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Reviews 
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Post Re: Reviews
What I saw in this review was a credible description of how Heinlein would appear to somebody who knew only the public facts (the stuff "everybody knows") about his life or work after 1948, and just read the biography. The guy's own first (and so far only) published book is a mainstream novel set in a Manhattan office; it's not remotely SFnal. His other articles and reviews are mostly of literary fiction and poetry, as far as I could find. I don't get the impression that he's read that much SF or would be considered a fan of the genre.

If my own experiences with the New York literati set (limited, but I've had them) are to be trusted, he also probably lacks the background to understand Heinlein's experiences at the Naval Academy and in the navy. By today's standards (even those of many people in the military now), the academy and navy in the 1930s would qualify as a fascinating lost world with a culture that's weirdly different from anything that they've experienced or observed. When I was reading the biography, I found myself drawing heavily on conversations with my grandfather, who graduated from the Naval Academy six years before Heinlein did, to understand what I was reading. Otherwise I'm sure I'd have misunderstood and misinterpreted a number of things.

IMHO it isn't surprising that somebody who lacks that background might get hold of the wrong end of the stick when trying to understand Robert Heinlein. It was interesting to see what he took away from the biography, gave me a different view of it.

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Mon Dec 13, 2010 9:19 am
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Post Re: Reviews
From the review itself, the only hint that he's read any of Heinlein's work, if at all, is his citation and quote from Spider Robinson's preface in FUtL.

Which leads me to wonder why the LA Times selected him to do the review.

But, it was adequate for a newspaper review, and reminded me that there are people out there much younger than I am, who are not as steeped in RAH, history and traditions, military (pre-GWI, much less VN, Korea, etc), civilian, and societal. So I thoroughly agree with your "... gave me a different vew of it."

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Mon Dec 13, 2010 10:13 am
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Post Re: Reviews
There's also the fact that it comes at a rather late stage, long after most of the major media have done anything they're going to do. It was a disappointment that the NYTRB didn't do a review. But it helps to get the thought into peoples' minds especially at Christmastime...


Mon Dec 13, 2010 6:16 pm
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Post Re: Reviews
Heh. Everyone I'm still in touch with who is an RAH fan (or an SF fan, all are both) has already bought it. Sorry about that Bill, howevermuch it eases my Xmas budget.

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Mon Dec 13, 2010 10:25 pm
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Post Re: Reviews
Not everybody I know has; I know of several people who have the book on their Christmas wish lists. I'm glad I succumbed to temptation and bought it for myself, though. ;)

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Mon Dec 13, 2010 10:43 pm
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Post Re: Reviews
I bought multiple copies for my own family, and I continue to turn people on to the book at work. That's not so hard since we're a NASA contractor - but it also helps when I tell them I can get them an autograph. :lol:

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Tue Dec 14, 2010 7:00 am
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Post Re: Reviews
Just today received the full text of a Times (London) Literary Supplement review appearing recently (Michael Saler. 12/10/10):

A prophet for science fiction
Robert A. Heinlein was perhaps the most influential science-fiction writer of the twentieth century. Although never as famous as Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke, he became a prophet for the secular religion of science fiction. Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), about an unlikely messiah from Mars, became a countercultural bestseller. Its neologism “grok” is in the OED.

The first part of this two-volume “authorized” biography does not directly identify Heinlein as a prophet, but William H. Patterson’s hagiographic tone implicitly acknowledges his subject’s sacerdotal status among his fans. Patterson claims that “the story of his public influence is almost unique in American letters”, arguing that Heinlein put “into words what people – his kind of people – thought and felt, telling the hard truths . . . the ones that all people needed to hear. And in return he was given what can only be called love”.

Patterson assumes that his readers will be familiar with Heinlein’s work, and he does not discuss it in detail. Nevertheless his impressive research yields a detailed portrait of the man and his many peculiarities. Heinlein was born in 1907 and raised in Kansas City in a poor and pious family of Methodists. The eldest of seven children, he cultivated self-reliance from an early age, attaining financial and intellectual independence while still in his teens. He rejected the puritanical moral code of his Bible Belt upbringing, beginning as a youth when he discovered the sensual joys of playing Tarzan without a loincloth. Later he became an ardent nudist, practised open marriage, and depicted sexual experimentation, including incest, in his fiction.

Solipsism was one of his great themes; by conjoining it with genre devices such as time travel and cloning, he crafted intricate stories exploring its bizarre consequences. (In “All You Zombies”, a time-traveller changes sex, becoming his/her own father, mother, son and daughter.) Yet Heinlein also became dedicated to finding communities to which he could belong, associations that would foster individual freedom while providing a sense of higher purpose. He identified the military as one such community, and was accepted to the US Naval Academy at Annapolis where he studied engineering, graduating twentieth out of a class of 243 in 1929. Heinlein admired the military because it demanded discipline and self-sacrifice, martial virtues he celebrated in his controversial Starship Troopers (1959). That novel’s detractors claim it glorifies war, authoritarianism, and even fascism, but Heinlein also condemned the rigidity of military bureaucracy, and he would have graduated higher in his class if he hadn’t accrued so many demerits for flouting authority. He was forcibly retired from the Navy in 1934 after contracting tuberculosis.

Heinlein turned to politics, becoming involved in progressive Democratic campaigns in California and running unsuccessfully for the State Assembly in 1938. As with the military, he saw the nation as a source of affiliation in a secular age. He admitted that patriotism was irrational, but nevertheless proclaimed his “religion was America”. During the 1930s, he thought that liberal progressivism represented a balance between individual autonomy and social responsibility. He fiercely opposed Communism, however, as denying liberty; and with the onset of the Cold War he became a hawkish Republican. Yet he continued to espouse radical social and political ideas even as he supported Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Stranger in a Strange Land, deemed “the bible of the Hippie movement” for its advocacy of free love, open family structures and egalitarian religion, was written at the same time as the allegedly “fascist” Starship Troopers.

In 1939, on a whim, Heinlein sent a short story, “Life-Line”, to Astounding Science Fiction. It was accepted immediately and he rapidly became a prolific and successful writer; after two years he was voted the most popular SF author in America. The genre was a perfect fit for a man who had abandoned one faith and was anxiously seeking another, who was fascinated by esoteric phenomena that science could neither explain nor disprove. Usually acclaimed for creating plausible future scenarios based on the “hard” sciences, Heinlein described himself as “a ‘mystic’ by nature”. He investigated extrasensory perception and believed in an afterlife, and wove into his works serious considerations of the paranormal, a subject that also fascinated his wife Leslyn, herself a practising “white witch”.

His rapid success as a writer owed as much to timing as to talent. The genre was born in 1926 when Hugo Gernsback published Amazing Stories, the first magazine devoted exclusively to narratives which he christened “science fiction”. Gernsback had lofty aims for the pulp genre, but it soon devolved into stories dedicated to gadgetry and outlandish adventures, written largely for – and often by – teenagers. When one of these, John W. Campbell, entered maturity he resolved to take the genre with him and in 1937 he became Editor of Astounding, science fiction’s foremost magazine. Campbell sought stories which combined a literary style with rigorously conceived futures extrapolated from sociological as well as scientific trends. He aimed to produce a magazine that would read as if it were a mainstream publication from a future century, and he believed science fiction would help fashion that better world.

Campbell encouraged a number of promising writers, but Heinlein was his chief success. The former military officer, engineer and politician brought his sophisticated life experiences with him, and had trained himself to write accessibly by studying the market. His “future history” stories (collected in The Past Through Tomorrow) vividly conjure a world in which rational individuals coolly solve conflicts arising from nuclear power, religious fanaticism, human longevity, expanding bureaucracies and space exploration. He pioneered the technique of establishing his invented worlds through descriptive detail rather than lengthy exposition: “the door dilated” shows and tells at the same time. Perhaps Heinlein’s greatest innovation was to domesticate science fiction without sacrificing the estranging effects central to the genre. His stories were full of the common-sense perspective and folksy rhetoric of the American Midwest; everything was a more than up-to-date Kansas City.

For Heinlein, science fiction soon became the new testament for a widening community of believers. After the Second World War, he brought the gospel to mainstream readers by becoming one of the first SF writers to publish in mainstream magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post. He extended his sway in the 1950s by writing a very popular series of young-adult novels meant to convert the next generation to the sense of wonder implicit in the new age of science. “I can’t get interested in writing which is not . . . socially useful”, he wrote to a friend in 1945. “I should have been a preacher. Had I been able to retain the puritanical, Bible-belt faith in which I was reared, I would have been.” William Patterson’s first volume ends in 1948, just as his subject was leaving the pulp ghetto to evangelize to a wider audience.


Somewhat nonplussed by the review -- though I'm grateful it's appearing now, as it will keep the book in peoples' consciousness -- as it's chockablock with factual errors and weird suppositious interpretive ideas. Still, it's the Times Literary Supplement, innit?


Tue Dec 14, 2010 7:02 am
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Post Re: Reviews
It's not terribly inaccurate (aside from some minor factual errors, "eldest child," etc.) and I think it captures the gist quite nicely. And he did say your research is "impressive," which it obviously is. I would not call the tone of the biography "hagiographic," but it's certainly respectful, and it does assume the reader has a familiarity with Heinlein. That's not a bad thing since you're basically preaching to a rather large choir. If the Times Literary Supplement is at all influential, this will lead to a nice boost in sales in another geographical market.

It is on sale in UK bookstores, isn't it?

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Last edited by JackKelly on Tue Dec 14, 2010 8:05 am, edited 1 time in total.



Tue Dec 14, 2010 8:03 am
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Post Re: Reviews
JackKelly wrote:
It's not terribly inaccurate (aside from some minor factual errors, "eldest child," etc.) and I think it captures the gist quite nicely. And he did say your research is "impressive," which it obviously is. I would not call the tone of the biography "hagiographic," but it's certainly respectful, and it does assume the reader has a familiarity with Heinlein. That's not a bad thing since you're basically preaching to a rather large choir. If the Times Literary Supplement is at all influential, this will lead to a nice boost in sales in another geographical market.

It is on sale in the UK, isn't it?

That's a good question. I think you can get it from amazon.com.uk, but I know the English Kindle could not be ordered early on.


Tue Dec 14, 2010 8:05 am
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Post Re: Reviews
BillPatterson wrote:

Robert A. Heinlein was perhaps the most influential science-fiction writer of the twentieth century. Although never as famous as Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke,.....

.... after two years he was voted the most popular SF author in America.

Hmm. Not as famous, but most popular.

I guess the question is, famous to whom? It would be interesting to see how he formed this opinion.


Tue Dec 14, 2010 8:25 am
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