Monday, September 6, 2010

New Heinlein Biography

Twenty-two years after his death and nearly eight years after the death of his wife who launched the project, the first volume of a two-part official biography of Robert A. Heinlein (1907-88) has been published.

Fine print -- Learning Curve 1907-1948 ... In Dialogue with His Century. Amazon link here.

Heinlein was a major light in what has been called science fiction's golden age, when the field crawled from the pulp magazine side of the cultural tracks to mainstream "slick" publications. This transformation was marked by the appearance of a Heinlein story in the Saturday Evening Post. A lengthy summary of Heinlein's career can be found in this Wikipedia entry.

I got hooked on his "juveniles" a few years after they first appeared on the shelves of the local library. I was especially taken by "Rocket Ship Galileo" and "Red Planet." I also liked a number of his books and short story collections that appeared before the mid-1960s. (A Heinlein bibliography is here.) The later books that I tackled didn't hold my interest and I failed to finish them.

As for the new biography, I found it interesting and finished off its nearly 500 pages in short order. I agree with early Amazon reader reviews that the author gives every appearance of being fair-minded, delivering warts as well as favorable information in his coverage of Heinlein's life up to his marriage to Virginia in 1948.

I never delved deeply into Heinlein's life, so I was surprised to learn that he grew up holding prairie socialist beliefs and, during the mid-to-late 1930 was very active in the left side of Democrat politics. Apparently he never liked Communism and opposed Red efforts to hijack his faction of the party in California. He also was a world-government fan.

Author William Patterson, Jr. suggests in a footnote that Heinlein didn't change his political view all that much in life; presumably this will be dealt with in Volume II. I'm inclined to think Heinlein held on to certain core beliefs and changed his overt politics as political parties changed their stripes. (An example of stripe-changing is Democrats moving from Harry Truman's robust defense policies to today's reluctance to fight under almost any circumstance.)

One thing I would have liked to have found would be capsule synopses for each story and book mentioned in the text. No reviews, literary criticisms or that kind of thing. Just a paragraph or two outlining the plot. I needed this because I've either never read the material or read it so many years ago that I've forgotten most of the plots and characters.

No comments: