Robert A Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century Volume 1

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1: Learning Curve 1907-1948 by William H. Patterson.

Patterson Robert A Heinlein In Dialogue with His Century Volume 1

The first volume of William H. Patterson’s magisterial authorized biography of science fiction patriarch Robert A. Heinlein covers an immense amount of ground, including all of Heinlein’s life prior to his work as a writer, work that he came to out of need as a third career. He had previously retired from the US Navy and worked as a political campaigner, primarily with the socialist EPIC movement in California associated with Upton Sinclair. This book spans all three of Heinlein’s marriages, his complete writing career in the pulps, his Manana Literary Society, his engineering work for the military in World War II, and his entry into the “slicks” and book authorship.

In a very minor point, I was amused at Patterson’s being stumped by a private Heinlein manuscript that mentions “Bljdf” (57), which is to my mind certainly “Alice” (a simple substitution cipher with the second letter evading encryption), i.e. Alice Catherine McBee (45).

The chief nugget I was seeking in the deep mine of this hefty tome is on page 374, where Patterson recounts Heinlein’s attendance at an Agape Lodge (Pasadena) O.T.O. Gnostic Mass in December 1945. There is a little sloppiness of detail here–Patterson characterizes the Gnostic Mass uncharitably as “a theatrical piece, rather than a true religious rite” and manages to botch every one of his three direct quotes from Liber Legis in a long explanatory endnote (569-70). But his access to Heinlein’s archives inspires confidence in his un-sourced remark that Heinlein kept “for research” the congregational missal sheet and copy of The Book of the Law he had received from the lodge.

I’m honestly feeling a fair amount of relief at having finished both hefty volumes of this work. I wish they were in my local public library for the convenience of my ongoing research, but now that I’ve read them and taken my notes, they’ve both been returned to the interlibrary system that furnished them to me. They were not quite so compelling or obviously useful that I’ll want to acquire them for my own durable collection. [via]