- File Size: 3892 KB
- Print Length: 672 pages
- Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (June 3, 2014)
- Publication Date: June 3, 2014
- Sold by: Macmillan
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00HTJ05PA
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #293,694 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better (1948-1988) Kindle Edition
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“Patterson’s two volumes are a remarkable picture of an influential writer and his time in history … Don’t be surprised if your biography-loving friend ask you for Stranger in a Strange Land or Starship Troopers after finishing this book.” ―Analog
“Patterson's prose is easy to read, packed with data but never dry. I expected to work through the book over time, but found that I devoured it in a few long sessions.” ―The Nameless Zine
“It’s likely the most we will ever learn about Heinlein (and probably in finer detail than most readers would sit still for), and despite its adulatory tone it reveals a great deal more about Heinlein’s real attitudes than his own rather disappointingly bland Grumbles from the Grave.” ―Locus
“Fans and scholars of Heinlein will find this an invaluable resource, though there is little here to appeal to other readers.” ―Library Journal
“His [Patterson’s] monumental biography remains an important contribution to the history of American science fiction.” ―Washington Post
“An essential book for studious fans of Heinlein, with valuable lessons for anyone hoping to make a living with the pen.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“An important foundation for future appreciations of the author’s work.” ―Publishers Weekly
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The second volume starts with Robert's marriage to Virginia, and I think it could have been appropriately been subtitled "the Virginia Years." She was an amazing individual and the great love of his life. The two letters included at the end of the book that Virginia wrote to Robert after he died are deeply moving -- would that we were all so lucky to know such love. She was also his muse, his business manager, and most insightful critic.
Three things stand out in this volume:
1. Even the most casual Heinlein fans knows that he had health problems. The biography spells out just how profound and varied they were. One has to wonder what his creative output would have been without so many ongoing medical crises.
2. The Heinleins were astonishingly generous people, even during hard times. They helped family, they helped fellow writers, and they fought for causes that they believed in.
3. The amount of disrespect that Heinlein endured...from Hollywood, from publishers, from fans, from critics, from his ex-wife...is really quite heartbreaking.
At any rate, the book's well worth reading.
The pre-war short fiction which established his reputation was written mainly in Los Angeles during his ill-fated second marriage. His third marriage to Virginia and his life in Colorado Springs saw the publication of the dozen "juvenile" novels which created an immense base of fans and inspired a generation of scientists. The three adult novels; Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Starship Troopers, wrenched science fiction out of the genre dungeon and arguably changed the social and political landscape of the country. The later novels, written after a move back to California, amidst illness and fame, are clever, but lack the narrative drive and technical invention of the earlier works.
Many questions linger. How was Heinlein able to create the humorous, heroic, and human characters that populated his best work? What enabled him to see the direction of technology so clearly that he forecast dozens of industries and inventions? Where did those stories come from? Why has no other writer equaled his popularity and impact?
Most writers would be happy to have one or two novels in print after 20 years. More than a dozen Heinlein novels are still being reprinted more than 50 years after they were written, and finding new audiences.
To start with, you'll need two bookmarks when you read this biography: one for your place in the narrative and another to keep your place in the end notes where you'll find not only the usual reference citations, but further explanations, source quotations, and anecdotes.
This book does not lack in detail, but at times it seems that the details take over from the big picture of Heinlein and his work, and at other times only a small amount of information is given on some topics almost as a teaser before dropping it and moving onto something else.
An example of a teaser topic is the mention of the opus system of organization that Virginia Heinlein set up for her husband to track his various writing projects. After a few sentences briefly describing the system, it is mentioned in passing throughout the rest of the book without ever giving an example or describing it in full. Photographs of the cards and numbering system for one of his works used as an example would have been ideal. Since this system was so important to Heinlein's work, why wasn't it given a more thorough treatment in the text? On the other hand, we're told about each and every time that one of the Heinleins went to see a production of Wagner's Ring operas, and each time reminded how Robert wasn't that keen on them.
There were some factual errors in the text and endnotes, mostly having to do with events of the times rather than directly to do with the Heinleins themselves. (One was the statement that Ford did not have automatic transmission for their cars until 1973. Since I had 1960 and 1966 Fords, both with automatic, I know this to be untrue. I don't know why this would even be mentioned since the Heinleins had a Chevrolet at the time, and the endnote was explaining a term used by General Motors to describe their transmission. Why even mention Ford, especially when you've just introduced an error into the text?)
Mr. Patterson was authorized to write this biography by Virginia Heinlein, and with that authorization he was given free access to the Robert Heinlein archives at UC Santa Cruz and hours of time with Mrs. Heinlein for interviews. I remember when Mrs. Heinlein was a participant in the Usenet newsgroup alt.fan.heinlein (as was Patterson), and she was gracious in answering questions and joining in discussions of her husband's works. It was quite clear from her interactions that she regarded herself as Keeper of the Faith for her husband's legacy. That same tone can be found in this biography. Patterson is acting both as a biographer and a defender which limits his usefulness to the reader when an unbiased analysis or criticism is needed. It is a case of the author being too close to his subject through his close relationship to Mrs. Heinlein.
In conclusion, although to me the topic of Robert Heinlein is always worth five stars, I am giving this volume of his biography four stars due to the lack of critical analysis and overview. Yes, I learned things I did not previously know about Heinlein, but this book could have been much more than a cataloging of details and minutiae of his life with a side trip of a defense of his politics. I recommend it to fans of Heinlein, those wanting to know more about how a successful writer got and stayed that way, and anyone interested historically in the post-World War II era of science fiction.
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Patterson also editorializes occasionally, pushing what are obviously his own political views into the narrative as a substitute for any suitable quotation from Heinlein..
It would have been nice to get the other side of the argument for some of Heinlein's famous tiffs. Alexei Panshin, the Heinleins' bête noire, seems not to have been interviewed, and Patterson relegates any reference to Panshin's side of the story to a mention of his website, buried in the Notes at the back of the book. Frederik Pohl was alive at the time this book was being written, but there's no mention of his published recollections of the incident in which a negative review of "Stranger in a Strange Land" was suppressed by Heinlein's intervention; nor do we hear from Ben Bova about the episode in which he pressed on and published a review that Heinlein would have preferred not to see the light of day. Patterson skips lightly over all of it - Panshin is a Bad Person, Pohl did the Right Thing, Bova did the Wrong Thing.
We don't hear from any of the blood transfusion professionals that Heinlein fell out with over his "blood drive" activities, or from the doctor that is blithely named and accused of malpractice in passing.
On the positive side, there is enough commentary from Heinlein himself to begin to formulate an informed view of his politics, and an understanding of the motivation behind some of his writing. The reason for many of the misunderstandings and battles between Heinlein and his critics becomes clearer.
And, ultimately, Patterson's narrative becomes a moving testimony to the bravery and love of Robert and Virginia Heinlein, as they cope valiantly with old age, illness and disability.