Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Future Biography

Robert Heinlein wrote about his life in passing, and his letters have been published, but until today there hasn't been a biography available in book form. Actually, this is just the first volume, covering 1907 to 1948, but it's over 600 pages.

Since Heinlein only started writing sf in the late 30s, and took some time off for the war, there's gonna be only so much in the book about his work. But it's still the era when he wrote all those great short stories, so it'll be well worth it. The second volume, though, when he writes all those novels, and becomes a world famous writer, will probably be of even greater interest.


Anonymous Lawrence King said...

My only worry is that it is an "authorized" biography, which sometimes can mean it's too hagiographical. But looking through the index, it is very complete. (Although the index misspells Yom Kippur, oddly.)

Checking the web: In 1999, Patterson wrote a great RAH biography that is still available via web archive. It's not as long as his book, of course, but it's much longer than the Wikipedia article on RAH (which is pretty good itself).

Heinlein joined Walter Cronkite on live television for part of the Apollo 11 moon landing. However, I have never seen any footage of this; perhaps it was lost. Too bad.

9:00 PM, August 17, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll be interested to read this- while familiar with Heinlein, I've only read Job, Starship Troopers and many years ago, the Boy's Life comic version of "Stranger in a Strange Land" all of which seem written by authors with very different ideas . I'm glad he didn't let consistency (that foolish hobgoblin) and the persistent notion of viewing all through a left/right divide the get in the way of a good yarn

5:56 AM, August 18, 2010  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Heinlein rarely had writer's block. Other writers would come to him for help, in fact. So you get a lot of ideas from him. As for politics, there's a certain consistency, but there's also tension--he had libertarian tendencies but was also fascinated by the highly regimented world of the military. (Not that he was always libertarian--I believe he was a socialist when younger.)

Anon, not only have you read very little of his output, you've also read only his later stuff. Even before Starship Troopers, he was already a master of science fiction and had been for years.

10:24 AM, August 18, 2010  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

I recommend his short-story collection The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag. It contains the novella "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag", which is the greatest dark fantasy I have ever read. All the others -- Stephen King, etc. -- start with a terrifying premise and then have an ending that disappoints you. "Hoag" is incredible all the way through.

It also contains "They", a very short story that used to make me really paranoid. And "All You Zombies", the time-travel story to end all time-travel stories.

These stories are also collected in the volume The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein. But I'm not sure that "fantasy" is exactly how I would categorize these stories.

Some aspects of Heinlein's political and social views were constant throughout his lifetime. He always supported an aggressively interventionist American foreign policy, which is one reason he was a Democrat and then a Socialist in the 1930s, since he rejected the isolationism of the Taft-wing of the Republican party. And he had always been unimpressed with conservative social mores.

The two places where his politics shifted in the early 1940s were economics (abandoning his 1930s Upton Sinclair socialism in favor of laissez-faire capitalism) and globalism (abandoning his hopes for world government in favor of minimalist and decentralized government). I suspect that falling in love with Virginia (his great love from the early 1940s until his death) may have been a psychological factor, since she seems to have been more conservative than he when they met. But the changes may have been primarily due to his concluding that socialism and world government were unworkable.

I read Isaac Asimov's autobiography long ago. He didn't even think of Heinlein as political until Heinlein met Virginia. He was shocked when Heinlein told him in late 1945 or 1946 that Truman should appoint "a Republican general" vice-president and then resign. Heinlein's earlier politics had pretty much been secret in the science fiction community, even from fellow writers and friends like Asimov. In fact, Asimov was unaware that Heinlein had been married twice (not just once) before meeting Ginny.

5:28 PM, August 18, 2010  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

Correction: RAH said that Truman should appoint a Republican general as secretary of state and then resign. The appointment of a VP wasn't yet in the constitution. (And the secretary of state was 2nd in line at the time, but he's 5th in line today.)

Indeed, in The Number of the Beast, it turns out that the universe in which all his 1940s "Future History" stories were set did end up with Patton as President.

5:37 PM, August 18, 2010  

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