Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Robert A. Heinlein Bio: Book Report

It's got me re-re-re-to the nth-reading The Green Hills Of Earth and wondering where my copy of The Past Through Tomorrow* has got to: and it's only the first volume of William H. Patterson, Jr.'s massive Authorized Biography, Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, subtitled Learning Curve|1907 -- 1948.

Time and money very well spent. The book walks the line between scholarly tome and pop bio, steers a difficult course between gossipy tell-all and adoring whitewash, and by the end of this volume (with the Colorado Springs house, let alone Bonny Doon, not yet in sight), the guy you know as an entertaining storyteller, a father-figure with a puzzling, even contradictory backstory, has become a three-dimensional human being. Not quite the guy I expected -- but very much Heinlein.

It's a particular insight into Leslyn and Ginny Heinlein, too. While the latter's a familiar figure to most serious RAH fans, the former, not so much; they were married rather longer than you probably think and her influence was greater than I had gathered it to be.

Their circle of friends is fascinating; I knew about the DeCamps and Kuttner/Moore households and even Elron H. (shhh! Don't wake the dragon's spawn), but Willy Ley, Fritz Lang and Jack Parsons were surprises.

My only complaint is that it ends half-way through -- and now I've got to wait until Volume 2 comes out! (Oh, one other: Mr. Patterson doesn't recognize RAH's space-going contractor "Five Companies, Inc." as an allusion to the then-familiar Six Companies consortium that built the Hoover/Boulder dam; but I suppose you'd have to be both an RAH fan and a history-of-technology fan to catch it nowadays).

Highly recommended. Well-written and answered a lot of my questions about just who RAH was.

(Want a copy? Buy it via the Amazon.com link at Tam's and help out a starving artist!)
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* One of the very few places you can find RAH's short story Let There Be Light, in which you meet the inventors of the Douglas-Martin sunpower screen -- and they almost don't meet one another. Wrong!

10 comments:

Bob said...

Good review, Roberta, and it saves me reviewing it myself, since I just finished it, also. It's obvious from reading the book that Heinlein's self-reliance and advocacy of same in his books comes from his impoverished upbringing. I also hadn't known of the influence that Ernest J. King, his skipper on USS Lexington, exerted on both his naval career and his developement as a man of integrity.

I'm looking forward to volume 2, since volume 1 ends just as the magnificent series of Heinlein's books for juveniles had begun.

Nathan said...

"Let There Be Light" is in The Past Through Tomorrow? Not in my copy (printed 1986).

A quick Google search suggests it's in The Man Who Sold The Moon (which story, confusingly, is also collected in The Past Through Tomorrow).

That may save you some time :)

Jon said...

I'm in the middle of the bio right now, enjoying it so far. Only wish it wasn't split into two volumes, as I'll be stuck waiting on the 2nd.

Crucis said...

I've met a few SF writers, mostly from the Baen corral, Eric Flint, Mike Resnick, and K. D. Wentworth. Add to that list, Robert A. Heinlein.

I moved to the southern KC area in the late 1960's while in the Air Force. Over the following years a group of locals, Ham operators and others, would gather on Saturday mornings for breakfast at a local greasy spoon. One day, I noticed that, over in a corner, Robert A. Heinlein was also having breakfast.

I went over, introduced myself, said, "Hello," and left him in peace. Over time, Heinlein appeared frequently, and getting to know the group, would join us on occasion. We never talked about SF or his books but we did talk about everything else.

It seems that Heinlein had friends and business in KC and he'd drive up from Nevada, MO every few weeks to spend the day. He'd leave home around 6AM and stop off at our greasy spoon for breakfast if he had time. He always had a word with us even if he didn't always join us but he made many friends.

RAH also was a connoisseur of grease! He preferred Mom 'n Pop, greasy spoons over the franchised, mass produced eateries.

D.W. Drang said...

I picked up Green Hills of Earth in a Scholastic Books edition in, IIRC, 3rd or 4th grade.

At all costs, avoid Alexi Panshin's hatchet job Heinlein in Dimension.

Mr.Wolf said...

Miss X, I tried to find Tam's Amazon link, but all there seems to be is a link to her wish list. Which is none of my business.
After a couple of attempts, I just went to Amazon the usual way.
I know I"m an technologically challenged old geezer, and it practically makes my nose bleed just turning this machine on, but some customers are like that. Either you mis-linked, or Tam is losing business by not making it easy enough for people to give her money. A big 'Buy on Amazon through me, press HERE' might double her business. Hope this helps.
Best wishes.

Bubblehead Les. said...

Thanks for the info! Any word on the scheduled publication date for Volume 2? I'm one of those guys who like to to read such material all in one Swell Foop whenever possible.

DirtCrashr said...

Bonny Doon Road is a helluva motorcycle road leading to more helluvatastic motorcycling roads. Along the way the Beauregard Winery was revived from dormancy and planted by my friend Mike.

Roberta X said...

Nathan, I stand corrected. I had remembered it exactly backwards; "Let There Be Light" is indeed in The man Who Sold The Moon.

Justthisguy said...

DeathWish, I concur on the Panshin nastiness. I have fond memories of reading "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel" and "Starship Troopers" as a kid. Sense of wonder and all that. The mundanes just don't understand.

WV: peback. One of these days the mundanes will get some peback.