And then, 2016

So we made it through another year, with still another before us. I’m glad we’ve made the journey this far, and I hope the coming year brings you all the things you want. But meanwhile, why not some potpourri?


The Spawn is ambivalent about New Year’s, and the passage of time in general. Of course, it’s like the weather — you might not like it, but there’s not much you can do about it (the climate change crowd notwithstanding). Lately, she has been in the habit of asking me for a poem to read each day. I think tonight’s assignment will be Hopkins, as suits a young woman always concerned with the unleaving of Goldengrove.


One of my Christmas gifts this year was Farewell Fear by Theodore Dalrymple. It’s a collection of short (4-6 page) essays on the passing scene (or in some cases, the scene that has already passed — the book is about 3 years old), which makes it perfect for reading in spare moments, such as when I’m warming up a meal or doing some other activity requiring less than my full attention. In a sense I suppose it’s journalism, and as a beloved former professor of mine observed, journalists must labor under the knowledge that they and their work will be forgotten within minutes of their passing.

But there are exceptions for the best of it, I think, and I’d offer Dalrymple as a case in point, along with Mencken, Ernie Pyle, and the 18th-Century titans: Addison, Steele, and the Great Cham himself. Dalrymple may be as close as we have to a modern Johnson, both temperamentally and in terms of his chosen form. There’s a sprezzatura to his work, elegance that seems utterly unforced, although as a writer myself, I know that’s illusory. And it seems to me that in every essay — even on topics I never thought would interest me — there’s a moment when I find myself chuckling in agreement with some sardonic point or other the good doctor has made. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re probably already familiar with Dalrymple’s work, but if you aren’t, I recommend you pick up a copy of Farewell Fear and remedy the situation.


Another Christmas gift was the second volume of William H. Patterson’s authorized bio of Robert Heinlein. This volume covers the last half of the Wise Old Man’s life, the period from 1948-88. As was the case with the first volume, I would have liked to see more attention paid to the books and stories, and perhaps less paid to the minutiae of tour itineraries, but it’s still a remarkable work, and I’m deeply sorry that Mr. Patterson didn’t live to see the book’s publication.

As I read this volume, I recalled a review/hit piece by Jeet Heer, and I saw numerous reasons for the critic’s apoplexy. At various points in the book, Patterson seems to ventriloquize Heinlein’s position on a variety of sociopolitical concepts, and that position is, let’s say, rather distinct from that of The New Republic. Judging from Patterson’s research, Heinlein was an individualist and a freethinker (neither of which are precisely a surprise to anyone who has read RAH’s books), and he went through the same left-to-right move that marked many of the key figures of the postwar Right, from Chambers to Burnham and Eastman. As we know, the Left is about as open to apostasy as ISIS, and consequently, Heer’s hatchet wielding response is unsurprising.


As a side note, I spent a few hours thinking that Patterson had uncovered one of SF’s great mysteries almost by accident: The birth name of Spider Robinson. (Even the folks at Wikipedia have thrown up their hands on the matter.) However, friend of Spider (and SF reader) Lawrence Block let me know that Patterson’s indexer had conflated Spider with longtime SF fan Frank M. Robinson.

Still, it was nice to think for a brief time that Patterson had found this information and tucked it into what amounted to a footnote, rather like Andrew Wiles’s proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, which he announced in an “oh, by the way” manner.


And of course, it wouldn’t be a potpourri post without a bit of music. Even among music dorks, I get the occasional sneer for my fondness for Canadian prog/psych/popsters Klaatu. And that’s okay by me — that’s why they make chocolate and vanilla, after all. But in any case, this seems appropriate for any new year, and it also happens to be the title cut from my favorite album ever. And it’s my blog, so deal. From Klaatu, I offer you “Hope” on this New Year’s Day.

“Happy New Year, Planet Earth.”


About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Culture, Family, Literature, Music, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to And then, 2016

  1. Jeff S. says:

    Regarding the Heinlein bio: I’ve not read Patterson’s second volume yet, but I did read the first. Did you see anything in the second book that came across as, in Heer’s words, “fannishly worshipful”? I ask because the first volume, at least, was anything but. Heinlein clearly lived a remarkable life, and his early years contained even more verifiable adventures than I had expected would prove to be true behind his lifelong bluster—but then Patterson isn’t shy about showing how callous he sometimes was toward his second wife. The first volume told the sometimes-unflattering story of a complete human being, so I suppose I’m wondering if Patterson rushed through the second book at the expense of fairness.

    Happy new year!

    • profmondo says:

      I think Mr. Heer confuses fannish worship with the baggage that goes with an authorized bio, particularly one that is authorized by someone as strong willed as Virginia Heinlein. While Johnson’s comment on lapidary inscriptions doesn’t quite apply here, authorized bios are (I think) likely to be colored by those doing the authorizing. Having said that, there are several instances in the second volume (particularly in an appendix called “The Good Stuff”) that make it clear Patterson was not in the hagiography business.

      Honestly, I think Mr. Heer’s issues stem from that ventriloquism I mentioned in the original post. To turn Heer’s enthymeme into something more explicitly syllogistic, it seems to go like this:

      P1: Heinlein was a wrongthinker.
      P2: Only RAH fanboys are unable to see and condemn this.
      P3: Patterson does not express disagreement with RAH’s wrongthink.
      C: Therefore, Patterson’s work is fannish worship.

      So… having finally read volume 2, I think Heer’s complaints are 1) Willfully ignorant of the nature of the beast, and 2) Spinach.

      And Happy New Year back at you!

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