enhanced] DD-B

Book Note: Robert A. Heinlein, Robert A. Heinlein: The Man Who Learned Better (1948-1988)

I read this book about 20-Jun-2014. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 2014. This note was last modified Tuesday, 13-Sep-2016 09:35:18 PDT.

This note does not contain major spoilers for the book.


Second volume of Patterson's biography of Heinlein, covering 1948-1988.

Patterson died unexpectedly quite shortly before this volume came out.

Big men in the Heinlein fan community, which Patterson certainly was, generally have a near-religious regard for Heinlein that I cannot fathom, and which makes me uncomfortable. This attitude makes it impossible to do a really good biography.

I've said myself that I was raised by Heinlein and Doc Smith as much as by my parents, and have read everything over and over again, even including reading Number of the Beast more than once (yes, it's as bad as you thought it was, despite the weak signs of promise in a few early chapters). I think of myself as being a Heinlein fan beyond reasonable boundaries. But still.

Still, there's lots of stuff of interest here. For example Heinlein was sterile, but Ginny never told him (she learned from his doctor in 1954). And they did consider adoption, but various things always got in the way, including Colorado age limits on adopting.

On the other hand, there's weird stuff about Robert and Ginny being a bit afraid to go into Argentina as the last fascist leftover from WWII. I can't tell if it was Heinlein, or Patterson, who has forgotten about Portugal or (especially) Spain; Patterson is the right age that he should automatically think of "Francisco Franco is still dead" and date it to a time considerably after the trip in question, though.

On p. 105 he takes a poke at Heinlein for perhaps not realizing he was looking over Rio's slums (favelas) when admiring the view from the Christ statue. I've admired that view a few times lately in World Cup coverage. There's also a weird reference to the favelas being so horrible that they're a frequent video game setting, which I kind of fail to get.

On p. 120 we learn that John W. Campbell was a Tom Lehrer fan. He sent an LP of the songs to Heinlein. This must (given the date) have been the original self-published Songs by Tom Lehrer. Robert and Ginny sang the "love songs" to each other in syrupy tones (I suspect he means "When You are Old and Gray" and "I Hold Your Hand in Mine"). So we can count the Heinleins as fans also. This seems to have been in 1954; Asimov mentions seeing Lehrer perform in 1954 in his autobiography, too. I'm not surprised he had great currency in the SF community even that early.

Lots of my favorite books are in the early part of this period. I'm very much enjoying hearing the stories of their creation.

The 1958 story of his fight against the nuclear test ban treaty is interesting. People who should be logistics experts keep overlooking our geographical isolation in the world, and Heinlein's belief that live-action nuclear testing was necessary to continued weapons development proved to be untrue (but I don't know if Eisenhower or any of the SANE campaigners knew that either). Patterson connects this somehow to our support of dictators around the world, and the trouble that has caused us, but so far as I can see that's all Patterson. Heinlein was hard-line anti-communist, but I can't see him going too far in supporting repressive dictatorships, beyond short-term arms-length collaboration on specific goals. And somehow we never see Heinlein reacting viscerally against non-communist dictatorships (he rather liked Pinochet's Argentina, despite having been afraid to go there). I suspect Patterson is imposing his shallow understanding of Heinlein's politics on Heinlein somehow.


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David Dyer-Bennet