I'll have to confess that the only time I ever encountered Robert A. Heinlein -- I stood in line to get his autograph for a friend -- I wasn't greatly impressed. Oh, I acknowledged his importance to science fiction and the virtue of most of his books. But he held himself like a man who was posing for his own statue. And his guest of honor speech at MidAmeriCon (the 1976 World Science Fiction Convention) was rambling, seemingly made up on the spot from whatever thoughts chanced to enter his head, and climaxed with the observation that "We will always have wars," presented as being something we should all be grateful for.
Not an easy guy to like.
So I was pleasantly surprised when I read the first volume of William H. Patterson Jr.'s biography of the man and found myself favorably revising my opinion of Heinlein. He seems to have deliberately pruned the documentation of his life to make himself out to be the kind of cardboard hero that was presented for emulation in biographies aimed at boys, back when he was young. But wherever a glimpse survived of the real man, he was a much more attractive fellow. He was generous to friends. He put up with the young Ray Bradbury (who was apparently a very disruptive presence) because he thought the lad had potential. Most endearingly, early in his career he let down his guard and wrote to a friend demanding to know why John W. Campbell wouldn't simply tell him what sort of story he wanted, so Heinlein could simply write it for him.
Most new writers have been there. We can all feel his pain.
In yesterday's mail I received an Advanced Reading Copy of Robert A. Heinlein In Dialogue With His Century: Volume 2, 1948-1988: The Man Who Learned Better. There was a rumor circulating among often-reliable people that the biography had ballooned to three volumes, so it's a relief to discover that this is the concluding volume. Writers, musicians, and other artists are most interesting when they're struggling to find their voices and make their names. Success is, to use the technical term, far less "plotty." So I'm glad the chronicles of Heinlein's success can be contained in a single book.
Volume 2 opens with Heinlein's early struggles almost at an end. He's selling to the Saturday Evening Post, his work is in high demand, and he's knee-deep in the creation of George Pal's science fiction movie Destination Moon. All he needs is for a few of the checks to actually arrive and the hardscrabble phase of his career will be over.
That's as far as I've gotten, but it's really all you need to know. Either you're going to buy this book or you're not. You know in which camp you lie.
Robert A. Heinlein In Dialogue With His Century: Volume 2, 1948-1988: The Man Who Learned Better (which has to be in the running for longest title of the year) will be published in June by Tor Books