A science-fiction novelist and late-blooming gay activist remembers his long and colorful life.
Robinson (1926-2014) grew up in Depression-era Chicago, one of five boys in a loveless marriage of convenience, and he had his first sexual experience at 13 with his stepbrother. Yet it would be years before the author could say that he had acted on his own homosexual impulses. Not wanting to be labeled a “faggot” or “queer,” he spent the rest of his adolescence as a miserable celibate. After a stint in the Navy, he went to Beloit College, where he discovered his two lifelong passions: science and writing. After a second tour of military duty during the Korean War, he went to Northwestern University to study journalism while privately berating himself for not being attracted to women. His first adult (and very humiliating) sexual encounter occurred several years later after he had undergone psychotherapy and become a regular in Chicago’s underground gay scene. In the meantime, Robinson worked at Science Digest and later at men’s magazines like Rogue and Cavalier, meeting such sci-fi luminaries as Harlan Ellison and Robert Heinlein along the way. Eventually, he found his way to another “skin book, Playboy, where he “scurried…into the safety of the closet” at work and led a second gay life that, post-Stonewall, became harder to conceal. The success of his thriller, The Glass Inferno, later made into the 1974 film The Towering Inferno, allowed Robinson to leave his magazine work and write full-time in San Francisco. Drawn into the ferment of gay political activism, he wrote speeches for the soon-to-be-slain city supervisor, Harvey Milk. Soon afterward, he became a firsthand witness to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. Vivid and detailed, Robinson’s story is an engaging recollection of the golden age of pulp fiction interwoven with the story of a man’s successful struggle to accept himself.
Fascinating reading, especially for fans of 20th-century science fiction.