The Problems with Patterson’s Heinlein Biography

Robert A. Heinlein
Robert A. Heinlein

 

 

I reviewed the late William Patterson’s new biography of the writer Robert Heinlein for the New Republic. Because the New Republic is a general interest magazine, I focused my review on only one of major complaints against Patterson (that he lacked critical distance from Heinlein). But I had many more problems with Patterson which I thought wouldn’t be of interest to a New Republic readership but should be noted for the record. In general, these complaints grow from the initial problem noted in the New Republic article (lack of critical distance) but are more detailed.

In no particular order, the problems with the book are:

1. Lack of curiosity about Heinlein’s ties to the far right. Heinlein wrote an article for the October 1960 issue of The American Mercury titled “’Pravada’ Means ‘Truth’”. The interesting thing about this anti-communist article is the venue: by 1960 the American Mercury, once edited by H.L. Mencken but fallen on hard times, was an anti-Semitic far right journal. People who were otherwise very conservative – notably William F. Buckley and William Rusher, both of National Review – warned their fellow right-wingers not to publish in it. In fact, National Review had a policy that anyone who published in the American Mercury could not publish in the National Review. When you consider how racist National Review was in the 1950s, the embargo on the American Mercury is astonishing.  Heinlein had a very good record on anti-Semitism, having denounced it since the 1930s and even breaking friendships with anti-Semites. So what was he doing writing for the American Mercury (which had a jibe against Jews in the very issue Heinlein published in)? Patterson doesn’t ask.

2. Obscuring Heinlein’s sympathy for the John Birch Society. The biography notes that Heinlein and his wife Virginia were briefly involved in the John Birch Society. What gets buried in the back of the book in the endnotes is the extent of Heinlein’s sympathy for the Birch Society even after hiiie broke from it. Heinlein described the John Birch Society as a “fascist organization” but he also thought they were far preferable to liberals or moderate conservatives. “But if I am ever forced to a choice between the John Birch Society and its enemies, I know which side of the barricades I belong on,” Heinlein wrote a friend in 1961. “I’ll be on the same side the John Birch Society is on – because my enemies are on the other side.” (volume 2, p. 553 endnote 91) Surely this astonishing letter, which casts a real light on Heinlein’s politics, shouldn’t have been buried in the endnotes. It needed some prominence in the biography and some analysis.

3. Uncritical acceptance of Heinlein’s politics. As Brad DeLong has noticed, at key points Patterson accepts Heinlein’s own political ideas even when they are at odds with historical fact. Thus Patterson, following Heinlein, accepts the conspiratorial view of Franklin Roosevelt’s Asia policy (that Roosevelt deliberately enticed the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor). Patterson also writes about “the Eisenhower administration’s unnerving international passivity.” (volume 2, p. 570 endnote #1). This is a characterization that one might find in the pages of National Review in 1958 or the John Birch Society in the same year. It’s not a statement any reputable diplomatic historian would endorse. Again, Patterson is too close to Heinlein to see the problems with Heinlein’s worldview.

4. Lack of curiosity about Heinlein’s personal McCarthyism. Starting in the late 1940s Heinlein fell into the habit of accusing people he knew (the director Fritz Lang, the film writer James O’Hanlon, the anthologist Groff Conklin) of being Stalinists or fellow travellers. Patterson records these observations by Heinlein but doesn’t ask if these people were really Stalinists (they weren’t) and doesn’t draw the obvious conclusions about Heinlein’s propensity for making false allegations, or how this might relate to Heinlein’s political shift from 1948 to 1957. (volume 1, p. 457, volume 2 p. 35 and p. 66)

5. Unfairness to those Heinlein argued with. A testy and truculent man, especially in later life Heinlein got into many arguments. In this biography, Patterson always records Heinlein’s side of these quarrels but makes little or no effort to get the perspective of the person being argued with. Examples of this include Heinlein’s feud with the critic Alexei Panshin (who Patterson seems to have briefly communicated with Panshin by email but whose perspective isn’t in the biography) and his late life quarrel with Arthur C. Clarke about Reagan’s missile defence program (SDI). Patterson conveys the false impression that Clarke came to accept Heinlein’s arguments (“He ceased speaking out against SDI.” Volume 2, 446). Yet if we look up Clarke’s essay on Heinlein in the volume Requiem (edited by Yoji Kondo), we’ll see that Clarke maintained the same position as always, that parts of SDI might be needed but the program as a whole was being oversold by Heinlein and his allies (Kondo, p. 264). Patterson is equally unfair to the critic H. Bruce Franklin (who is accused of spiking a panel on Heinlein in the Modern Language Association). Patterson didn’t contact Franklin to verify the accusation. (Franklin’s 1980 monograph Robert A. Heinlein: America As Science Fiction  is, by the way, the best thing ever written on Heinlein). The implicit message of the book is that Heinlein was right in virtually every argument he ever had.

6. Unwillingness to consult other secondary sources. Patterson’s account of Heinlein’s relationship with Philip K. Dick differs in one significant detail from that of Dick biography Lawrence Sutin (in his book Divine Invasions). According to Sutin, Heinlein eventually got mad at Dick for asking for money (which Heinlein had lent before). This detail is missing from Patterson – it would be good to know if it was true or not. In general, Patterson doesn’t engage with the secondary literature that might complicate his view of Heinlein.

7. Lack of empathy for Leslyn Heinlein. Heinlein’s second wife, who he was married to from 1932 to 1947, is the major villain in the book. Patterson describes her has having “psychotic episodes.” It’s true that Leslyn, especially in the last years of her marriage and after the divorce, was a deeply troubled person. Yet Patterson makes little effort to ask why. Was Leslyn happy with the open marriage arrangement she had with Heinlein? That’s a crucial question which Patterson skirts. In an endnote, Patterson notes that Leon Stover in his unpublished Heinlein biography argued that Leslyn’s alcoholism, signs of which were evident during World War II, was a product of her unhappiness at enforced wife swapping. (Stover’s biography was spiked by the Heinlein estate; Patterson’s biography was authorized by the same estate). Patterson idolizes Heinlein too much and is too psychological incurious to pursue this line of thought. Patterson’s unempathetic treatment of Leslyn is a major flaw in the biography.
Leslyn’s drinking problem had multiple roots. Her dad had been an alcoholic. World War II was stressful for her, with close family members trapped in the Philippines under Japanese occupation. It’s possible that discontent at the open marriage was a factor, but more subtly the fertility problems she and Heinlein suffered from might have made open marriage a dicier proposition. Perhaps what upset her was not the open marriage but the threat of being replaced by a younger rival who could bear children.

8. Lack of psychological curiosity. Heinlein wanted to have children in both his second and third marriage but both relationships suffered from infertility. Now, issues of fertility and genetic inheritance are rife in Heinlein’s fiction from Beyond This Horizon (1942) to Time Enough For Love (1973) to Friday (1982). Surely a biographer with any sort of curiosity would have tried to at least suggest some thematic connection. It is telling that the man who couldn’t have children himself created Lazarus Long, the father of countless children whose descendants number in the billions. It doesn’t have to be a deep Freudian reading of Heinlein’s life, just a short note suggesting a possible tie. This would have enriched the biography. Perhaps Patterson wasn’t the biographer to do this, but there are many interesting links between the life and the work to pursue.

9. Over-reliance on Heinlein’s letters. Huge chunks of the biography are simply Patterson rehashing information gleaned from Heinlein’s diaries, with little or no effort to verify the information from these letters. Obviously that is a problem, but there is a further difficulty. Heinlein destroyed large parts of his correspondence (especially those dealing with his marriage to Leslyn and to his left-wing activism of the 1930s and 1940s). Patterson hasn’t grappled adequately with how this destruction of evidence might give us a distorted view of Heinlein. Some of the key information in the book, like the startling claim that President Truman discussed a 1945 Heinlein memo about rocketry in a cabinet meeting, comes from Heinlein’s letters or those of Virginia Heinlein. For matters like this, we need more documentation than Patterson provides. (see volume 1, page 410, and page 575, note 36)

10. Oafish writing. There is too much of this to provide a complete inventory but one example will suffice. Writing about a trip the Heinlein’s took in the 1950s to Brazil, Patterson writes “what the Heinleins did not realize they were overlooking, Rio’s favelas, some of the worst slums in the world, so legendary in their poverty, violence, and crime that they are still being used as the setting for many ‘shooter’ video games.” Surely there is a way to evoke the misery of Rio’s slums without reference to video games?

11. Organizational problems. Much of the juiciest and most interesting material in the book is secreted away in the endnotes and also in Appendix 2 of volume 2 (a necessary problem since that has material that Patterson only came across after finishing volume 1). What this means is that the books narrative is really disjointed. I found that in order to make sense of Heinlein’s second marriage I had to read not just the text of volume 1 but also the notes to both volume 1 and 2 as well as Appendix 2. Once you read those and piece the story together, the whole saga of Heinlein’s second marriage, divorce and re-marriage becomes much more clear (it also helps to read or re-read Farnham’s Freehold, which contains a story that echoes the divorce and re-marriage.)

In sum, this is a deeply inadequate biography. At best, it is a useful inventory of information that some future biographer can use as a starting point for a better book. Perhaps Patterson should be seen as the first draft of the good Heinlein biography that will one day be written.

PS: Marissa Lingen’s post about the problems with Patterson offers a critique along the same lines as mine with fresh evidence (see here).

21 thoughts on “The Problems with Patterson’s Heinlein Biography

  1. I read The New Republic review and wished you could have incorporated these criticisms. I was just grateful to read the two-volume Patterson biography because I’ve always wanted to know about Heinlein. I assumed since it was authorized it would be one sided, but I was disappointed that Patterson interviewed so few people involved in Heinlein’s life.

    I’m looking forward to a real biography of Heinlein, but I wonder if anyone cares enough about Heinlein anymore to write it. I think as his fans die off, interest in his books will completely disappear. And I’m a big fan, at least of his books published before 1960.

    I wrote a completely different take on the Patterson biography at my blog http://jameswharris.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/the-many-robert-heinleins-we-remember/ which criticizes Patterson for not explaining how Heinlein created so many books with so much sense of wonder. Patterson chronicled the boring details of Heinlein’s life without finding the dazzling details. I will give Patterson credit for sifting through the Heinlein papers and summarizing an abundance of useful details. But like some bloggers have commented, Patterson added too much of his own commentary.

    After reading this biography I feel a lesser need to know Heinlein. I’ll continue to reread my favorite books by him, and forget about the rest. What I loved about Heinlein was in the books, and evidently not the man.

  2. Hi James — thanks for your comments and your own review of Patterson, which has much I agree with. I suppose the consensus should be that Patterson did do some great research but also had serious flaws in interpretation and in his handling of evidence.

  3. I have to agree with your the review, as it captured so many of the things ran through my mind also, specially the treatment of Leslyn. I read the second part of the biography first and the first parting second and as you said that a lot was hidden away in the very back of the book. Reading the second part first left me with the impression that she was a villain, but it seems that she was just let go of when something new came along; which boils down to one of my main gripes of the two books:, a lack of being critical of the man at all.

    The books seems to be written in an almost apologist vein and that should not be the case; and while it did give me some fascinating insights it was written by a fan for fellow fans, but perhaps that is too harsh as who but a fan could get into the inner circle of knowledge to write anything even remotely critical. The archive of Heinlein’s works and access were controlled most strictly and in part two there are several mentions of authors wanting access being denied, so there is where it stands.

    Ultimately it is up to the reader to decided what is there,and what is missing.

  4. It was on my to-read list but I have decided not to read the two-part biography and just enjoy his work instead. I’m not curious about the man behind the curtain, I like to be dazzled and ignorance is bliss.

    1. I don’t think Heinlein was a bigot about race. He sometimes used black or Hispanic for his main characters in his 1950s novels for kids. And Heinlein was a liberal when young, even campaigning to end poverty in the 1930s. I think he got more conservative – libertarian and Goldwater conservative as he got older. Heinlein’s problem was he always thought he was right, and was inflexible about seeing other people’s point of view, like many Fox News worshipers today. He just got old and rusted up. Also, he was too much of a true believer in American patriotism.

      1. James, I think you discount the very real and genuine threat of communism post WWII. Heinlein and his contemporaries grew up in a world where basically the monsters of the old world (comminist, fascist, monarchist, or whatever) were caged behind a several thousand mile wide moat made by the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans. That combined with a powerful US Navy and moderate sized Army plus national guard countered any such threats.

        Once the Communists showed they could produce nuclear weapons, and long range bombers, then ballistic missiles, it became obvious to Heinlein that our previous defacto invulnerability was gone, and he had a real viceral fear of what they could do.

        Communist behavior, as in antics about mass murder of innocents, and squashing political desire for independence in Eastern Europe, and a generally horrific behavior as regards human rights, certainly contributed to that. Nor can you honestly fault that.

        Nor is it wrong to say the communists were not activly trying to subvert people in American society, too much evidence of that is provided by the declassified Venona files and published soviet records. They were trying to subvert people in the US.

        The numbers and resources involved was less than that feared by the most paranoid, but a lot more than the zero claimed by some.

        In the end he was not exactly wrong in his fears, but discounted the internal problems that collapsed the USSR.

  5. I interviewed Bill Patterson for a documentary. In my opinion, he was a thorough researcher. As far as RAH, it’s silly to try to pigeonhole his politics. In fact, he tells us exactly what his politics are in Moon is a Harsh Mistress…he’s a rational anarchist. You can infer any meaning you like to that term, but I take it to mean that his politics are based on common sense…something I find lacking in most of the politics I observe lately. Of course his views changed over a lifetime. Do any of us hold the same views we did in our 20’s, when we believed in absolutes?

    The gift Heinlein had was for storytelling, and as a Sci-Fi author, he was simply the best. His ability to imagine societies was profound, and he was looked up to by his peers. He was diligent in getting the science right in his books, which makes some of them seem dated today…but there is a reason that Science Fiction has largely been replaced with Fantasy. There are very few writers with his talent for using science as the bedrock of storytelling. It’s just much easier to believe in Trolls and Fairies and Magic and write a world any way you want.

    I read this article and the one in National Review, and I’m sorry Jeet, but I don’t think you really get him. Your review contains some useful information, but ignores the big picture…that RAH was the DaVinci of Sci-Fi. To imply anything else is just wrong. To confuse his books with his politics (which you are inferring from his writings – again, just wrong) and to take his books to task for his politics….is wrong on so many levels. First off, it politicizes art. If you want to force the artist into a box and make sure he only expresses ideas that you agree with…we can’t really even have a conversation.

    If you want to confuse the artist with the person, it’s another mistake…as history has shown us many times that people who we don’t like are capable of creating profound art. I could point to Wagner and Van Gogh, but there are many. You should know them if you’re going to write about this stuff.

    I interviewed Bill Patterson for more than 2 hours. He demonstrated a deep knowledge of everything to do with Robert Heinlein, and in my opinion treated him fairly. Bill didn’t come off like a mere fan, but was serious about presenting a balanced portrait. The fact that he was chosen by the estate to write the definitive biography should tell you that he was no lightweight…and in fact, he was familiar with the entire body of Heinlein’s work in depth. Can you say the same?

  6. Thanks for linking to this expanded version Jeet Heer.

    Understanding, I have not read Patterson’s books nor do I plan to, my criticism was based on what I perceived to be you adding your own views of Heinlein to the review and whether or not I think your opinions on Heinlein are accurate or required.

    Curiously, one of the few Heinlein bio/critiques I’ve read is the Franklin book, “America as Science Fiction”. Suffice to say, I came away from that book underwhelmed. You wrote, “Franklin’s 1980 monograph Robert A. Heinlein: America As Science Fiction is, by the way, the best thing ever written on Heinlein” which leaves me shaking my head as I now understand what inspired you to write what you did, as did Franklin, some sort of post mortem head shrinking wherein you both divined what Heinlein was thinking and why. Franklin’s is odd in that he never talked directly to Heinlein. You have an out as I tend to think you weren’t born until after Heinlein died. Franklin however has no such excuse. He managed to write what many people consider to be the definitive tome dissecting Heinlein and his work eight years before his death and was either rebuffed by Heinlein (extremely likely) or just made the decision to write his book without directly speaking to Heinlein (which, to me, says something about his motivations).

    I very much appreciate your willingness to discuss the matter but in the end, after more than a day of pondering this and some false starts writing some commentary here, truth is, I just don’t care enough. I’ve been a Heinlein reader for forty years and genuinely love his work, even the bad stuff (well, I don’t much love I Will Fear No Evil but Heinlein was, more or less, brain damaged at the time) and oh my yes, there is more than enough average stuff there. But I think his good work soars above so much of his contemporaries (and many of current writers) that I have trouble seeing why I need to care about his personal life. A life Heinlein intentionally tried to keep separate. I’m not saying no one can dig. It’s just not something I have a deep interest in. Heinlein wrote fiction. So I’m not sure what utility there is in taking his personal life apart. And, quite frankly, as much as I enjoy Heinlein’s body of work I don’t think it’s so opaque that I need to view it through the lens of his sexual habits. I’m also not confounded by the contradictions and changing in his stances in various books. To me, it seems perfectly natural that a good writer would write from differing points of view, sometimes within the same work (Starship Troopers is a wonderful example of that but most people don’t bother to look).

    So, thanks again for the link. I look forward to reading more things you’ve written and seeing you on Twitter. Cheers.

    1. You are mistaken in that Bruce Franklin did meet and speak with Robert Heinlein.

      August 21, 1978 according to volume 2 of the Patterson biography starting on page 858 of the itunes version in chapter 28. Also Bruce Franklin was an avowed Maoist/Marxist and had prior to that had been a USAF intelligence officer with the Strategic Air Command.

      In case anyone is thinking that the Franklin is a Maoist/Marxist statement is a smear by Patterson, or by me:

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._Bruce_Franklin

      ” In the late 1960s, he was one of the founders of the Revolutionary Union, a Maoist organization, but in 1971 he split, along with about half the membership of the RU, to join the revolutionary Venceremos Organization. ”

      This can also be documented from lots of other sources, and as far as I know Franklin has never denied it.

      Further according to the Patterson biography, Heinlein knew that Franklin was an academic Maoist/Marxist, going into the meeting. Heinlein was quite uncomfortable with Franklin’s politics according to the Patterson biography.

      Heinlein was a liberal of the American tradition, he did dabble in socialism in his youth, but always held that personal liberty – sometimes called individual freedom, was a non-negotiable requirement of any society worthy of support. He never bought the argument made by some that there are no enemies on the left.

      He was aware that Stalin was a mass murderer before the start of WWII, and both he and Leslyn felt glad that Germany had attacked the USSR in 1941.

      “Hitler had turned on his erstwhile ally, Stalin, and invaded Russia on June 21, along an 1,800-mile front. “Isn’t the news of the German-Russian war wonderful?” Leslyn wrote.”

      Excerpt From: William H. Patterson, Jr. “Robert A. Heinlein, Vol 1.” Tom Doherty Associates, 2011-04-19. iBooks.
      This material may be protected by copyright.

      Check out this book on the iBooks Store: https://itun.es/us/6aOyw.l

      That is how the second “liberal” wife Leslyn, not the third “conservative” wife Virginia, felt in a letter she sent shortly after the event on 21 June 1941.

      Fyi, both Leslyn and Virginia were Republicans at the time they married Robert Heinlein. Robert was a Democrat from the Kansas City Pendergast machine. Leslyn was a liberal republican, this is per the Patterson Bio. Liberal republican in the 1930s was not at all an oxymoron.

  7. On Twitter Jeet Heer wrote: Well, I think best Heinlein is 1) Moon 2) Door into Summer 3) Double Star 4) Future History 5) Juveniles.

    And on Twitter Jeet Heer wrote: Except for Moon, I’m not a fan of most Heinlein post 1957 or 1958

    In response to my somewhat smart assed remark: So @HeerJeet your point is “Blowups Happen” and “The Fifth Column” are better than “Stranger…” or “The Moon…”, a laughable contention.

    After reading your latest Tweets I’m not sure we’re far apart, in a general sense while probably disagreeing more vehemently on some specific books.

    I grant you are right in that Heinlein’s writing changed once the juveniles were done. He started writing for himself, without the overbearing editing he had previously endured (depending on whose side of that story you believe). In some cases the material got better, in others, worse. I think, for the most part, it got better.

    For me, I think “I Will Fear No Evil” is the throwaway, It’s terrible in so many ways it’s not even fun to read to laugh at. Whether Ginny did the final rewrites or it was, as Heinlein and his wife have claimed, the work of someone with a fogged brain due to a blocked blood vessel, it’s horrible. It’s a failure and never should have seen the light of day.

    But aside from that, Heinlein’s 1957 and after output goes as follows (copied from wikipedia)…

    “The Man Who Traveled in Elephants”, 1957 (aka: “The Elephant Circuit”)
    Citizen of the Galaxy, 1957 *
    The Door into Summer, 1957
    “The Menace From Earth”, 1957
    Have Space Suit—Will Travel, 1958
    “—All You Zombies—”, 1959
    Starship Troopers, 1959
    Stranger in a Strange Land, 1961
    “Searchlight”, 1962
    Podkayne of Mars, 1963
    Glory Road, 1963
    Farnham’s Freehold, 1964
    The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, 1966
    I Will Fear No Evil, 1970
    Time Enough for Love, 1973
    The Number of the Beast, 1980
    Friday, 1982
    Job: A Comedy of Justice, 1984
    The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, 1985
    To Sail Beyond the Sunset, 1987

    In and amongst these stories are some of my favorites of Heinlein’s work. You mentioned that “Moon…” was one of your favorites, I agree, wholeheartedly. It’s a marvelous story and the fact that, like story line from “Stranger…” the story line from “Moon…” is just cribbed from other sources make better, not worse.

    I love “Glory Road” and I think it’s convenient that so many people ignore it as it helps fit Heinlein into the narrative they want him to fit into. But more about that in the next paragraph.

    So Heinlein is this radical libertarian who loves the military, well, except for “Glory Road”. Yeah, there’s some hippy hating in there, more than a little but it’s still a lot of distaste for the military and for our current society as described in the book.

    I think the contradictions in the “Starship Troopers” are always ignored because, well, because it makes a stronger argument that “Starship…” is just a recruiting tool. Sadly, Paul Verhoeven’s dreadful movie version only further enhanced this view when it, possibly in an attempt to lampoon the book or what Verhoeven thought were the ideals of the book, gets taken literally.

    To be sure, Heinlein’s views changed or, maybe more to the point, Heinlein was free to write as he liked in the later years. I think this irks more than a few people who love the sort of clear eyed optimism of the juveniles but, again, speaking for myself, I love “Time Enough for Love” and if “The Tale of the Adopted Daughter” doesn’t get Heinlein a pass for anything else in the book that is annoying then we just disagree.

    I could go through all of them but that’s pointless vanilla versus chocolate. Anyone and everyone is allowed to like or dislike any of these books for their own reasons. What I am saying is that, with the exception of “I Will Fear No Evil” and “To Sail Beyond The Sunset”, I think Heinlein’s writing is just as good in the later years as the early years and perhaps on that we will just have to disagree.

    I also think that, too often, we get caught in viewing Heinlein through whatever convenient lens is handy. He was a sexual deviant. He was a sexual trailblazer. He was a militaristic fascist. He was a hippy lover. He invented the soft headed new age thinking. He was a rational anarchistic who loved libertarianism. For me, I see parts of all those things in his books, his books, I would hasten to point out, that are works of fiction. Yes, we can sometimes divine motivations and ulterior motives from works of fiction but it is dangerous ground.

    To wit, forgive me if I quote a section of a wonderful interview with Harlan Ellison speaking on this subject which you, may or may not, feel applies. Either way, I hope you find it entertaining…

    AVC: So should artists’ personalities or lives matter when considering their work?

    HE: No. Definite, absolute, unequivocal no. Dostoevsky was a drunk. He was a gambler who gambled away his family’s money. He borrowed from everybody, never paid them back. He was an absolute shit. He wrote The Idiot! What does it matter that he was a shit? The Idiot is still here. No. No, what a person is, is fascinating or a documentary, but it should not in any way influence—and that’s one of the things I hate about the literary school of deconstruction. There’s this whole school of French criticism that deconstructs everything, and says, “Well, the reason he wrote this story is because he had boils on his neck when he was a child.” Or everything can be traced back to the fact that you were a black woman passing for a white woman. Or because you were a Sephardic Jew in Weimar, Germany. I think it is all the tomfoolishness of the tenured. Ooh, that’s a great phrase! “The tomfoolishness of the tenured.” Oooh. I can give you an example of this that’s really hilarious if you want it.

    AVC: Sure.

    HE: A number of years ago—this goes back again, and I lose track of time, but it’s as fresh as if it were yesterday in my mind. The Modern Language Association, the MLA, was doing a section on my work. A couple of people had picked my stuff to talk about. And I was bootlegged into one of these talks. I sat at the back of the room. And the academic, who happened to be a Jesuit priest, and a very rigorously trained man, was talking about my story “I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream.” And he went on at great length talking about the basic Apollonian/Dionysian conflict, and the God-vs.-man matrix syndrome, and all of this wonderful, epistemological gobbledygook, and I sat back there and listened. It was pretty smart stuff, it was pretty cool. But it was all wrong. It was absolutely all wrong.

    And afterward, they played a very bad—I mean, it was pretty cruel what they did to this poor man. His name was Father William something-or-other. The person who was the moderator of the section said, “Father Johnson”—or Jameson, or whatever the hell his name was—”we have the author of that story, Harlan Ellison, here.” And there was a great stir in the room, and this when I was at the height of my popularity, he said with charming humility. You can put that in paren, “(he said with charming humility).” And he said, “Would you like to hear Mr. Ellison’s take on this?” Well, the right reverend Dr. Jameson wanted my opinion on what he’d just said about as much as he wanted a hysterectomy with a Roto-Rooter. And he truly lost the blood from his face, it drained, but he was gracious, and he said, “Oh, yes, that would be wonderful.” [Laughs.] And he used the word “wonderful” the way you or I would use “glioblastoma” or “dogcatcher.”

    And I came up and I said, “Well,” I said, “what was your name again?” He said, “William,” I said, “Well, look, Billy,” because the minute you have to start calling someone “Father,” you’ve lost the argument. So I said, “Look, Billy, what you’ve said is really wonderful, and I’m grateful for the serious attention. But in truth, what you’ve just said is stuffed full of wild blueberry muffins.” I said, “You didn’t even notice that the woman, the one woman on whom you based this whole theory about the bitch-goddess and all that kind of stuff, is a black woman.” And he said, “What? What?” And I said, “Yes!” He said, “Well, where is that?” And I took the book that he had lying there, and I turned to the passage, and I read, “her face, black against the snow.” And he said, “Well, I thought you meant…” and I said, “I rest my case.” They will find in it what they wish to find in it, because that is their game. That is the game academics play, which is the same game that politicians and dictators play. Stay in power. Keep your job. Write the prescription in a hand that only an apothecary can read, and not the patient, because then you won’t need to have a pharmacist-and-doctor, privacy language. It’s the same way that kids use letters to fool their parents: CTNMOS. “Can’t talk now, Mom over shoulder,” mommy’s watching me. Something like that. It’s an acronym kids use now, because parents are checking to see whether they’re looking at porn, or what they’re doing. So they’ve developed this acronym secret language. Every group has its own lingua franca.

    http://www.avclub.com/article/harlan-ellison-part-two-14253

    Thank you for allowing to post this here.

  8. That’s a strong analysis of Patterson Vol 2, which I hadn’t the heart or will to fine-tooth; Vol 1 (which I reviewed in STRANGE HORIZONS) was enough for me. Certainly a sense that Leslyn had been bonfired out of the book seemed central to its failure to understand Heinlein; a sense much fortified by your comments on Vol 2. And nothing changes my original sense that FOR US, THE LIVING (with all its faults as an actual fiction) fertilized the rest of his career. Without some capacity to reinvoke, at least in his imagination, his pre-1948 life and thought, Heinlein would have become a flag on a stick.

  9. I agree with your comment’s on Franklin’s work, and I think it is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in Heinlein. It is a serious attempt to understand Heinlein’s work. Franklin doesn’t try to tell the reader what to think about Heinlein’s books, and it’s not an attempt to write an autobiography of Heinlein. It does seem likely that Heinlein would not have liked Franklin’s politics, but the Franklin monograph strikes me as a fair, and interesting effort, to write about the continuing themes in Heinlein. I think Heinlein took a position similar to Twain (Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot) and perhaps he really meant it, but Franklin’s monograph takes Heinlein seriously, that is, Franklin thought Heinlein had something to say. The monograph isn’t about Heinlein. It’s about his books, and you don’t need to know the man to write about the books.

    In a similar vein, I read Time Enough for Love when I was young. I liked it then. I haven’t read it since and I suspect that I wouldn’t like it nearly as much now. We all have favorites. I don’t feel the need to invent a time machine in order to tell my younger self that I’m wrong, wrong! for liking Time Enough for Love. For Us The Living is a terrible book but it’s fascinating to read and compare with the rest of Heinlein’s career.

    I’ve only finished the first book in the biography. I will get around to reading the second half at some point, but far too much gets buried in footnotes (if it’s worth putting in the book,, it’s worth putting in the text). I have found the book lacking though. It’s a glimpse behind the curtain at a public man who was very private, and interesting in that manner, but it leaves many things just unexplained. If this was a work of fiction, the reader would be puzzled by the divorce from Leslyn. Heinlein’s comments afterwards seems to make it clear that it was years in coming but in fairness, we leave a little puzzled. To the extent that we see anything, we see what Heinlein regards as the causes without much balance. Patterson doesn’t dismiss the idea that Heinlein bears more than a minimal amount of the blame but the book is a one-sided conversation at that point. It’s hard to shake the thought that the status as an authorized biography is the root of the problem. Patterson seems more of an advocate for Heinlein, and implicitly for Ginny, at that point than as an impartial biographer.

    I do think too that the book would have benefitted from less minutia and more analysis of the creative process

  10. Disagree,respectfully. Patterson by documenting so much minutia provides detailed information for future works. Doing the grunt work of research and getting the facts straight (or close too it) is important. Yes Patterson made mistakes, he was human after all.

    But as I pointed out in my rebuttal to this work by Heer, Heer makes errors by not knowing what was going on when. That the friendship Heer talks about with Phil Dick was less between Robert and Phil and more between Virginia and Tessa (which if Heer had read the letters he would know). That Heer is applying anachronistic standards to Heinlein about his writing for the American Mercury, and involvement with the John Birch Society.

    Then Heer went off into deep space claiming that Patterson hid Heinlein;’s relationship with the John Birch Society which is ridiculous. Patterson documented the relationship. That he did not reflexively kick Heinlein in the shins for doing so is Heer’s issue. That is not bad scholarship, or even slightly dishonest..

  11. As copy editor of the initial volumes of the “Virginia Edition” of Heinlein’s complete works, for 18 months in 2005-2007, I dealt with Mr. Patterson in e-mail exchanges sent through an intermediary at the soon-to-be-defunct publisher Meisha Merlin. (The edition was eventually restarted and completed by other hands hired by the Heinlein literary estate’s newly created publishing arm.) Mr. Patterson had a very proprietary attitude toward Heinlein’s oeuvre, as befit a man who was the literary estate’s designated Heinlein Scholar with access to the Heinlein archives at UC Santa Cruz. He would sometimes research my queries about OCR scans of first-edition pages by checking against the original typewritten manuscripts; this was before the archives was placed online in PDF form.

    I think I was aware from the beginning that Mr. Patterson was at work on his biography. In the course of editing his introductions to the six or seven novels I worked on, I would occasionally query something he’d written that seemed to overtly conflate his own (political) opinion with Heinlein’s. The response: STET.

    Other than this foreshadowing of a primary fault of the biography, I knew that Mr. Patterson even then had been struggling for years with his editor at Tor, who I believe was the now-late David G. Hartwell, over the biography’s form and content. I sometimes wonder whether they argued about how to present Heinlein’s late career (i.e., from The Number of the Beast onward), because from my preliminary work on the Virginia Edition’s version of the Future History stories, I knew that Mr. Patterson believed the so-called World as Myth books represented the glorious climax of Heinlein’s career. Specifically, he wanted to title the two revised/expanded future-history volumes “Timeline: Leslie LeCroix,” thereby automatically giving credence to the two final Heinlein novels and implying that anyone with any sense should do so as well, including Heinlein if he were alive to offer an opinion. (Thankfully this title wasn’t used when those volumes finally appeared a few years later from the new publisher.) This is what I mean by “very proprietary attitude.”

    It was an entertaining experience, though, working on those books. I was actually paid to read, very closely, I Will Fear No Evil (unaccountably the first volume of the edition), so I guess that counts for something.

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