Robert A Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2


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Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: 1948-1988 The Man Who Learned Better by William H. Patterson, jr.

Patterson Robert A Heinlein Volume 2

For no especially good reason, I’ve read this second volume before the first of William H. Patterson’s enormous two-volume biography of Heinlein. (Volume 1 is now en route to me via inter-library loan.) It is certainly a detailed treatment, with a full accounting of both Heinlein’s literary work and his personal life: travel, charity work, political involvements, health and finances, etc. All of this is scrupulously sourced, with the end notes and bibliography themselves long enough to be a book of their own.

An interesting thread in this volume was Heinlein’s trouble with fans. One of these was the venerable alpha fan Forrest Ackerman, whose relationship with Heinlein graduated through strained to hostile, as Ackerman made arrangements as though he were Heinlein’s literary agent, selling Heinlein’s writings in small markets with no benefit to the author. Another was Alexi Panshin, who first wrote Heinlein to argue about ideas in Starship Troopers and later went on to author a full volume of criticism Heinlein in Dimension, which by virtue of its vanguard position became a go-to source for researchers seeking readings of Heinlein, and poisoned the well of academic discourse about Heinlein’s works for decades. (I’ve read in the book, and it is indeed awful.)

An aspect of Heinlein’s late career that loomed large in this treatment was his dedication to the cause of human blood science and medicine. This issue intersected with his fiction in the novel I Will Fear No Evil, and was relevant to his personal health because of his rare blood type. He ran countless blood drives (often among science fiction fans), wrote articles for reference works, butted heads with blood bureaucrats, and generally advocated for blood donation on every front available to him.

The whole of The Man Who Learned Better treats a Robert A. Heinlein married to Virginia Heinlein, and an epilogue discusses her administration of his estate and the ways she secured his legacy. It seems like it would be hard to overstate her contributions to his work in this period, when she was his first reader, ran interference with his fans, tended to his health, and traveled with him all over the world.

There’s so much information in this book that it’s easy to wonder what the forest must look like with so many trees in the way. Still, for anyone doing research on Heinlein these days, Patterson’s work shows itself as a reliable reference of incomparable scope and detail. [via]