Thursday, June 05, 2014

Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialog With His Century, Volume 2

     The long-awaited second half of William H. Patterson's Heinlein biography has been published and I'm well into it.  There are a few deeply jarring science bobbles early on -- Patterson seems to have gotten the notion that V-2 rockets were fueled with liquid oxygen and hydrogen peroxide[1], for example -- but it is a lucid, readable and, where it concerns his subject, well-researched narrative.

     Anyone who has been following the long, dark tea-time of SF's tempest between (mostly smalltime) Social Justice Warriors on sone side and Larry "Walter B. Gibson reborn"[2] Correia (with midlist accompaniment) on the other will find much that is familiar in the book's coverage of critical and editorial reactions to Heinlein's "Starship Troopers," right down to the determined misreading of the text.

     Big book fulla fascinating dish, well-supported, well-written despite the occasional technical lapse.  Recommended -- buy your copy via Tam's link and help pay for high-speed internet here at Roseholme Cottage, mmm-kay?

     N.B.: I have corrected a silly typo in the post title.  My first name is just one letter longer than RAH's -- and I type it rather than his (and my fathers) practically as a reflex.

     Update: William H. Patterson passed away 22 April of this year.  He was 62.   He is much-missed.
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1. What? These are both oxidizers.  Like air.  V-2 engines burn alcohol (75% ethanol, 25% water -- 150 proof, like rum only without the flavor) and LOX.  They do pump 'em with a steam turbine driven by catalytic reaction of hydrogen peroxide, but it's not driving the rocket any more than the battery propels a '53 Chevy. Patterson is very comfortable explaining the complexities of who said what to whom, when but I'm willing to bet he never changed spark plugs in his car.

 2. You could maybe look him up.  Let's just say Gibson probably kept  his neighborhood typewriter repairman very happy.

8 comments:

NAVIGATOR said...

HYDROGEN PEROXIDE AND KEROSENE MIX
I BELIEVE FOR V-2S
BOYS AND GIRLS DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME LEAVE THIS TO YOUR NAZI SCIENTISTS
"ZEH ROCKETS GOES UP VHER ZEY KUM DOWN IZ NOT MY DEPARTMENT SAYS WERNER VON BRAUN THE WIDOWS UND ORPHANS OF OLD LONDON TOWN OWE THEIR PENSIONS TO WERNER VON BRAUN" -TOM LEHER

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but "Roberta A. Heinlein" made me LOL.

D.W. Drang said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D.W. Drang said...

Patterson passed away recently.

No discussion of the book on Facespace's Heinlein Forum beyond "Yay! My copy is here!" Mostly too busy explaining to n00bs why so many of us said that we'd quit the forum if they approved a certain person's application for membership. (Won't mention the name because I don't want to draw his minions and fanbois attention. Let's just say he wrote a book 3 decades ago that fanned the flames of the controversy to which you allude.)

Roberta X said...

G-dammit, I can't type "Roberta." Er, Robert.

Must go fix.

JayNola said...

Re: Fuel Confusion. Possibly thinking of the ME_163, partially, which was powered by h2o2 and a mix of hydrazine, methanol, and water...

Roberta X said...

Nope, he was definitely not. I think he just didn't grasp that a V-2 take three kinds of "fuel," of which the hydrogen peroxide is the smallest in volume and does not make a direct contribution to thrust.

While two of three are "storeable" at room temperatire and pressure (obviously the LOX has to be loaded very shortly before launch), AFAIK the V-2 itself was stored and transported dry. In the reported incident, launch was delayed 24 hours because one of the two shelf-stable fluids had not been ordered, and the thing sat overnight with one tank full. It blew up shortly after launch and he blames the failure on the delay. Possibly; but he also says it was the H2O2 and between it and alcohol, it is (as far as I know) a lot more reactive.

He tried to explain something he did not understand and what he wrote was incoherent. This bothers me a lot in a fellow who is usually quite clear.

Moral: if you don't know what's what and you can't or won't look it up, don't get fancy. Especially in a bio of a man who inspired a lot kids to get into science and technology.

mm@xyz.com said...

I've seen the error of saying that the V2 was powered by H2O2 oxidizer several times before - they must have been copying from some early erroneous source. That mistake is somewhat understandable; several smaller German rockets and a U-boat power-boost system were powered by various fuels + H2O2, and the V2 fuel/LOX pump was H2O2 powered. But if you understand the technology at all, it's like claiming that a car is battery-powered because it has an electric fuel pump.

But LOX + H2O2! Did Patterson flunk high school chemistry?