A Martian Named Heinlein

By Leslie, Christopher | Extrapolation, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

A Martian Named Heinlein


Leslie, Christopher, Extrapolation


A Martian Named Heinlein. William H. Patterson, Jr. Robert A. Heinlein in Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1, 1907-1948: Learning Curve. New York, NY: Tor, 2010. 624 pp. ISBN 9780765319609. $29.99 he.

* Given the wide aesthetic range of the so-called dean of science fiction, Robert A. Heinlein, it is sometimes hard to determine what the author of an industrial drama, "Blowups Happen" (1940), has to do with the author of a metafictional novel, The Number of the Beast (1980). William H. Patterson has demonstrated an unanticipated continuity in the life of Heinlein. It might seem that, in his early years, Heinlein was a hard-boiled engineer who turned to social movements later in life. Patterson, however, shows that the free-love Heinlein was present early on. Likewise did the hard-science Heinlein live on past the countercultural icon.

Patterson is something of a Heinlein insider. In 1997, he founded The Heinlein Journal, and in 1998, he co-founded the Heinlein Society with the author's third wife, Virginia. Virginia commissioned this biography and approved a portion of the text before she died in 2003. After her death, Patterson worked with the University of California's Special Collections and Archives to catalog and document the Robert A. Heinlein Archive. In addition to articles in The Heinlein Journal and Extrapolation, he co-authored The Martian Named Smith: Critical Perspectives on Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (2002).

In his introduction, Patterson lists four social movements influenced by Heinlein's work that the biography seeks to illuminate: science fiction, counterculture, libertarianism, and the commercial space movement. He demonstrates that the roots of these four themes reach back before Heinlein was writing sf, and so the reader passes through nearly the first half of the first volume before he or she sees Heinlein produce his first sf narrative.

Patterson is an astute reader and researcher with a focus on Heinlein's fiction. The biography presents vivid portraits from Heinlein's military training that would be echoed later. On arrival at the Naval Academy, Patterson reports Heinlein's awe of the military relics in Memorial Hall, refashioned in Space Cadet (1948). Heinlein's encounter with a blind machinist forms an inspiration for his story "The GreenHills of Earth" (1947). The description of bohemian life in 1930s New York City, and reports of his early work as a model, foreshadow/ Will Fear No Evil (1970), as do his trips to nude beaches, his open marriage to second wife Leslyn, and his early life without money with Virginia. Leslyn's use of "wards" to protect their house against spirits late in their marriage reminds us of Glory Road (1963).

Patterson emphasizes that incorporating biographical elements is an artistic process. He shows how Heinlein's real life often belied the lives of his characters. The description of his poor health in the military contrasts with his vigorous heroes. The state-of-the-art on the USSLexington amounts to analog computers; these form a telling foil for the superior technology Heinlein imagines. Patterson tells the story of one of his superior officers who throws away his career when he refuses to risk harm to his subordinates by conducting a training exercise in blackout conditions; this incident contrasts with the lives lost in Starship Troopers (1959). …

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