First volume of a two-part biography of legendary sci-fi writer Robert A. Heinlein (1907–1988).
It may surprise readers schooled in Heinlein’s stern, even quasi-fascistic visions of the future to learn that their author was a sometime liberal Democrat involved in postwar party politics in his adopted California. It will not surprise them to know that Heinlein, on the road to a lifetime’s service in the Navy until being drummed out for medical reasons, was infamous among subordinates as a by-the-book disciplinarian of a Captain Bligh—or perhaps Queeg—bent. By Heinlein aficionado Patterson’s account, he discovered science fiction early on, but initially took to it as a means of having to work a real job. World War II robbed him of that escape, but he worked intently to write stories for pulp magazines that criss-crossed the genres of science fiction and fantasy until building up the skills and stamina to begin the huge novels for which he would become famous. “Just before Pearl Harbor,” writes Patterson, “he had intended to raise his sights…to the slick magazines and book publication, which pretty much implied then that he would leave science fiction behind.” Yet science fiction would flourish after the war, with its futuristic visions as wrought by contemporaries such as E.E. “Doc” Smith, Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp. Patterson pays fitting homage to those writers as mentors and competitors, also giving due to longtime editor John Campbell, who advised Heinlein of what would work (plenty of plot complications) and what wouldn’t (leave religion out of it). The author clearly has a handle on every moment of Heinlein’s life, including the unpleasant (a nasty divorce) and controversial (trash-talking L. Ron Hubbard) episodes, but sometimes trips over awkward, overworked locutions.
Less engaging than Asimov’s autobiography, which remains a standard, but still a welcome account of the development of an important popular writer.