scalzi: Heinlein Strangely Human
"http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/08/heinlein-strangely-human"

His impression was changed from the Heinlein as Grandmaster, to that of a struggling writer with much in common with all writers. He states that it is the "jammed with detail" quality that makes Heinlein into a real person.

Michael Booker: An Amazing Accomplishment
"http://www.amazon.com/Robert-Heinlein-Dialogue-1907-1948-ebook/dp/B003OUXEFQ"

Aside from being generally favorable, Booker makes an important point.
"For fans of Heinlein's fiction, this book (and I trust, the subsequent volume) will help to answer the tired question that ever author dreads, "Where do you get your ideas?" Heinlein's life is, naturally, the chief source for his fictional characters and plot lines. Sometimes Patterson is explicit in drawing these connections. In other places, readers versed in Heinlein's work will catch these linkages on their own."

In other words, he uses Heinlein's own technique of letting the reader "fill in the blanks".

Also, he speaks to the "Dialogue With Century" aspect of the biography.
"The book must also be praised as a fascinating lesson in American history. Heinlein came from humble Missouri roots and lived through the bulk of the 20th century. His Navy career prior to WWII is fascinating in its own right, as is his involvement in California politics during the Depression."

Section 2:

Jo Walton: Patterson Heinlein biography: Not to be trusted on details
"http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/08/patterson-heinlein-biography-not-to-be-trusted-on-details"

The most amazing claim from Walton is that she "didn't find all that much new". After all, she had read most of the available material on the subject and seemed to assume that that material contained all of the important influences in his life. What do you think?

She complained about it being an "old-fashioned kind of biography". There will be more on this from her in the next review.

"Patterson's biography is riddled with tiny insignificant errors". Yes, there were some errors, but riddled? And why bother worrying about "tiny insignificant errors" when I assume that she has already shown above that tiny details didn't matter to her, only significant events?

However, IMO, she goes on to contradict herself by stating that "[getting the details right] helps the reader suspend their disbelief". Why in the world must a reader "suspend their disbelief" in reading a biography?

Jo Walton: "Out Far and onward yet!" Heinlein's future history stories of the thirties and forties
http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/08/qout-f ... nd-forties

"Patterson thinks this yearning [to go to the moon] came from Heinlein's desire to be a Naval pilot." Where does Patterson say this?

Walton's attitude towards the style of biography.

"It’s a terrible biography as a biography—biography is a genre, and this one is written the way mainstream writers who don’t read SF write SF. It would have been a perfectly reasonable biography a hundred years ago, as it reads as a huge pile of facts with no inferences and is very respectful to its subject. It isn’t how biography is written these days, when biographers ask the hard questions, even if they don’t have answers. Anyone who has read Julie Phillips’s biography of James Tiptree Jr. will be able to appreciate the difference. But it’s quite an interesting pile of information about that subtle and nuanced man Heinlein, and his complex and changing views."

"No inferences?" What book did she read?

To make the record complete, I bought and read the Tiptree/Sheldon biography. I failed to "appreciate the difference" Any of you know what Walton is talking about?

Okay on major events, but very little on Heinlein as a person or a writer, September 15, 2010 By Tevis Fen-Kortiay
http://www.amazon.com/Robert-Heinlein-D ... addTwoStar

“…he personally burned most of the documents which might have helped a future biographer, so even with the direct involvement of Heinlein's widow Virginia, the author apparently had so little to go on that this reads less like a biography and more like a laundry-list of meaningless events. We gain almost zero insight into who Heinlein was as a writer and a man.”

Was the burning of these documents really significant as to the “zero insight”?
Same refrain as Walton.

“Heinlein also had some interesting quirks, like his attraction to nudity: his early novel 'The Puppet Masters' involves mind-controlling aliens that adhere to a person's back, largely a contrivance for all women in the world to traipse around naked to prove they are not alien-controlled.”

Can you say a little biased. Examine the relevant passages in “The Puppet Masters” and draw your own conclusion.

“Heinlein tended to include a transvestite fantasy in many of his stories: typically his macho alter-ego is forced to dress as a woman to sneak someplace…,”

Typically? I can only think of one instance and it doesn’t seem to match his description. What do you think?

“A pretty lady in 'The Puppet Masters' knows definitively that a seemingly-normal man must be an evil outer-space alien because why else would he show no interest in trying to have sex with her?”

Again, my recollection doesn’t seem to fit his description. What do you think?

“Presumably because she[Virginia] was the driving force behind this biography, we are given a very misleading and one-sided version of Heinlein and Leslyn's divorce. This book lists only Virginia's side of the story….,”

How does he know that?
What did Patterson say about the documentary evidence on this subject from those people who knew the Heinleins?

“This biography recounts Heinlein's signature technique of getting people to like him by implying that he agrees with their beliefs even when he strongly disagrees (gaining advantage via deception while secretly rationalizing to himself that he was not *technically* lying), a morally dissociative behavior often indicative of dissociative spectrum disorders such as NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) or APD (Antisocial Personality Disorder).”

Wow, this guy is a great psychologist (not)! Examine the two instances in which Heinlein practiced this “technique” and interpret it yourself in terms of the context in which the instances occurred.(Clue: politics pre-war and wartime)

There are a number of other criticisms, (it’s a long review), but I am going to pass on them due to lack of space. Read them yourselves and bring your own conclusions to the discussion.

Too much detail for a biography, September 2, 2010 By Sacramento Book Review "Sacramento Book Review" By Kevin Winter
"http://www.amazon.com/Robert-Heinlein-Dialogue-1907-1948-ebook/product-reviews/B003OUXEFQ/ref=cm_cr_dp_hist_3?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&filterBy=addThreeStar"

“William Patterson does not edit, does not gives us the big moments, instead we have to wade through a mountain of unimportant trivial details to get to the big moments of Heinlein's life. Heinlein might be a giant in the field of science fiction, but his biography does not deserve two volumes.”

What do you think? Was Heinlein only influenced by the “big moments”? Should he have been?

Other recommended reading on this subject.

By Michael Dirda Thursday, August 12, 2010 ROBERT A. HEINLEIN In Dialogue With His Century, Volume 1 1907-1948: Learning Curve By William H. Patterson Jr.
"http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/11/AR2010081105457.html"

Scores By John Clute 28 June 2010
"http://www.strangehorizons.com/2010/20100628/clute-c.shtml"


Tue Nov 02, 2010 2:28 am
Report this post
Profile WWW
Reply with quote
Post Re: 12/16/2010 Critics Review of Patterson's Heinlein Biogra
The reviewer who said that Bill put in too much detail made the only negative comment, so far, that made any sense to me.

Even that was only sensible if one assumes that the biography was written to maximize sales and had no other objective. Yes, a shorter "just the high points" biography would have had a better chance to reach the casual reader. It still would have been an interesting book to those of us whose interest in the subject is strong. It still could have shed light on some of the controversies that people have about Heinlein. It would not have been as good but it would have still been useful and it would have sold better and, more importantly, given more casual readers a better idea of the subject. Maximizing sales is not simply a pecuniary goal.

I thought the level of detail was quite reasonable. A biography isn't supposed to be a biographical sketch.

Will in New Haven


Tue Nov 02, 2010 9:22 am
Report this post
User avatar

Joined: Tue Dec 02, 2008 6:24 am
Posts: 264
Location: Northwest Georgia
Reply with quote
Post Re: 12/16/2010 Critics Review of Patterson's Heinlein Biogra
To aid your preparation for the Online Discussion and/or posts here, the following link will allow you to search the biography.

http://books.google.com/books?id=Z93OvsN2yq8C


Mon Nov 08, 2010 10:44 am
Report this post
Profile WWW
Heinlein Biographer

Joined: Thu Apr 10, 2008 1:33 pm
Posts: 1024
Reply with quote
Post Re: 12/16/2010 Critics Review of Patterson's Heinlein Biogra
Guest wrote:
The reviewer who said that Bill put in too much detail made the only negative comment, so far, that made any sense to me.

Even that was only sensible if one assumes that the biography was written to maximize sales and had no other objective. Yes, a shorter "just the high points" biography would have had a better chance to reach the casual reader. It still would have been an interesting book to those of us whose interest in the subject is strong. It still could have shed light on some of the controversies that people have about Heinlein. It would not have been as good but it would have still been useful and it would have sold better and, more importantly, given more casual readers a better idea of the subject. Maximizing sales is not simply a pecuniary goal.

I thought the level of detail was quite reasonable. A biography isn't supposed to be a biographical sketch.

Will in New Haven

Part of that reviewer's comments suggested to me that he had a very old-fashioned idea of what a biography should be, one that doesn't fit very comfortably into the way biographies are written today. I could go and write a Plutarch-style Life of RAH now, having done all the research and so forth, but there really isn't a market for it -- or at least not a mass market of the type book publishing needs.


Mon Nov 08, 2010 6:34 pm
Report this post
Profile
User avatar

Joined: Tue Dec 02, 2008 8:22 am
Posts: 569
Location: Reno, NV
Reply with quote
Post Re: 12/16/2010 Critics Review of Patterson's Heinlein Biogra
Is there a mass market for your book, Bill? I got it this weekend, and finished my first reading of it Sunday evening. I won't say much til I've read it through again, more slowly. (My usual pattern with non-fluff books is to read them quickly once to get an overall picture, then slowly to absorb the details.) However, you did a nice job. The book is superbly researched but, unlike too many scholarly works I've read, not written in a fashion that's impenetrable to anybody but scholars. It kept my interest quite well this weekend. ;) I don't think that was entirely because of the subject matter.

Although I appreciate your not saddling us with an overly academic writing style (thanks!), however, the book seems to me to be a meaty book, definitely not written for the casual reader. I wouldn't have expected it to appeal to the casual reader who isn't an SF fan.

_________________
Catherine Jefferson <tw86034@ergosphere.net>
Home Page: http://www.ergosphere.net


Mon Nov 08, 2010 6:53 pm
Report this post
Profile WWW
NitroForum Oldster
User avatar

Joined: Thu Jun 19, 2008 3:57 pm
Posts: 152
Reply with quote
Post Re: 12/16/2010 Critics Review of Patterson's Heinlein Biogra
BillPatterson wrote:
I could go and write a Plutarch-style Life of RAH now, having done all the research and so forth ....
This really is too good an opportunity! What the world needs is Patterson's Parallel Lives, or Lives of the Noble Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Compared. I'd buy it.

_________________
http://www.Troynovant.com/ - recurrent inspiration


Mon Nov 08, 2010 8:21 pm
Report this post
Profile WWW
User avatar

Joined: Tue Dec 02, 2008 6:24 am
Posts: 264
Location: Northwest Georgia
Reply with quote
Post Re: 12/16/2010 Critics Review of Patterson's Heinlein Biogra
BillPatterson wrote:
Guest wrote:
The reviewer who said that Bill put in too much detail made the only negative comment, so far, that made any sense to me.

(snip)

Will in New Haven

Part of that reviewer's comments suggested to me that he had a very old-fashioned idea of what a biography should be, one that doesn't fit very comfortably into the way biographies are written today. I could go and write a Plutarch-style Life of RAH now, having done all the research and so forth, but there really isn't a market for it -- or at least not a mass market of the type book publishing needs.


Now I am further confused. Walton said that Learning Curve was itself an "old-fashioned biography, not what is written today". She and another touted the bio of James Tiptree/Alice Sheldon as a modern one. I don't believe her for a moment in light of what else she said, but I am not sure just what the terms mean even after read the Tiptree bio. I asked the question in the lead-off. Does anyone know what she meant and, Bill, can you describe a not-old-fashioned bio?


Mon Nov 08, 2010 8:26 pm
Report this post
Profile WWW
Heinlein Biographer

Joined: Thu Apr 10, 2008 1:33 pm
Posts: 1024
Reply with quote
Post Re: 12/16/2010 Critics Review of Patterson's Heinlein Biogra
DavidWrightSr wrote:
BillPatterson wrote:
Part of that reviewer's comments suggested to me that he had a very old-fashioned idea of what a biography should be <snip>

Now I am further confused. Walton said that Learning Curve was itself an "old-fashioned biography, not what is written today". She and another touted the bio of James Tiptree/Alice Sheldon as a modern one. I don't believe her for a moment in light of what else she said, but I am not sure just what the terms mean even after read the Tiptree bio. I asked the question in the lead-off. Does anyone know what she meant and, Bill, can you describe a not-old-fashioned bio?

"Old-fashioned" is a question-begging term, of course, for there were many different styles of biography preferred at different times of the past. What I meant by "old-fashioned" in this context, was that the reviewer seemed looking for a specific type of biography, exemplified by the Plutarchian parallel lives. I'm not entirely sure what Jo Walton meant (and there are a number of shall we say "problems" with Jo Walton's comments in general). To my mind, what characterizes a "modern" style of biography is that it aims to achieve psychological depth by understanding the subject in context of his personality and his times, as opposed to treating the subject as an example, say, of public virtues, the way Plutarch does or displaying the qualities that made him notable, the way Yankee from Olympus does. And of course, on this scale, Learning Curve is more modern than old-fashioned . . . which probably means only that Jo Walton was using a different scalar -- but I don't know exactly what she means by it.

The Tiptree bio did generate a certain amount of buzz when it came out, because of the sensational nature of its subject matter, I think. I read the book thoughtfully when it came out (a couple of years after the primary writing of mine was completed and turned in) because I knew it would be the major point of comparison for mine. It's a different kind of book than mine, and I didn't really find much helpful insight for mine.

It may not be obvious but there are more than a dozen narrative arcs in Learning Curve all being managed simultaneously.


Tue Nov 09, 2010 7:30 am
Report this post
Profile
NitroForum Oldster
User avatar

Joined: Thu Jun 19, 2008 3:57 pm
Posts: 152
Reply with quote
Post Re: 12/16/2010 Critics Review of Patterson's Heinlein Biogra
BillPatterson wrote:
It may not be obvious but there are more than a dozen narrative arcs in Learning Curve all being managed simultaneously.
True artistry appears natural.

As for the "modern biography" question, I dislike biographies or partly-biographical novels which plunge into their subject's psychology only to emerge with a gossip-dripping thesis that bends a person's entire character and works to fit some problem of chronic illness, or family weirdness, or some particular quirk or kink, or maturing in wartime, or maturing in peacetime, and so on. Most any person, and surely anyone especially interesting and significant in history, deserves better.

_________________
http://www.Troynovant.com/ - recurrent inspiration


Tue Nov 09, 2010 10:40 am
Report this post
Profile WWW
PITA Bred
User avatar

Joined: Wed Apr 09, 2008 12:17 pm
Posts: 2400
Location: The Quiet Earth
Reply with quote
Post Re: 12/16/2010 Critics Review of Patterson's Heinlein Biogra
RobertWFranson wrote:
As for the "modern biography" question, I dislike biographies or partly-biographical novels which plunge into their subject's psychology only to emerge with a gossip-dripping thesis that bends a person's entire character and works to fit some problem of chronic illness, or family weirdness, or some particular quirk or kink, or maturing in wartime, or maturing in peacetime, and so on.

My esteemed subject Burton has been regrettably subject to such things. The only reason Fawn Brodie's pseudo-Freudian biography (one of the first such, regrettably far from the last) is tolerable on the shelf is because it's braced in by one of the most wretched, overwritten, underthought and plain *B*A*D* novelized biographies ever written. Gives a little perspective to the scale.

_________________
"Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders." - Luther
In the end, I found Heinlein is finite. Thus, finite analysis is needed.


Tue Nov 09, 2010 11:15 am
Report this post
Profile
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Reply to topic   [ 39 posts ]  Go to page 1, 2, 3, 4  Next

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 0 guests


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You can reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
cron
Powered by phpBB © 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007 phpBB Group.
Designed by STSoftware for PTF