links for 2010-08-18
Delong Smackdown Watch: Beveridge Curve Edition

The Heinlein Perplex

Reading William Patterson's Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: 1907-1948, Learning Curve simply increases my sense of the magnitude of the Heinlein perplex.

Heinlein in the 1940s, when he leaves left-wing populist politics and becomes a writer, seems much more than I had thought to have launched himself on a trajectory to spend the rest of his life as the center of a group whose raison d'etre was to try to live in the early days of a better future, to look sanely and humanely and in a reality-based way at humanity's lurching progress, and to try to help make us become who are best selves are--to be the heir of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

But by the early 1960s he has aged mightily in mind: the best days are no longer in our future but instead in the pre-Great Depression midwest, Dwight D. Eisenhower is soft on communism, and his reaction to living in America's Martin Luther King years is to write Farnham's Freehold, of all things.

What happened?

Isaac Asimov's view, from I, Asimov:

There had to be a certain circumspection in [my] friendship [with] Heinlein, however. Heinlein was not the easygoing fellow... did not believe in doing his own thing and letting you do your thing. He had a definite feeling that he knew better and to lecture you into agreeing with him.... [While] Campbell always remained serenely indifferent if you ended up disagreeing with him... Heinlein would, under those circumstances, grow hostile.

I do not take well to people who are convinced they know better than I do, and who badger me for that reason, so I began to avoid him.

Furthermore, although a flaming liberal during the war, Heinlein became a rock-ribbed far-right conservative immediately afterward... at just the time he changed wives from a liberal woman, Leslyn, to a rock-ribbed far-right conservative woman, Virginia.

Ronald Reagan did the same when he switched wives from the liberal Jane Wyman to the ultraconservative Nancy, but Ronald Reagan I have always viewed as a brainless fellow.... I can't explain Heinlein in that way at all, for I cannot believe he would follow his wives' opinions blindly. I used to brood about it in puzzlement.... I did come to one conclusion. I would never marry anyone who did not generally agree with my political, social, and philosophical view of life.... I would certainly not change my own views just for the sake of peace in the households, and I would not want a woman so feeble in her opinions that she would do so....

Another point about Heinlein is that he was not among those writers who, having achieved a particular style, clung to it.... Heinlein... tried to keep up with the times... "with it" as far as post-1960s literary fashions were concerned.... I always wished that he had kept to the style he achieved in such stories as "Solution Unsatisfactory"... and such novels as Double Star... which I think is the best thing he ever wrote....

He died on May 8, 1988, at the age of eighty to an outpouring of sentiment.... He had kept his position as greatest science fiction writer unshaken to the end.

In 1989, his book Grumbles from the Grave was published posthumously. It consists of letters he wrote to editors and, chiefly, to his agent. I read it and shook my head and wished it hadn't appeared, for Heinlein (it seemed to me) revealed, in these letters, a meanness of spirit that I had seen in him even in the NAES days but that I feel should not have been revealed to the world generally...