Image © William H. Patterson, Jr., art by Donato.
In many ways it’s impossible to review this 671-page biography, which is only the second half. But in one way, it’s easy: are you a fan of science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein? Are you interested in learning about his life? Then this two-volume tome is essential reading, and really the only accurate way to date to find out what the man and his life were all about. Heinlein is one of my favorite writers, and his writing is full of the personality, ideas and ideals of the man himself, so I found reading about him almost as fascinating has his work.
One thing that kept surprising me was how many health problems the man endured and struggled with, beginning before his writing career when he developed TB in the Navy, something that left him forever vulnerable to infections and viruses. After nearly every public appearance he got sick, but that didn’t stop him, particularly when he had a cause, like the series of blood drives he sponsored at conventions. The one time I saw Heinlein in person was at the 1976 World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City. That was the beginning of his blood drives which did much to raise awareness and increase donation.
This book could only have been written after the passing of both Heinlein and his wife Virginia. He never liked analyzing his own work, and was very suspicious of others who did. He had a long-running feud with writher Alexei Panshin over the latter’s book and articles about Heinlein’s work. Another surprisingly antagonistic relationship was with early SF fan and would-be agent Forrest J. Ackerman. Forry clearly loved Heinlein’s work, and thought it should be spread more widely, but his method of doing that was highly unethical: representing himself as Heinlein’s agent to foreign publishers and movie companies without any permission, and making sales that Heinlein knew nothing about!
I first discovered Heinlein when I was a teenager, and I devoured his books for young readers. Soon after I began reading his more adult material in books and magazines. He seemed so impressive and successful, it was surprising to me to learn that he wasn’t financially secure until his novel “Stranger in a Strange Land” became a surprise paperback best-seller in the late 1960s, and kept on selling well for years. I think it’s probably his best novel, and I remember feeling gratified when the world finally caught on.
There are many more things I could say, but the bottom line is, if you’re a fan, you’ll want to read these. Don’t miss out.