Robert A. Heinlein, Vol 2: In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better

Overview

The real-life story of Robert A. Heinlein in the second volume (1948?1988) of the authorized biography by William H. Patterson Jr.

 

Robert A. Heinlein (1907?1988) is generally considered the greatest American science fiction author of the twentieth century. His most famous and widely influential works include the Future History series (stories and novels collected in The Past Through Tomorrow and continued in later novels), Starship Troopers, Stranger in a ...

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Robert A. Heinlein, Vol 2: In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better

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Overview

The real-life story of Robert A. Heinlein in the second volume (1948–1988) of the authorized biography by William H. Patterson Jr.

 

Robert A. Heinlein (1907–1988) is generally considered the greatest American science fiction author of the twentieth century. His most famous and widely influential works include the Future History series (stories and novels collected in The Past Through Tomorrow and continued in later novels), Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress—all published in the years covered by this volume. He was a friend of admirals, bestselling writers, and artists; became committed to defending the United States during the Cold War; and was on the advisory committee that helped Ronald Reagan create the Star Wars Strategic Defense Initiative in the 1980s.

Heinlein was also devoted to space flight and humanity’s future in space, and he was a commanding presence to all around him in his lifetime. Given his desire for privacy in the later decades of his life, the revelations in this biography make for riveting reading.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
2014-05-07
Second and concluding volume of Patterson's wide-ranging biography of the renowned science-fiction author.As Patterson (Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve, 2010) notes, Robert Heinlein (1907-1988) did not limit himself to what was then a small, if growing, genre of popular fiction. By the early 1950s, "he was in boys' and girls' markets, books, pulp, and film, all at the same time"—part of a concerted, thoroughly thought-through effort to free himself from the pulps while making a living as a writer. Patterson is well-versed in the Heinlein oeuvre, and a significant contribution of his biography is to place Heinlein's works in the context of his life and the evolution of his politics. As Heinlein was writing his best-known books, among them Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) and Starship Troopers (1959), he was making a political arc from beyond-New Deal Democrat to right-of-Goldwater Republican, a transformation helped by a second marriage to an activist conservative. Though he was friendly with L. Ron Hubbard, he resisted taking the path into invented religion and instead used his fiction to explore philosophical questions of meaning (one reason that Stranger became such a hit in the '60s counterculture). The '50s, Patterson reveals, were lucrative and satisfying for Heinlein in some respects, though the ground was always shifting; his Hollywood period closed with a thud when the production company he worked with closed its doors. He was on firmer footing in the '60s, and though reviewers were often antagonistic (Patterson quotes a few, including some from this publication, that were friendly but more that were not), his books did well—encouraging fan mail that, as Patterson recounts, was full of detailed questions "about everything from economics to where Robert parted his hair."Patterson covers all the bases—an essential book for studious fans of Heinlein, with valuable lessons for anyone hoping to make a living with the pen.
Library Journal
05/01/2014
The second volume of this dense, two-part biography of the venerated sf godfather Robert A. Heinlein (1907–88) is a mixed blessing. The work offers the first authoritative study of Heinlein, who—his desire for privacy having grown in proportion to his fame—granted few interviews in his later decades and died without leaving a true biography. Enter fan's fan Patterson (editor, publisher, The Heinlein Journal; cofounder, the Heinlein Society), who has clearly dived deep into his subject's sealed archives, accessed with special permission from Heinlein's widow and muse, Virginia, who also authorized this biography. While Patterson avoids hagiography, the result is often a chronicle that suffers from the descriptions of day-to-day minutiae and lacks an engaging narrative, as each chapter follows the next in an order that seems shaped by the record of correspondence. However, provided the trade edition of this book includes an index as detailed as the one that accompanied the first volume, Patterson will have honored his subject with his scholarship, if not with his storytelling. VERDICT Fans and scholars of Heinlein will find this an invaluable resource, though there is little here to appeal to other readers. With this book, the author has added to his already significant contributions to Heinlein scholarship; one hopes this text will inspire a future biographer to create a more engaging portrait.—Chris Wieman, Univ. of the Sciences Libs., Philadelphia
The Barnes & Noble Review

Science fiction is a literary field crowded with strong opinions, and no SF novelist delivered himself more memorably of his views — on politics, sexuality, religion, and many other contentious topics — than Robert Heinlein. Conversely, opinions on the author of Stranger in a Strange Land and many other masterpieces tend to run&hellip:hot. But no would-be expert should be allowed to post an opinion on Robert Heinlein — pro or con, labeling him saint or sinner — without having read all 1,000-plus pages of William Patterson's masterful and essential biography of the man. It would help, of course, to have also actually read all of Heinlein's fiction — though even that exercise unfortunately does not confer perfect objectivity. But I defy anyone who truly engages with Patterson's meticulously researched, empathetic, exuberant, and exhaustive biography to emerge without a deep comprehension of and, yes, sympathy with the man at its center. Whether you go into the book loving or hating Heinlein, you will emerge with your perspective refined and more solidly anchored, and possibly even turned upside down.

Of course, Heinlein's life story is already well known in its bare outlines by most hardcore fans of science fiction. Birth in 1907 into a quintessentially formative midwestern milieu; early naval career; prematurely retirement for health reasons; an almost accidental entry into fiction writing, due to economic necessity; grooming by editor John W. Campbell; revolutionary work and attainment of master status during the Golden Age; graduation to mainstream and Hollywood recognition during the 1950s; pioneering landmarks in the nascent young adult category; new controversial highs and lows in the 1960s; debilitating health problems conquered and a resurgent late-life career of somewhat problematic and even ostensibly solipsistic and self-parodic works; death at age eighty as the "dean of science fiction" and first SFWA Grandmaster. But Patterson's two-volume study explodes, amps up, highlights, colors, overturns, and shades these unnuanced tidbits into a tapestry of meaning, a breathing portrait of the whole man. In a metaphor that Heinlein himself, that old satyr, might endorse, the difference between knowing the outline of Heinlein's life versus reading Patterson's account is the difference between imagining sex and having it.

Learning Curve, the first of two volumes, begins, naturally enough, in "The Heinleins of Butler, Missouri," with Heinlein's parents and associated relatives. (An appendix covers earlier generations.) Patterson's sympathetic grasp of his subject's midwestern origins is tangible in this Sherwood Anderson–style portrait. Heinlein's birth finds our protagonist clearly and firmly embedded in a long- vanished but once-dominant familial and socio-cultural matrix. We watch his early interests and character traits develop, chart his youthful enthusiasms in literature, love, and duty. Then comes a very long period where the navy is the all-consuming center of Heinlein's life, both as stressed cadet and competent sailor. Patterson exhibits a detailed and convincing knowledge of the rigors and practices of the military during this period. Out of this crucible emerges the adult sensibility that would be stamped on Heinlein's later fiction — as well as the first vague stirrings of literary ambition.

By Chapter 12, with Heinlein some twenty-five years old, he encounters Leslyn MacDonald, who was to become his second wife (after a barely consummated, quickly terminated, and impulsive puppy-love first marriage). Patterson brings Leslyn colorfully alive as Heinlein's spiritual and intellectual equal. Soon married, the couple is thrown for a loop by Heinlein's tuberculosis and medical discharge. Then commences an unsettled civilian life in which our hero dabbles in higher education, joins the progressive political campaign of Upton Sinclair, and encounters the world of science fiction fandom, the penultimate blossoming of his long fascination with the genre.

His true writing life gets underway with a failed novel, (For Us, the Living, since printed posthumously), a sale to John Campbell at Astounding, and a swiftly burgeoning career. World War II finds the writing put aside for national service in a Philadelphia lab, with fellow authors Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp. L. Ron Hubbard and rocket scientist (and occultist) Jack Parsons stride on and off the stage. Postwar comes a crisis: divorce from an increasingly alcoholic, depressed, and mean-spirited Leslyn; falling in love with Virginia "Ginny" Gerstenfeld; artistic trials and triumphs; and — the culmination of Patterson's Volume 1 — marriage to Ginny, a partnership that would anchor the rest of Heinlein's life.

Throughout, Patterson gives us a truly complex, frequently self- contradictory Heinlein. If the Mount Rushmore–scale figure of the man has become a flashpoint, reduced by his friends and enemies to a shorthand list of "good" or "evil" tags, Patterson's presentation shatters all the cant and received "wisdom." We see Heinlein as conflicted son, as earnest and charming lover and sensualist, as dedicated military man, as aspiring artist, as desperate striver for solvency, as patriotic citizen, as science proselytizer, as futurist and fanboy. There can be no one- dimensionality about him any longer, given Patterson's careful attention to all his manifold aspects. (And here it should be mentioned that Patterson does a fine job with his synopses and exegeses of Heinlein's various fictions.)

One of the main humanizing factors is the contrast between the often overlooked and forgotten "early years of bitter struggle" and the picture today that many people have, of Heinlein sitting atop the bestseller heap, fully fledged as a privileged and dominant figure. It is much harder to resent a forty-year-old, divorced, struggling writer in ill health who cannot afford to give his new wife thirty cents for bus fare than to feel ire at some imaginary overlord of the genre.

In Chapter 22 comes the revelation of the central engine of Heinlein's life, the motive force that informed all his actions.

I haven't anything that could properly be termed a religion.… The nearest thing to a religious feeling I have, and, I believe, strong enough to justify calling it a religious feeling, has to do with the United States of America. It is not a reasoned evaluation but an overpowering emotion. The land itself as well as well as the people, its culture in the broadest most vulgar sense, its history and its customs…
Patterson opens Volume 2 with a repeat of this quotation, affirming its centrality. Besotted with the idealism of the USA's national enterprise, however often the principles of the nation were traduced and betrayed by reality, Heinlein indeed governed his actions by fealty to the notion of American culture as a model for humanity's future.

But Patterson's emphasis on his subject's fervent patriotism is offset by aspects of Heinlein's life that utterly destroy the false notions that he was some kind of hard-line conservative or hidebound reactionary. From incidents as simple as the courtesy paid to an African-American bellhop to his insistence on "diversity" in his characters, we see a man who treated everyone he met with an initial respect that his interlocutors could then either affirm or betray by their responses.

Volume 2, The Man Who Learned Better, feels indeed like a new phase in Heinlein's life. Patterson makes the point that our subject's "learning curve" had reached a kind of apex, although there were sharply instructional experiences hard ahead. Heinlein goes to Hollywood, to help make the landmark film Destination Moon, and that task provides insights into the dream factory and how to reach the general public. More important, a round-the-world tour opens Heinlein's eyes to the irreducible complexity of global politics and tempers his Wellsian optimism. (A later trip to the USSR will do even more along these lines.)

Heinlein's burgeoning success with YA novels brings both rewards and frustrations, as he must meet editorial fiats inconsistent with his own artistry and ideology. Crucially, we witness the conceptual birth, in 1949, of what would — after many false starts, stallings-out, and wanderings — become his most famous book, Stranger in a Strange Land. And we also witness the development of Heinlein's multi- stranded approach to social commentary with both egalitarian and libertarian views woven into his fiction, often in unpredictable ways. Interracial romance in Tunnel in the Sky; a Filipino hero for Starship Troopers. (The large controversy engendered by the militarism of the latter is well explored.) The controversial racial allegories and satire of Farnham's Freehold are explicated and justified. Chapter 25 contains another core belief, delivered in one of his letters: "Anything at all between two or more freely consenting adults is good, and is no damn business of government, of neighbors, of churches, or anyone else…" Heinlein was a contrarian bomb thrower par excellence, and his prescient denunciation of political correctness in Chapter 13 goes a long way toward explaining some of the hostility he's engendered today.

Patterson limns the turbulent "crazy years" of the 1960s with the same skill he deployed for the early 1900s. Several key novels emerge from Heinlein's typewriter during this era: The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Glory Road, and Podkayne of Mars, the latter, with its female teen protagonist, revolutionary for the day.

As the decade culminates in the first lunar landing and Heinlein's ecstatic televised celebration of this goal he has worked toward for so long, extreme medical trials plague both him and Ginny, and we share their suffering. In the midst of this, Heinlein managed to complete I Will Fear No Evil, and Patterson's treatment of this pivotal novel brings out its overlooked postmodernism (and what now looks like a more obvious predecessor to the metafictional antics of his late-'70s novel The Number of the Beast). Who would have dreamed Heinlein admired both John Barth and the Vladimir Nabokov of Ada?

One cardinal trait that emerges in Patterson's rendition of Heinlein's life is his catholicity of friendship and his generosity to those who had a claim on his heart. This is chronicled at several points, but perhaps nowhere so vividly as in the mutual-admiration society he conducted with Philip K. Dick, on the surface the least likely of authors to consort with the bogeyman "fascist" that Heinlein was deemed to be by those dwelling in the darkness of their own prejudices. Paying the tax bills of a bankrupt PKD, Heinlein continued the largesse he had lavished on folks such as Theodore Sturgeon and the nascent Science Fiction Writers of America in the past.

The final decade of Heinlein's life (he died on May 8, 1988) saw five novels from his pen — or early word-processor, actually. Patterson gives them, and the naturally somewhat tamped-down, scaled-back activities of the elderly but game Heinleins, as thorough a rendition as the earlier, more seminal works. I always count that full measure of attention paid to the endgame as one of the marks of a good biography.

In the full retrospect afforded by this project, Heinlein's life can be seen as an utter victory of will, ambition, character, and talent. Not many authors manage to title their final book To Sail Beyond the Sunset and have it issued as they lie dying. The arc of his life mirrors some kind of American fairytale. (Heinlein loved the "Little Tailor" motif.) He knew love, success, honor, and self-satisfaction. He left a legacy that continues to inspire. He gave much, and received much in return.

No review of this project would be complete without a note lamenting the passing of the biographer. Just on the eve of the publication of the second volume, William H. Patterson passed away at the too-youthful age of sixty-three. Like Heinlein's hero Delos D. Harriman in The Man Who Sold the Moon, Patterson died just in sight of his promised land, having given his all in a courageous manner that his subject would surely have applauded.

Author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, and Neutrino Drag, Paul Di Filippo was nominated for a Sturgeon Award, a Hugo Award, and a World Fantasy Award — all in a single year. William Gibson has called his work "spooky, haunting, and hilarious." His reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Science Fiction Weekly, Asimov's Magazine, and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Reviewer: Paul Di Filippo

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765319616
  • Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
  • Publication date: 6/3/2014
  • Edition description: Second Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 672
  • Sales rank: 119,275
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 2.20 (d)

Meet the Author

WILLIAM H. PATTERSON lives in San Francisco, California. He is a lifelong devotee of the works of Robert A. Heinlein, and was chosen by Virginia Heinlein to write Robert Heinlein's official biography.

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Read an Excerpt

1

HALF DONE, WELL BEGUN

“I cried at the altar, and Ginny cried when we got outside and, all in all, it was quite kosher.”1

October 21, 1948, was a beautiful, crisp fall day in Raton, New Mexico, just over the Colorado border. Snow gleamed on the distant mountaintops. Robert and Virginia Heinlein were finally married.

They had settled in Colorado Springs until the divorce from Leslyn was finalized, and they both struggled through the tumult of deciding on this new commitment, discovering that they both wanted this new life together.

Ginny, whose entire life had been spent in big cities, fell in love with that clean, mountain resort town,2 and they began putting down roots. Their social life had been somewhat constrained by the need to keep a low profile—which is also why they went out of state for the wedding. Now, with the holidays coming on, in addition to working with a local radio station they joined a figure-skating club.3 Ginny, a national ice-skating semifinalist, was asked to star as a featured performer in the Broadmoor resort hotel’s Christmas-week Symphony on Ice program—an ice-dancing version of The Nutcracker.

Heinlein was sleeping well for the first time in years, his only health problem being a persistent sinusitis. Even his ex-wife Leslyn—now a long-distance problem—seemed to be straightening out after a very messy period of her life. Six months earlier, she had lost her job at Point Mugu—“compulsory resignation because of refusal to do work the way her boss wanted her to do it,” their mutual friend Bill Corson wrote after talking with Buddy Scoles4—“complicated to unknown extent by liquor.”5 And then she disappeared. Not even their lawyer—Sam Kamens represented both Robert and Leslyn in the divorce action—had heard from her in more than a year. By September, Heinlein learned from friends, Leslyn had turned up in a sanatarium in Long Beach, “taking the cure.” Her own letter to Robert had kindled hopes she would make a full recovery, since she had joined Alcoholics Anonymous.6

Reconnecting with friends after his period of self-imposed isolation, Heinlein wrote long letters telling them about the marriage to Ginny, glossing over the timing. He had strict personal rules about telling the truth, always, but sometimes telling the truth selectively helped your friends maintain your privacy—and other peoples’ illusions, if necessary.

He had no illusions about getting back to work, especially now that he knew he could rely on Ginny as a helpmeet even with the writing, as Leslyn had been before the dark days (though in her own, different way). Heinlein was uncomfortably aware that the bank balance was dwindling away: Four months of unpaid labor on the screenplay for Destination Moon in the spring and summer of 1948 had put a severe crimp in their finances. He would not let Ginny go back to work. Heinlein’s Navy pension and a small but steady trickle of reprint requests for his prewar stories almost covered current expenses. The script could potentially put them in the clear. George Pal was shopping the project around Hollywood (though without getting even a nibble of interest).

In the fall of 1948, Heinlein had three books in print: his second juvenile for Scribner, Space Cadet, came out in August—and the first, Rocket Ship Galileo, was still selling briskly. Fantasy Press issued the revised Beyond This Horizon. In five or six months they would have royalty payments that would cover next year’s taxes and living expenses; he could feel reasonably confident that he wouldn’t dip back into poverty, as they had in Fort Worth at Christmastime a year earlier. Gnome Press, another of the new, small specialty publishing houses, wanted to publish Sixth Column under the Heinlein name instead of the Anson MacDonald pseudonym it had borne when published in Astounding Science-Fiction. John Campbell, Heinlein thought, ought at least to have a coauthor credit, since it had been written from Campbell’s (verbal) outline. He wrote to Campbell, and to Lurton Blassingame, asking what sort of fee and credit split would be appropriate. But Campbell did not want either money or credit.7

In the meantime, other speculative ventures were falling into his lap—two in one week recently: an offer to do continuity for a science-fiction newspaper comic strip8 and a request from the A&S Lyons Hollywood agency to develop a science-fiction radio show, with him as the host.9 Heinlein asked his cowriter of the Destination Moon script, Alford “Rip” van Ronkel, about the agency’s reputation. It was a genuine offer, van Ronkel told him.10 Heinlein was skeptical: He knew he had a good “radio voice”—better on radio than it sounded naturally—but felt he was not “celebrity” enough to carry such a show (though if they wanted to pay him—a thousand dollars a week was about right—he would put his objections aside).11

The regular writing was moving along: After thinking about it for a while, Heinlein had come up with a good idea for the scouting story that Boys’ Life had been asking for. He originally intended “Nothing Ever Happens on the Moon” as a short story12 about the first interplanetary Triple Eagle Scout, though it grew uncontrollably in the telling; by early November he had written twenty-five thousand words and struggled through multiple drafts with colored pencils, to cut it to nine thousand words. This produced a manuscript that looked, he said, like “modernist wallpaper.”13

His professional life was flourishing, just as the demands of his personal life escalated: When Ginny was in Washington, D.C., during the war, she had been diagnosed with thyroid deficiency. In the fall of 1948 her medications were adjusted, and Robert was helping her keep to her medication schedule. “She takes a grain and a half a day and is repulsively energetic, unless she happens to forget to take her pills. I have posted a chart and award her gold stars for taking her pills.”14 Nobody else would recognize and validate that small-girl part of her personality—but Heinlein had quite a lot of small boy in his own makeup, which he rarely showed to anyone but her.

As she regained her full energy, Ginny took on the task of getting Robert’s health in order. He had been sick the entire time she had known him, and when he was in Los Angeles working on the script for Destination Moon, his right leg began to bother him. Dr. King, the Los Angeles orthopedist he saw, had him doing stretching and strengthening exercises with orthopedic devices, to improve a postural imbalance he had picked up from fencing.15 As their financial crisis eased, Ginny devoted more time and resources to the housekeeping and meal budget, stretching her talent and skills to make his meals sophisticated, flavorful, and sustaining. Robert had grown up on the heavy and undistinguished cooking of the Midwest: Vegetables that were not boiled to a limp mess and beefsteak rare and à point—not gray and overdone and tough—were new to him.16

But her program was derailed almost before it began. The doctor Heinlein was consulting about his sinusitis tested him for allergies. He tested positive for—well, nearly everything: “Seems I’m allergic to milk (ice cream, cheese, cream soups), corn (but not corn liquor), and lettuce. Why lettuce? Why not spinach? Ginny is beside herself trying to figure out how to feed me.”17 Heinlein took it in stride: “Me, I don’t worry—anything is worthwhile to get the full use of my schnozzle again—and a little dieting will help my waist line. Ginny is such a swell cook that I have a strong disposition to over-eat.”18

As they settled into their new life together, they began to take up their political interests, as well. They had moved to Colorado Springs too late in the year to register to vote: For the first time in Ginny’s adult life, she would not be able to vote in a presidential election (Robert had filed an absentee ballot in California).19 There was a good chance that President Truman might lose to Republican Tom Dewey (neither Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond nor Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party stood any real chance in this election—but they both weakened Truman’s support).

Robert had come to respect Truman’s strength of character—particularly after his handling of the Democratic Party’s racism at the nominating convention that summer:

What I do like is the fact that Truman stood up to the southern “gentlemen” white racists and told them to go pee up a rope, and most especially the fact that the convention backed him up on it. If the convention had pussyfooted on civil rights I would have been strongly tempted to vote the vegetarian ticket. But it didn’t … this was a time to stand up and be counted, and the count came out on the side of human decency, which made me happy and proud.20

Ginny was less enthusiastic about Truman.21

On election night, Robert stationed himself by the radio and stayed awake, tallying the overnight results as they came in. In the morning, he told her with great satisfaction that Truman had won—much in advance of the official count.

With the elections out of the way, Heinlein returned to the problem of his annual boys’ book for Scribner. He had intended to build a story around undersea agriculture—a family of sea-farmers, since his editor, Alice Dalgliesh, wanted a prominent girl character this time. She had found his outline notes for Ocean Rancher “thrilling”22—but he needed to get in more suit-diving to finish off his background research. Ginny put her foot down: She had almost lost him last year.23 Ocean Rancher was out.

Heinlein always had a hard time coming up with ideas for these boys’ books. He had to invent something adventurous that boys would be interested in, without needing excessive background explanations. And it was always a problem to get the boys out from under the thumbs of their adult “protectors,” because adventures were what they were being protected from.24 Targeted at a general readership, these boys’ books could not use the genre conventions of the science-fiction magazines—but he could use ordinary science.

His approach to the science-fiction juvenile was evolving. When he wrote Rocket Ship Galileo in 1946, the form of the juvenile was dominated by the Tom Swift/Motor Boys formula. Space Cadet, in 1948, was built around a group of teenagers, and so is still fairly close to the formula. His third book, however, would depart further.

His core idea came out of a story he remembered that Jack Williamson had cowritten with Miles J. Breuer in 1930, “The Birth of a New Republic”—“A very, very solid piece of work, one of my favorites, and miles ahead of the stuff … of the period.”25 A story began coming together in his mind, about a revolution on Mars against a distant Earth colonial authority. He wrote up a synopsis of the story as an outline-proposal and sent it to Alice Dalgliesh, by way of Lurton Blassingame.26

That November he wrote a story of a woman on a space station overcoming male chauvinism, “Delilah and the Space Rigger,” aimed at The Saturday Evening Post (which found it too “technical”). Ginny suggested another story idea to work on while “Delilah” started on the rounds of other slicks:27 In Space Cadet he had mentioned several iconic heroes-of-the-Space-Patrol. She suggested he write the story of Dahlquist, who stopped a military coup at the cost of his own life. During the first two weeks of December 1948, this turned into “The Long Watch”—a “downbeat” story, since the hero dies at the end, but it showed what had inspired those boys about the story: “The narrator is a hero in the mold that Heinlein perfected,” Andre Norton later wrote of this story. “That is, he’s an ordinary guy who must decide to do the extraordinary because of his belief in the American system of government.”28 Ginny cried when she typed it for submission—and every time she had to retype it.29 Eventually, she said, her tears rusted out her typewriter.30

Heinlein had another writing chore he had been putting off since August: He wanted to do a really good story for John Campbell, as a major “thank-you” for his efforts to get Street & Smith to change its policy of buying and reserving “all rights.”31 Now they bought and reserved only serial and paperback rights, and this allowed Campbell to meet the conditions Heinlein set out two years earlier—rates respectable for pulp, if not as good as the slicks. All he needed was a good idea.

That, of course, is the hard part. Campbell suggested a dodge that would let them talk it over “in person”: He had become interested in ham radio and threw himself into it with enthusiasm. There were a couple of hams in Colorado Springs, and Campbell arranged with one of them, Bill Talmaine, to make a connection on Friday, December 3, 1948.32

Astounding’s November 1948 issue had come out the same week Heinlein remarried. In it, Campbell printed a “joke” letter from Richard Hoen—a “review” of the November 1949 issue, a year in the future. It was to be a glorious reunion of all the prewar greats, and Hoen had mentioned a new serial by Heinlein (as “R. A. MacH”, referring to Heinlein’s “Anson MacDonald” pen name), giving only the title “Gulf,” and no other details (except that he implied it was not part of the Future History). It was a good joke, Heinlein told Campbell—and pointed out that he could top it: If Campbell would talk the other writers into doing stories with the titles Hoen had given, Heinlein could write something for the “Gulf” title and make Hoen’s “prediction” come true.33

At that stage Heinlein did not have any specific idea for the story—he might be able to use some of the Ocean Rancher material, so the title could refer to the Gulf of Mexico, or—he kept turning the notion over in his mind but was getting nowhere.34 He asked Ginny for a story conference. They scheduled a formal meeting, and he asked her to come with a few story ideas they could toss around.35

Ginny’s help with the business side of the writing had already expanded well beyond that of a well-trained secretary. Much of her impact on him she could not really be aware of: Her “presence” was simply everywhere in his life, in big ways and little. The most casual remarks from her might spark a story idea, but she didn’t even need to talk to inspire a story. One day, when she was putting away the wire recorder (since they were no longer using it for dictation) it squawked, and that gave Heinlein an idea for Willis, one of his Martian characters in Red Planet—that it would repeat sounds back at you, like a living wire recorder.36 And the rest of his book’s Martian biology built itself around that and integrated into the boy-hero’s resistance to an attempted dictatorship on the Martian Colony. Ginny later commented, “Robert asked me to make notes when I had story ideas, and I always did. Sometimes they were simply notions for small things, other times they were bigger…”37

For this first story conference, Ginny’s best idea was a variation on Kipling’s Jungle Books stories—a human Mowgli raised, not by animals, but by aliens and then returned to Earth. It would be a satire, she explained. The boy would be like those goslings that imprinted on duck mothers, and the story built around his figuring out how to be a human being. Heinlein remembers the moment as linked to Red Planet, which he was researching and planning at that time:

Time after time ideas would beget more ideas, and I would have to lay the second generation regretfully away with the thought that the discarded notion was a little too involved and a bit too strong medicine for a boy’s book. I collected quite a file of things about these Martians which had been left out of the book. One night, while discussing this Martian culture, I made some reference to Mowgli; Ginny speaks up and says, “There’s your ‘Gulf’ story that you’ve been looking for.”38

Heinlein wrote several sheets of notes by the time he ran out of steam for the night,39 but the core of the book was already clear in his mind: he wrote the first and last chapter.40

But for the Astounding serial, this Martian Mowgli was too big an idea to be researched and written in the time he had. They continued discussing the “Gulf” story for the next several days. The Martians he had evolved for Red Planet were elder-brother types, and the boy they raise and use as a spy would probably turn out some sort of warped super-genius, like Odd John. “What makes a superman?” he asked Ginny, spontaneously. “They think better,” she replied.41 This was the germ of the spy/superman novella Heinlein later crafted for Campbell as “Gulf.”

Heinlein put the superman idea aside, too, so he could finish some of the accumulation of work that was piling up.42 He began revising and expanding Sixth Column for Gnome Press.43 The revisions were ticklish:

It was a hard story to write, as I tried to make this notion plausible to the reader—and also to remove the racism which was almost inherent to his story line.

In revising the yarn for book publication (1947) I was lucky enough to find, in a respected British journal of science, some support for the notion that the subraces of h. sapiens might be told apart by spectral analysis of blood; I incorporated that idea in the book.44

In the middle of the Sixth Column revisions, Heinlein received another book offer: Shasta, a new publisher out of Chicago, had bought Methuselah’s Children in the spring of 1948. Now the owner, Erle Korshak, wrote saying they wanted to make it a part of a five-book series that collected all of the Future History.45

This was a much better—and more realistic—offer than Crown had made him the previous year (for a heavily condensed, single-volume collection). Korshak wanted him to write all the stories whose titles he had put on his “Future History” chart but never written. Heinlein answered that he was interested, but he was also fully booked until February 1949:46 Dalgliesh’s approval of the Red Planet outline came through, sometime in mid-December 1948, and Heinlein was ready to start writing the book after Christmas.

He found Red Planet a chore to write and spoke of it as “dull.”47 Dalgliesh had been very pleased with the outline discussion, but it didn’t come alive for him. About a week before Red Planet would be finished, he took a day off and pitched Ginny’s Martian Mowgli idea for “Gulf” to John Campbell in a long letter, so that he could have the benefit of Campbell’s feedback before he had to start writing it. Now the “Gulf” had become interplanetary.

All the fundamental ideas of what would become Stranger in a Strange Land were there in this January 27, 1949, letter, including, explicitly, the Mars-Apollonian/Earth-Dionysian dichotomy, drawn from Ruth Benedict’s 1934 study in Patterns of Culture, with flavors of two other classic superman stories, Olaf Stapledon’s Odd John (1935) and Philip Wylie’s Gladiator (1930), a book that is, for the most part, remembered today only as the direct inspiration for the Superman comic book character.

The obvious tragic outcome is for him to retreat to Mars, just [as] a zoo animal, loosed, will slink back into his cage, unable to cope with the wild “natural” environment. Another solution is for him to become a messiah, either tragically unsuccessful, or dramatically successful. Or, on a less elevated plane, he could be the bridge across the gulf between Mars and Earth.…48

Meanwhile, back on Earth (or as close to Earth as Hollywood gets), van Ronkel wrote in January 1949 saying that a Life magazine article on rocketry had brightened up the climate for their Destination Moon spec script, and Louella Parsons had leaked the news that Pal was rounding up financing—somewhat prematurely, as the script was just being looked at. Pal had probably planted the leak himself, van Ronkel concluded, to create a “buzz” about the project. All the independent filmmakers were having trouble obtaining financing.49

Heinlein’s second juvenile for Scribner, Space Cadet, had come out in August 1948, while he was still in Los Angeles, to generally good reception, but the reviews in the science-fiction fan press over the winter and into 1949 were not positive. In fact, for the past two years he had been getting very strange reactions from the science-fiction fans. Prominent fan Forrest Ackerman sent him a negative review by writer Robert Bloch that didn’t seem to understand what was going on in the story at all. The fans—and in this case Bloch as well—seemed offended that he avoided the science-fiction genre conventions when trying to reach a general readership that didn’t have robots and rockets and such at its fingertips. Exasperated, Heinlein wrote back to Ackerman:

You know damn well that a story that Astounding will buy can not possibly be sold to the SEP—but through those stories I brought space travel to more people than has any other writer save H. G. Wells and Jules Verne—to more people than have all other living writers put together … So far as the general public is concerned I am the only space-travel writer, because I gave it to them in a form they could understand and made them believe in it. Would you criticize me for feeding pablum to a baby rather than rich, red beef steak?50

Nevertheless, Ackerman said, in fanzines and directly to Heinlein in correspondence, that the “slick” Heinlein set back the cause of space travel and only made him ill.51

Irritating—but just one of the many ways Ackerman was becoming a long-distance pain. The previous year, he had made a pest of himself over the Big Pond fund set up to bring the English editor of New Worlds, Ted Carnell, to the United States—as the “fan guest of honor” for the 1949 WorldCon in Cincinnati. As it happened, all of Heinlein’s disposable income was going into care packages for the Carnells at the time, since England was still rationing food,52 but Heinlein refused to explain himself to Ackerman. Now Ackerman was complaining that Heinlein wasn’t giving him as much “access” as he wanted. Heinlein decided to make one more attempt to put the friendship back on a more reasonable basis:

If you want to know me for myself, and not as a source of scoops, well and good. I like you and I regard you as an extremely idealistic sort of a guy, even though our evaluations don’t match on various points. I don’t like you simply as a source of nude pix, or a person from whom I can borrow s-f books, or as a bigshot fan; I like you for yourself—one of the sweetest guys I ever met (when you aren’t off on a rampage). No doubt if we stay in contact you will sometimes get a scoop out of me, or an original manuscript, or a chance to see the inner workings of something.…

… This letter has been painfully blunt, Forry, but, darn it!, you forced it on me. I prefer to stay on friendly terms with you; whether or not we do depends on whether or not you want to—as a friend, and not as Louella Parsons nor as a self-appointed critic.53

It was, by way of contrast, a pleasure to deal with someone as straightforward as L. Ron Hubbard, who wrote asking for a fifty-dollar loan so he could get to D.C. for a pension hearing. Twenty minutes after opening his letter, Robert was writing a response: Ginny volunteered to take the money out of her grocery budget and went downtown for a money order to be enclosed with the letter.

You may attribute this on her [Ginny’s] part to the fact that she put in four years in the outfit herself and lost her kid brother in the pig boats. She won’t turn down a shipmate. As for me, it’s partly because I remember you floating around out there in that salt water with your ribs caved in and partly because I have a feeling deep down that I could depend on you in a tight corner quicker than I could depend on some of my more “respectable” acquaintances … I think you are my kind of a son of a bitch and I don’t think I would have to holler more than once.54

Hubbard’s markets had never completely come back for him, while Heinlein’s seemed to be expanding. Both Doubleday and Little, Brown had asked Heinlein for collections of his fantasy stories, and the discussions with Doubleday stretched over months, trying out various combinations of his short fiction. By April he reached an agreement with Doubleday on a four-book deal, beginning with Waldo & Magic, Inc. “It seems to me,” he told his agent, “that [those two stories] go together about as well as mustard and watermelon, an opinion which was reinforced by trying to think of a title for the volume.”55 “Waldo” was a novella written in the opening months of World War II, built around Tesla’s broadcast power and what the metaphysics of the new physics might mean. “Magic, Inc.” was a prewar romp about commercial magic.

Back in Hollywood, van Ronkel had become very unhappy with his agent. Lou Schor had just lain down and gone to sleep on them, apparently expecting Pal to do all the rest of the work himself. Heinlein liked Schor personally, but it was hard to drum up support for someone who wouldn’t cooperate. Reluctantly Heinlein gave van Ronkel an unlimited agency if he wanted to fire Schor.56

That was not all that was falling apart in Southern California: The hopeful expectations he had for Leslyn were dashed as reports came in. She was telling different stories to different people, and none of it was calming. “Heard from Sprague [de Camp] that she apparently has been working on the bottle to an extreme,” Heinlein’s Naval Academy friend Cal Laning, now in Washington, D.C., wrote Robert when she asked for a job recommendation.57 Their mutual friend Bill Corson was even more depressing: “Oversimplifying things a trifle, I will express an opinion that she’s nutty as a hoot owl…” he wrote, continuing sadly: “She aint the gal we used to know, Bob. There’s been a vast change. It’s a total stranger now, with only a physical resemblance to upset us.”58 Now she was demanding financial support from Robert, when he was close to broke.59 She had run through the entire proceeds from the sale of the Lookout Mountain house in just two and a half years.60

Heinlein felt no need to help; even if he wanted to, nothing had ever helped Leslyn once she entered the bottle. So he went back to work. In January and February 1949 Heinlein began collecting notes for a mainstream novel set in the world of modern art, to be called The Emperor’s New Clothes, something like Ayn Rand’s 1943 book The Fountainhead (made into a movie in 1948).

But he couldn’t afford to devote much time to speculative work.61 The shorts he had written in November and December (“The Long Watch” and “Delilah and the Space Rigger”) were bouncing from all the slicks.

In February 1949, Heinlein took up the Shasta proposal for a series of books of all the Future History stories. The series as a whole would be much stronger, he suggested, if he based each book around a typical personality of his era and wrote just the material—ten new stories altogether—that would finish the series off. Volume one would be about “Harriman and the escape from Earth to the Moon.” Volume two would pick up with “Rhysling and the adventure of the entire solar system.” Then a book about “the First Prophet and the triumph of rationalism over superstition,” then “Lazarus Long and the triumph over death.” The series would conclude with The Endless Frontier—his “Universe” and “Common Sense” stories about a lost spaceship, and a new novelette, “Da Capo,” that would bring things back to Earth and the triumph of the human race over space and time.62

Heinlein knew what he wanted to write for the first novelette: the “prequel” to his 1940 story “Requiem,” which had been about D. D. Harriman dying as he achieved his life’s ambition to go to the Moon. The technical problem of the fusion of documentary with science fiction that he had worked into the Destination Moon script was outrageously experimental (for the time), and his “The Man Who Sold the Moon”—a story about the early days of space travel—continued to explore this new vein of science-fictional material. It wouldn’t be science fiction at all, as the pulps understood the term—nary a space battle nor wondrous gadget in sight. It might be more suited to the general-fiction magazines—

—but Korshak wanted to premiere the story in Outward Bound, the first volume of the series, and that meant no magazine sale. Heinlein agreed to the restriction reluctantly: He could not afford to put any obstacle in the way of the advance for the book. His brother, Larry, had written asking for a loan of $100 for sixty days,63 and Robert was embarrassed to have to tell Larry he didn’t have it to give—unless one of the speculative ventures came through. “I hate like the deuce to have to put you off,” he wrote Larry, “and it is almost as embarrassing to have to admit that I am myself strapped.”64

There was one bright spot on his financial horizon: Calling All Girls magazine took his teenaged-girl ice-skating story “Poor Daddy,” written in October 1947,65 and paid $150 for the 2,700 word story66—about five and a half cents per word (compared to the new “highest-rate” Campbell had offered of two and a half cents per word).67 The editor told him they could use more stories of the “Puddin’” type—and they didn’t care that he was a man writing about a teenaged girl.68

Continuing to work as partners, Robert and Ginny had another story conference,69 for the novella he needed to write for the first Shasta book of Future History stories—“The Man Who Sold the Moon.”

As with Rocket Ship Galileo and Destination Moon, Heinlein could not, for storytelling reasons, reasonably expect to depict the long, slow buildup that a government-managed project would require, with hundreds of people involved.70 As far back as 1947, when he proposed this story to The Saturday Evening Post, he had established its focus:

The background would be the same, at an earlier period, as my Luna-City stories; the story would be of D. D. Harriman, the first great entrepreneur of space travel. It would be concerned mainly with the financial and promotional aspects of the first Moon trip, rather than with the physical adventure. This is, I believe, a fairly novel approach to the space-travel story, and concerns what is, in fact, the real hitch in opening up the solar system—money, the huge initial investment and the wildcat nature of the risk.71

A personal fortune would only be a start on this project—it would have to become as much a glamour investment as a technical venture. The basic story was about a man obsessed with the Great Vision, finagling and flim-flamming the financing for a Moon rocket.

This prequel story to “Requiem” had to fit into a narrow time gap in his Future History chart. Robert and Ginny came up with many background bits to get the story to the correct length. “Robert would pace up and down the living room,” Ginny later said, “and I would sit there and try to think of ideas that he could stick into this thing.”72 “We spent days discussing it. All sorts of things went into it—the Mississippi Bubble and things like that.”73 Heinlein started writing while Korshak prepared the contracts for the series.

At almost the same time, Scribner rejected Red Planet74—on just the points the editor had approved in the story outline.75 Worse, Dalgliesh complained that this story was fairy-tale like and wasn’t technical enough—after asking him to reduce the science from the level of his first two books for them. It was infuriating—particularly considering the struggle to make the thing work in the first place. Dalgliesh’s idea of science fiction, Heinlein complained to Blassingame, was antiquated.

Her definition … fails to include most of the field and includes only that portion of the field which has been heavily overworked and now contains only low-grade ore.…

I gave Miss Dalgliesh a story which was strictly science fiction by all the accepted standards—but it did not fit into the narrow niche to which she has assigned the term, and it scared her.…

Enough of beating that dead horse! It’s a better piece of science fiction than the other two, but she’ll never know it and it’s useless to try to tell her.76

Dalgliesh had commissioned an evaluation reading by a professional librarian, Margaret C. Scoggins, who was enthusiastic about the book but noted potential problems with the boy’s Martian pet, Willis, laying eggs in the protagonist’s bed after “necking” with him (“She’s got a dirty mind,” Ginny remarked77), and a certain trigger-happiness among the boys.78

The whole children’s lit industry was under intense scrutiny at that time because of the public attention being given to gory and violent comic books. Young people bearing firearms absolutely had to come out; this was a point on which there could be no compromise. And even the suggestion of sex—the miscegenation that could be read into the egg-laying—was unacceptable to the librarians who had become the core of Dalgliesh’s purchasers. “We value him as an author,” Dalgliesh told Heinlein’s agent, “but we have to sell books and we have to keep the reputation for integrity we’ve built up.”79 They weren’t selling many books in bookstores, she told Blassingame, so the library sales were critical. This must have caused Heinlein’s jaw to drop, as he was getting complaints from his family and from readers that they couldn’t find the book in bookstores, the demand was so great.80

The day after the Scribner rejection, his spirits were bucked up when L. Ron Hubbard repaid the fifty-dollar loan—within two weeks and with an extra dollar for interest.81 Heinlein returned the dollar, saying they didn’t take interest from friends.

Having Red Planet—essentially a commissioned work—rejected after the outline was approved and the book written to outline infuriated Robert,82 and he instructed his agent that he was going to insist on the advance, even if they had to sue Scribner to get it.83 Blassingame agreed and brokered a compromise: Scribner agreed to accept the book based on its following the preapproved outline, but wanted some significant revisions. Though very doubtful about the practical nature of those revisions, Heinlein gave in:

I capitulate, horse and foot. I’ll bowdlerize the goddamn thing any way she said. But I hope you can keep needling her to be specific, however, and to follow up the plot changes when she demands the removal of a specific factor. I’m not just being difficult, Lurton; several of the things she objects to have strong plot significance …

If she forces me to it, I’ll take out what she objects to and then let her look at the cadaver remaining—then perhaps she will revise her opinion that it “—doesn’t affect the main body of the story—” (direct quote).84

Some of the changes watered down the social philosophy of the book, in a way that was repugnant to him. “It appears that there is now a drive on to make the world safe for morons[,] and Red Planet got caught in the squeeze. Things that were okay in my last two books are now much too nasty for children. It’s annoying.”85 He suggested bylining it by “Lyle Monroe”—or jointly by Robert Heinlein and Alice Dalgliesh—or “as revised by Alice Dalgliesh”86—proposals she rejected. Later, Blassingame told him that Scribner had panicked at the thought of diluting the Heinlein name recognition.87 Dispiritedly he started marking up his manuscript to water down the book.88 The contracts were finally signed on April 29, 1949. “I concede your remarks about the respect given to the Scribner imprint,” Heinlein wrote to Blassingame,

the respect in which she [Dalgliesh] is held, and the fact that she is narrowly limited by a heavily censorship-ridden market. I still don’t think she is a good editor; she can’t read an outline or a manuscript with constructive imagination.

I expect this to be my last venture in this field; ’tain’t worth the grief.89

For the time being, Heinlein had no choice: he had to do the work. Money was very tight going into April 1949. The revisions for Red Planet would take time, and “The Man Who Sold the Moon,” which had been promised to Astounding as early as 1941, was tied up in the book publication and could not be sold to a magazine.

In the middle of the frustrating negotiations over the Red Planet revisions, Korshak wrote saying that Shasta couldn’t possibly keep the terms of the contract they had offered for the Future History books; the royalty rates were too high to be a profitable venture.90 Some of the terms, Robert felt he could live with—though it was no longer even a decent contract for him (he called it a “monstrosity” in a letter to Blassingame91). After weeks of back-and-forth, Heinlein decided to accept the bad terms, just to get on with the other writing he had stacked up.92 “I have made great concessions; you have worn me out,” he wrote to Korshak. “I want to sign your contract Monday morning 11 April or drop the whole matter. No more lengthy negotiations.”93 To his screenwriting collaborator, he complained:

I’ve lost the last three weeks through the insanities of editors and publishers. On my latest novel [Red Planet] the editor thinks it’s swell tomato juice but should be peed in to make it better. On a contract for five books with another house [Shasta] the publisher writes me 7000-word letters explaining why he should have my other shirt and my one good testicle in the contract. All very time wasting.94

The contracts for the first two books in the Future History series were signed on April 19, 1949. Korshak irritated him by sending the $200 advance for the first book with the condescending message that the Heinleins could eat steak tonight on Shasta.95 The advance Robert had just secured from Scribner was $500; he could have steak without Shasta.

Moreover, several of the stories in the first volume for Shasta needed revisions, minor and major. In particular, he wanted to bring the applied physics in “Blowups Happen” up to date, for which purpose he borrowed John Campbell’s book manuscript for Atomic Industries.96

In April 1949 Heinlein needed to find a story manuscript97 and spent half a day looking through his unlabeled boxes for it.98 Through the middle of April,99 Ginny organized his files for him: Each story, book, or article was assigned a work number on an index card, chronologically, like a composer’s opus numbers. Heinlein went through the old manuscripts one by one with her, telling her from his recollections and from the notes on the storage envelopes which ones came before others or after, and Ginny made up a master opus list to reflect his recollections, putting the opus number on the files and organizing the files sequentially in the boxes, so the index cards would reference into the files without a long search through boxes and boxes. That brought him more or less up to date, with the Destination Moon script being #65. The Boy Scout story was #66; Red Planet #67, and so on. From that point forward, each time he started a project, he would put the next opus number on an index card and keep a running record on the card, instead of hiding the information away with the manuscripts.

The clock was running on his deadline for Campbell’s “Gulf” story. Campbell had been fascinated with Ginny’s Martian Mowgli idea—but Hoen had packed so many imaginary stories into his letter that Campbell couldn’t possibly include them all, even if they were all shorts. He wasn’t going to write a Don A. Stuart story for that issue, no matter what Hoen had “asked” for.100

Heinlein put the Mowgli story away and developed a suspense story (as opus #68) based on Ginny’s comment about supermen thinking better than ordinaries. He started the story in mid-April but stalled for a month. Perhaps the “Gulf” story simply needed more thinking through than it had had to that point.

Royalty checks came in April, relieving any immediate crisis, so the Heinleins were able to take time off and enjoy the National Figure Skating Championships held that year in Colorado Springs.

The break probably gave him time to think about another important matter: The Department of the Navy had suspended his physicist friend Robert Cornog pending an investigation into his security clearance. After inviting the Heinleins to drop by Los Alamos on their way back from Philadelphia in 1945,101 Cornog came out to Southern California and continued to be active in the movements to cope with the dangers of atomic weapons. The Los Alamos Scientists organization led to the Hollywood Writers’ Mobilization asking Cornog to join in September 1945. That committee was later exposed as a Communist front organization. Cornog now asked Heinlein for an affidavit attesting to his character—and to his patriotism—when he contested the suspension.

That was a ticklish problem: Heinlein had belonged to some organizations in the thirties that were heavily infiltrated by United Front Communists. He carefully crafted a statement for the hearing coming up on May 26, 1949, that laid the groundwork for his own patriotism and leveraged Cornog’s on that basis, giving the names of respected individuals who knew his opinion directly—John Anson Ford, who was still a Los Angeles County Supervisor; Susie and Robert Clifton; and John Kean, who had been his supervisor at the Naval Air Experimental Station in Philadelphia.

Cornog was, he argued, a prudent and close-mouthed individual—at the very most a “dupe,” not even a fellow traveler. His involvement was excusable because “I can say from personal and bitter experience that it is very hard to spot immediately a clandestine communist.”102

Identifying and getting Communists out of American political institutions, he conceded, was an important and increasingly urgent problem—but Cornog was certainly no Commie. The effort spent investigating him—and rocket expert Jack Parsons, a friend of Heinlein and Cornog both, who had recently been through the same mill—was better spent chasing down real traitors.103

Having defended his friend’s integrity and dealt a blow against the Communists simultaneously, Heinlein learned that he would have to go back into the world he had left behind in Los Angeles: Destination Moon was going to be made into a movie. Ad astra per Hollywood!

Copyright © 2014 by William H. Patterson, Jr.

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