THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE HEINLEIN
Review by Joseph T Major of James Gifford's
ROBERT A. HEINLEIN: A READER'S COMPANION
(Nitrosyncretic Press, Box 4313, Citrus Heights, CA 95611; www.nitrosyncretic.com; May 8, 2000; ISBN 0-9679874-0-7; $32)
If a wave had taken that tubercular officer coughing up his lungs over the lee side of USS Roper (DD-147), most of us would not be here reading this fanzine. Robert A. Heinlein molded the science fiction world, with his imagination, with his methodology, with his writings, and he is one of the towering figures of this field.
Most of us readers, though, don't quite encompass the breadth of his writings. To some extent, that was because he himself kept it under wraps, as it were. The full variety of this body of work needs to be seen, it lends understanding, comprehension to the part we do read, the popular, yet deep and elaborate, fictions.
Hence, this book, Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader's Companion. It has been rather a long time in the making, and it was surely endangered from time to time. Well, anything worth getting is worth waiting for, and the better-appreciated when received.
It is simply "simply!" an annotated list of every work that Heinlein wrote, from the poem "Atlantis", written sometime before his graduation from the Naval Academy in 1929, to the recorded "Message to the Berkley Sales Staff Concerning The Cat Who Walks Through Walls", made and delivered in 1986, two years before his death on May 8, 1988. It was not from happenstance that this book was officially printed on May 8, 2000.
This mere listing, the Heinlein Opus List, is enough to be valuable. But it is available for free on the Net (at the Nitrosyncretic Press website, cited above; it is an Adobe Acrobat file, so the would-be reader must have or download Adobe Acrobat Reader, from their site), so there must be some reason to spend the extra money.
There is. Those "annotations" are worth it. Giffard has traced the course of the stories from conception to publication. One can learn how a story came to be written, where it was written, and why. "No man but a blockhead wrote but for money," Samuel Johnson said, and for all that Heinlein sneered at the Grand Cham of Literature (in the Naval Academy graduation speech "Channel Markers" (G.173a more on this later), reprinted in Analog (G.173b) and Expanded Universe (G.173c) through a misunderstanding of the shift in meaning of the word "patriot"), he understood this well. Understanding, for example, that Heinlein wrote "They" (G.021) while visiting Campbell, turned in the manuscript, and was paid on the spot [p. 193], or that he used the payment for Sixth Column (G.022) to buy the car mentioned in his essay on "Doc" Smith, "Larger Than Life" (G.196) [p. 171], makes it clear how he did write for money.
There is a good bit of biographical material here. Pages 31-40 contain a tantalizingly brief timeline of Heinlein (if you think this is bad, Gifford's title for it is "Time Enough for Living: A Heinlein Timeline") touching on the events of his life both in and out of writing. It is unfortunate, but understandable, that this cannot be more than a brief overview; some things, such as his naval service, could be covered in depth, and other things, such as his alleged first marriage, simply aren't known of in any detail. (When Heinlein married Leslyn MacDonald on March 28, 1932 [see p. 32], he gave his marital status on the marriage certificate as "divorced".)
His nonfiction reflected on his fiction. To take one example, Gifford traces a plot element in "The Black Pits of Luna" (G.061) to an article Heinlein wrote on nuclear safety for Elks Magazine, "Back of the Moon" (G.041) which was very abruptly edited [pp. 50-51]. As Take Back Your Government (G.049) and Tramp Royale (G.125) increased our understanding of such works as Double Star (G.128) and Podkayne of Mars (G.147), so does this help us in our understanding of that story. Damon Knight said that Heinlein put himself into his stories [In Search of Wonder, p. 80], and this is an example of how much he did.
All these numbers are the New Heinlein Opus Numbers, explained on page 254 of the book. These make it possible to identify a work easily and determine its provenance, publication, and printing history. Thus, for example, The Puppet Masters went through three versions: the original, first printed in 1990, G.091a; the version edited by Heinlein to Walter Bradbury's request, G.091b; and the version edited by H. L. Gold, G.091c. The "G" is the identification marker ("G" for Gifford), the three-digit number is the order of publication of the work (with "000" reserved for the Future History Chart), and the small letter is the version indicator. If new works are discovered, there will be decimals inserted, Opuntia style. And, as requested:
Entries from the New Heinlein Opus List
© 2000 by James Gifford. Used with permission.
[See Page 255]
This New Heinlein Opus List contains surprises. It is well known, for example, that the statement made in Expanded Universe, page 145, about nine "world-saving" articles is an error. Gifford lists the five actual articles, and discusses their publication, or failure thereof.
The body of the text discusses the written material. Except for the three so-called "stinkeroos", the three mediocre stories that came out early in Heinlein's career and which he sought to forget, the plots are not given in any detail. The three "stinkeroos" are "My Object All Sublime" (G.009a & G.009b), "Pied Piper" (G.010), and the only one to ever be reprinted, "Beyond Doubt" (G.014), which has the unique distinction of being Heinlein's only acknowledged fictional collaboration (with the wife of a co-worker from the EPIC campaign).
What is discussed in the literary dimension is the links between stories (i.e., between Between Planets (G.095) and Starman Jones (G.122)), the ties between the stories and Heinlein's real life (the references to Sally Rand in his stories stem from her having been a classmate of his), and the history of editing changes in the book. For example, Gifford is quite forward in his opinion that the original, uncut version of The Puppet Masters (G.091a) is far superior to the originally published book version (G.091b). Similarly, Gifford lists a number of "Curiosities & Anomalies" in the stories, such as for example that in "It's Great to Be Back!" (G.048), published in The Saturday Evening Post, "one of the characters is reading the Saturday Evening Post" [p. 102].
More interesting, and more tantalizing, is the listing of the written but unpublished works, from "Atlantls" (G.001) to the original The Number of the Beast (G.183), written sometime in 1976 and not to be confused with the published book The Number of the Beast (G.189), which came out in 1979. These titles tantalize the mind. A comparison with the autobiographical story "All the Lies That Are My Life" by Harlan Ellison, comes to mind; the writer's will includes a requirement that his executor destroy all his unfinished work to prevent it being completed by others in an act of literary necrophilia, which can be connected to the destruction of the manuscript of Heinlein's first, unpublished, novel For Us, the Living (G.004) in 1986. However, it appears that the book was recycled, so to speak, into Beyond This Horizon (G.033) or other works.
Another interesting point is the unwritten works, the stories and books proposed in the Future History Chart and in the various letters exerpted in Grumbles from the Grave (no number). An appendix discusses these, which are quite numerous. Heinlein was planning to write about a number of things.
Still another item that most fans are unaware of is Heinlein's connection with the movies. Destination Moon was the prelude to a number of film projects, most of which (like most film projects) never quite got anywhere. These range from a broadly comic movie treatment (apparently a parody), "Abbott and Costello Move to the Moon" (G.089) to several serious proposals for TV series. One of these actually got into production. Heinlein wrote screenplays for several episodes of a TV anthology series based on his stories. (I note that the bulk of these are from the postwar short stories, what I have called "The Second Future History" due to their different conception and different portrayal of the future history.) Unfortunately, after the pilot episode, "Ring Around the Moon", was shot, the producer and collaborator decided it would make a great movie, and added some footage to make it into Project Moonbase a lousy movie.
There are some problems, as might be expected in a work of such scope (and also, Gifford had some other obstacles to his book production, which understantably distracted him).
Sometimes he takes Heinlein's word a little too literally. The Soviet space shot of May 1960, which Heinlein believed to be a manned flight that had gone wrong (see "'Pravda' Means 'Truth'" (G.144), published in Expanded Universe (G.193), pp. 405-417], was an unmanned test of the Vostok capsule, designated Korabl Sputnik. While this was mysterious at the time [cf. p. 153], it could be made clearer in the text that it isn't now (see, for example, James Oberg's Red Star In Orbit, pp. 50-1]. And to be fair, this does follow a paragraph pointing out that the preceeding statement in the article about Russian underpopulation is dead wrong. (It might have been worth discussing the original publication, American Mercury for October, 1960. While American Mercury was not yet the anti-Semitic publication it became in the late sixties, it had not been the literary journal of Mencken fame for some time, but a second-rate Reader's Digest, and had been edging towards a radical-right editorial policy.)
One's research is never complete, but there seem to have been several potentially useful sources that were missed. For example, there is no reference made to The Campbell Letters. Volume One contains two long letters from Campbell to Heinlein, and a third to Heinlein's agent Lurton Blassingame, that are profoundly illustrative of how Heinlein's editor saw him. (The letter to Blassingame in particular soundly refutes a comment Heinlein makes in Grumbles from the Grave, page 152, and provides useful insight into Starship Troopers.) Volume Two contains a letter with another look into early life with the Heinleins, as well as an explanation of the career of Heinlein's classmate John S. Arwine [mentioned here on Page 171] that is rather different and pretty funny.
Gifford's description on the status of Heinlein's Denvention Guest of Honor Speech (G.031) is perhaps a trifle abridged, if not downright curt; he refers to "action by Heinlein to recover the copyright" [p. 231]. Forrest J. Ackerman's side of the story, published in the fanzine Mimosa ["Through Time and Space with Forry Ackerman, Part IV", Mimosa 19, pp. 16-18] adds a little depth to the matter. Ackerman says that he said of the speech, "Now look, this is public domain; it was never copyrighted." [Mimosa 19, p. 17] These accounts are not inherently contradictory, but definitely divergent.
(The portrait given of Heinlein in Ackerman's article is not overly flattering; as when Heinlein seems to have not checked what happened at the NewYorCon, the 1956 Worldcon, and believed that Ackerman had kept the Hugo awarded for Double Star, subsequently being extremely truculent to 4SJ. There was only one award delivered by the maker prior to the convention, so each awardee was given the rocketship and allowed to pose with it before the next one's turn. See A Wealth of Fable by Harry Warner, Jr., p. 383.)
Another explanation may lie in the discovery of item G.190, "The Anagram Names in The Number of the Beast". This may have been the source that Leon Stover used for the printing of them in his Robert A. Heinlein (Twayne Publishers; 1987), and perhaps certain other admirers of Heinlein received this letter. Someone who certainly didn't seems to have figured it out on his own.
And speaking of that, a number of later-dated items are omitted and so marked (G.164, G.168, G.174, G.176, G.178, G.188). Gifford says "All are commentaries or minor unfinished projects that, on Heinlein's own instructions, are restricted by the UC Santa Cruz archivist." [p. 214] One of these may be the material on Heinlein in Dimension and Rite of Passage that Alexei Panshin was told was in the archives. It was probably a good idea to pass these over.
It is to be regretted that the essay "The Nature of Federal Service in Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers" was not included in this book. This is a major and significant work on the subject, and one that thoroughly addresses that controversial topic. Gifford has stated that he is working on two other books; it is devoutly to be hoped that one of them will contain this essay. (For now, it is available on the Nitrosyncretic Press website.)
Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader's Companion is itself a significant work on the topic, one that no fan with a serious interest in the field, or researcher writing about its topic, should be without. It is available in hardback by direct mail from Nitrosyncretic Press at the address given above. A trade paperback edition is also available. Don't leave for Supra-New York, or Tertius, without it!