The second volume of William Patterson’s Heinlein bio has come out, and in The New Republic, Jeet Heer announces that he thinks both it and its subject are spinach. I read the first volume, and my biggest complaint was that it told me little I didn’t already know by reading the man’s work. On the other hand, books and writers that aggravate New Republic reviewers to this extent probably warrant my support.
The review’s title (which of course may not have been Heer’s) is a delight in itself: “A Famous Science Fiction Writer’s Descent Into Libertarian Madness.” As Withywindle observes at his place, the descent seems to be linked to Heinlein’s third marriage (to his final wife, Virginia), and Heer’s take demonstrates the log in his own eye. But as we move from Heer’s dismissal of the Patterson’s book as “fannishly worshipful” to his philippic against Heinlein himself, we see enough logs to supply a timber mill.
Heer makes what I see as a huge rookie mistake in this paragraph, for example:
Taken together, Heinlein’s books in his right-wing phase hardly add up to a logical worldview. How do we reconcile the savage authoritarianism of Starship Troopers with the peace-and-love mysticism of Stranger in a Strange Land? For that matter, how do those two books jibe to the nearly anarchist libertarianism of the Moon Is a Harsh Mistress? On a more practical plain, how could Heinlein have called for both limited government and a NASA committed to colonizing space (surely a big government program if there ever was one)? TANSTAAFL went out the window when a space or military program caught Heinlein’s fancy.
Uh, we aren’t supposed to reconcile them — they’re different books, with different characters telling different stories. Speaking as a guy who writes stories where people strangle other folks with electrical cords or shoot Santa Claus, I can tell you that this sort of conflating dance and dancer is crap I wouldn’t accept from my freshpeeps. Elsewhere, Heer describes RAH’s later novels as
[…] nostalgic, masturbatory fan-fiction where he resurrected characters from earlier books and linked them into a single tapestry of interconnected self-referential novels.[…] What a depressing fate for a novelist who once was a gateway to tomorrow: wallowing in self-absorbed, sentimental reveries.
Apparently the concept of metafiction is unknown in Jeetland, as are the works of folks like Vonnegut and Borges.
As for a point-by-point look at the sort of krep Heer is preaching, Spider Robinson has already done the heavy lifting. Still, it’s fun to see this kind of tantrum, and if it means Patterson sells a few more books, then that’s a good thing.