I’ve finished reading and enjoying LOCUS #559, the Robert A. Heinlein Centennial issue I mentioned in an earlier post. Editor Charles N. Brown says in his editorial,
“Why are we doing a separate Heinlein Centennial issue when there is a special Heinlein Centennial convention, a Heinlein society, and other Heinleiners keeping his memory alive? Because most, if not all the others are more interested in Heinlein’s ideas and philosophy than in how he changed the structure of science fiction writing. I loved Heinlein, but it was the writing that did it. This issue is really my love letter to him.”
To that I say, bravo, Charles! And exactly my feeling about the man and his work. The ideas are fascinating, challenging, sometimes off-putting to me, but the WRITING is wonderful, and what I love most.
Heinlein did, indeed, change the way science fiction was written. Almost as soon as his stories began appearing in the early 1940s, other writers took heed, and began doing the same sort of thing. The older models of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs faded away in favor of Heinlein’s social and engineering-based realism and carefully thought out future history, his snappy dialogue and sophisticated prose style.
In comics, the closest comparison I can make is when Alan Moore entered the U.S. comics market in the pages of THE SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING in the early 1980s. What Alan was doing was a similar breath of fresh air and realism, and again other writers took note and began to follow. The fact that what they copied was more the grim and gritty approach of WATCHMEN than Alan’s talent for dialogue and realistic characters is more a reflection on other writers than on Alan.
I mentioned before that I got to hear Heinlein speak at the 1976 World Science Fiction convention. But I wasn’t able to speak to the great man personally, or get him to autograph a book for me, because of my own cowardice and shyness. Cowardice, because Heinlein had made an agreement that he would only sign for and meet with fans who agreed to donate blood, his charity crusade after a life-saving transfusion, and I, having never donated blood, couldn’t get up the nerve to try it at the time. (I later did, and donated regularly for about eight years or so.) Shyness because, well, even when I did have a chance to be close-by when he was talking with some fans, and might have pushed into the group, I hung back and just listened. I couldn’t think of anything I might ask him that wouldn’t sound stupid.
I had two friends at the time who were working in the Kansas City hotel where Heinlein and his wife were staying for the con. One, Sue, was in guest relations, and had met and worked with many of the con guests, including Heinlein. She offered to get a book signed by him for me. I bought and gave her the paperback edition of his most recent book then, “Time Enough For Love.” I didn’t have a chance to talk to or meet with Sue after the con, and passed word to her that, if she had been successful, she should mail the book to me. My other friend, Marsha, reported that Sue did have my book, and would send it when she could. Months went by. Then years. I forgot all about it.
A few years after the con, a package arrived in the mail containing the now-battered paperback seen above, with a note from Sue that it had been lost after the convention, and had just resurfaced. I opened the battered cover, and saw this on the title page:
Needless to say, I was thrilled. I would have been much happier to have had the courage and opportunity to have the book signed for me directly at the con, but this was still a very welcome and important addition to my library. (And probably one of the worst-condition books in it!) I’ll treasure it always.