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Book Review of Schulman, The Robert Heinlein Interview and Other Heinleiniana (1991)

Back in 1991, I did a book review of J. Neil Schulman’s The Robert Heinlein Interview and Other Heinleiniana (originally published 1990; sample). My review was posted and discussed on the “GEnie Science Fiction and Fantasy RoundTable” (I believe GEnie was one of those pre-Internet dial-up networks some of us used back in the day). I thought I had lost my review but was able to find a copy buried on my hard drive, along with some comments by Schulman and others that was on that forum. Here is my initial letter to Schulman and the review, and some of the followup commentary that appeared on the forum (with some editing).

***

From Stephan Kinsella
Friday, April 26, 1991

Neil,

I just finished reading your book, The Robert Heinlein Interview and other Heinleiniana. I enjoyed it very much. Although there are a few gripes, which will become apparent in the course of the review listed below.

I did note errata while I was reading it. [omitted]

After the errata, I list a book review below. Go ahead and distribute it, if you wish.

If you want any biographical data on me, here it is. I’m 25, graduating from law school (the LSU Law Center) on May 31. I’m going to practice corporate law in Houston, Texas, with the Jackson & Walker law firm. But first, I’m going to London (probably) for a year to get an LL.M (master’s in law) in International and Comparative Law. …

I’m a big Ayn Rand, C.S. Lewis, and Heinlein fan, as are you.

* * *

\\ERRATA\\

[omitted]

BOOK REVIEW OF THE ROBERT HEINLEIN INTERVIEW
Reviewed by Stephan Kinsella
April, 1991

As a big fan of Robert Heinlein’s works, I was happy to discover J. Neil Schulman’s paperless book, The Robert Heinlein Interview and other Heinleiniana. I downloaded it from GEnie, and was able to read it in about four two-hour sittings (this is a rough estimate). (One hint for readers of paperless books: to keep track of where I left off, I created a small ASCII file called BOOKMARK. Every time I “set the book down,” I noted the line number or page number, and opened up BOOKMARK, and wrote something like “At line 1024, file HEINLN2″ to remind myself where to pick up next time.)

I’ve read a little under half of Heinlein’s works, unlike Schulman, who appears to have read all or nearly all of them. After reading the book, it seems to me that the book has appeal mainly for devoted fans of Heinlein. Anyone who has only read one or two of Heinlein’s books might not be very interested in hearing lots of discussion about books he’s never heard of. But if you’ve read a substantial amount of Heinlein’s works, say, 20% or so of his books, you’ll find much of interest in Schulman’s book.

The book is like a collection of newspaper clippings and correspondence Schulman has been collecting for several years. It includes book reviews of Heinlein’s books, letters to and about Robert Heinlein. The book might more aptly be titled, “My Life and Times With Robert Heinlein.” This is not a criticism of the book, for anyone interested in Heinlein is likely interested in Schulman too, because of his own substantial contributions to libertarian science fiction, notably Alongside Night and The Rainbow Cadenza. The main meat of the book is “The Robert Heinlein Interview,” which Schulman conducted himself, via telephone, years ago. Schulman claims it’s the most comprehensive, in-depth interview Heinlein ever gave, and I believe it.

Schulman also gives a fairly comprehensive listing and brief description of many of Heinlein’s stories. One big criticism of the book is that it lacked a “recommended reading list.” Most people interested in Heinlein have not read all Heinlein wrote. Someone like Schulman, who has knowledge of all of Heinlein’s works, and who is writing a book like this about Heinlein, should include such a list. For instance, I would love to see a list of which order one should read Heinlein’s books in, which takes chronology into account, as well as whether the book or story is part of the “Future History” series or not. Perhaps Schulman will take this plea to heart and add a short section to the paperless book. (This seems to be an immense advantage to paperless book publishing: instant revision of the work. Also, though I don’t know if this is SoftServ policy, purchasers of older versions could be allowed to download newer versions for free. This policy would encourage people to by early versions of paperless books, because they might otherwise “wait around” till the final, revised edition is published, rather than paying twice for the book.)

From the letters, reviews, articles, and the interview itself, in Schulman’s book, we see lots of interesting things. You get to see Heinlein from others’ perspectives. He is placed in context, especially by Schulman’s article “Looking Upward Through the Microscope: Robert A. Heinlein,” of which “Virginia Heinlein said that Robert called it, ‘The best article—in style, content, and accuracy—of the many, many written about him over the years.'”

Schulman’s book helps put the great master’s work and life in context, helps us to see the magnitude and beauty of Heinlein’s accomplishments. And, through the feelings of admiration and respect for Heinlein that come through in Schulman’s writings, we come to appreciate Heinlein more ourselves. For Schulman seems to have absorbed all Heinlein’s writings, and admires him with good reason, and presents it to us.

If Schulman feels that the heart of the book is the “Robert Heinlein Interview,” he both overestimates the appeal of this interview, and underestimates the appeal of the other articles. The assorted fan mail, book reviews, and short articles about Heinlein are pure fun to read. It’s like getting to flip through the newspaper clippings and collected correspondence of a very interesting person (though I’m not sure if I mean here Robert Heinlein or J. Neil Schulman—or both). The interview itself is very good. But, to be honest, even though I’ve read about half Heinlein’s works, I did find myself starting to skim the interview near the last third.

The transcription is done very well, with Schulman interjecting editorial comment very sparely. This seems only polite, as Heinlein isn’t around to respond to any footnote-argument-responses of Schulman’s. In fact, I can recall only a few [bracketed] comments by Schulman clarifying an article Heinlein referred to or something like that. It would, however, have been better for Schulman to have commented a little more, especially when he and Heinlein were discussing certain characters of book plots, because many readers won’t have read the book. A little context would have been nice.

Also, in the transcript of the interview, Schulman apparently left everything in. Even when Heinlein holds his hand over the phone, and mutters something to his wife. Even when Schulman tells Heinlein it’s time to turn the tape over again. It seems Schulman could have edited the casual chit-chat out. On the other hand, it does make the interview feel somehow “live,” like it’s taking place before your very eyes (or ears?).

Overall, I recommend this book highly to anyone with more than a passing interest in and knowledge of Heinlein.

* * *

Let me now mention a few quibbles I had with the book.

First, how is “Heinlein” pronounced? Hine-linn? Or Hine-line? I wish Schulman would have told us.

The review of Time enough for Love is extremely short—surprising for such a long, complex, marvelous book. This, in spite of the fact that Schulman claims he did five rewrites! Neil later explains that the original buyer of the review forced him to cut it so short. Nevertheless, although Schulman may have a valid “excuse,” the review is much too short, and lacks a substantive review of the book’s contents. Perhaps he should have expanded on this review for publication here.

In “A Letter to Prometheus Magazine,” Schulman argues against Heinlein’s view of self-sacrifice. Now, Schulman’s Randian viewpoint may well be correct, but if Schulman is going to criticize, he should go into the argument in more detail. In fact, Rand never seemed to explain why “altruism” is bad: what’s so wrong about “valuing” humanity per se as a high value to your own life? Heinlein’s view is best expressed (as far as I know), in Starship Troopers. Heinlein sensibly argues that nothing of value is free, but that the most important things nevertheless can’t be paid for with money.

“The best things in life are beyond money; their price is agony and sweat and devotion . . . and the price demanded for the most precious of all things in life is life itself—ultimate cost for perfect value.”

While this argument may be wrong, it is appealing.

Schulman thinks it okay to “value” your family or friends so much that you would die for them; what’s the harm in someone loving all individuals, humanity per se, that he is willing to give his life to preserve it? Schulman says that he doesn’t see why mankind is valuable “per se.” Failing to see why others value mankind per se is not a strong ground for Schulman to criticize Heinlein on.

Another big flaw of the book is Schulman’s omission of an event he alludes to many times. A few times, he repeats that the biggest mistake in his career was trying to get Heinlein to endorse his novel, Alongside Night. I could not find that story told in the book. Come on, Neildon’t tease us like that! We want to know what happened!

In his review of Job, Schulman mentions a Heinlein short story, “They.” I would have liked information telling me which collection this short is in, and maybe a summary of what it’s about.

In his letter to Brad Linaweaver, Schulman should have let us know what anti-revisionist sentiment he was talking about in To Sail Beyond the Sunset. I read the book recently, but I don’t recall such “anti-revisionist” sentiment expressed by Maureen. Since that was the main subject of that letter, Schulman should have provided a little transitional introduction first, setting up the purpose of the letter, rather than just slapping the letter down in front of us and letting us decide why it was written, etc.

In “Requiem,” Schulman should have at least gone into a little detail about Heinlein’s death, which he refers to only obliquely. He could have re-mentioned the date, at least, and maybe a few surrounding facts.

* * *

Again, the book was very interesting, despite the minor flaws pointed out above. Anyone interested in Heinlein or Schulman and their libertarian science fiction should take a look at it.

Stephan Kinsella

***

[Reply by Neil Schulman]

Science Fiction & Fantasy RT
Category 3, Topic 28
Message 85 Sat Apr 27, 1991
SOFTSERV [NeilSchulman] at 15:25 EDT

Well, the best compliment I can pay to Stephan’s review is that he makes me want to add some of the things he’s asking for to the next edition. Until I do, here are some of the answers to the questions he asks.

It’s pronounced “Hine-line.”

Recommended reading list: the reason I didn’t do that is that I’ve recommended specific Heinlein books to people before, and found that I had miscalculated their taste. Reading is a very subjective experience, and the things I like about a book aren’t necessarily the things other people would like. For example, one of the reasons I love Between Planets is that reading it evokes the same feeling I get from Brahms Fourth Symphony. I don’t know what the connection between the two is, but it is a very strong reaction. How can I recommend the book to someone else on that basis?

The Heinlein Interview, as presented in this book, is unchanged from the version edited and approved by Heinlein himself—including the bracketed comments.

The review of Time Enough for Love included in the book includes all material I was able to find in my files from the several drafts I did. The problem was that I was restricted to around 600 words for the review (it was on assignment) so I didn’t get to say as much as I wanted to. As for expanding the review now, I’m not the same reader I was then so I’d have to start fresh—and I’m not sure I’m a better judge of the book now (1991) than I was then (1973).

Self-sacrifice for mankind. I believe I said in my letter that the best case I heard for this was the Christian one—that one loves all mankind. Hell, I’m run ragged by the few people I’m capable of loving—if I loved everyone the pain would kill me in nothing flat.

The career problem I had with Heinlein. A complicated mess that boils down to the following. The first editor who bought Alongside Night bought it for a paperback original, and this editor was at one of Heinlein’s main publishers. There was a rule at that publisher not to ask Heinlein for book endorsements—if you read Grumbles from the Grave, detailing Heinlein’s time problems, you’ll understand why. I was unhappy having my book published as a paperback original; I felt it deserved hardcover publication, so its libertarian ideas would get taken seriously. The editor told me that as Heinlein’s friend, could approach Heinlein for an endorsement, but he couldn’t. The problem was, Ginny Heinlein had already read an early draft of the book and didn’t like it much. So if I was going to get Heinlein to take a look at it himself, I was going to have to come up with a pretty good reason to bother. Knowing this, the editor told me that if I could convince Heinlein to endorse my book, he’d put the book in hardcover and raise the advance by several thousand dollars. I wasn’t interested in getting “extra” money for having the good fortune of knowing Heinlein, but hardcover publication was important to me. So I sent the book back to Heinlein with a letter telling him what the situation was, flat out—including the editor’s attempted bribe. I told Heinlein that if he read my book and found it worth endorsing, I’d give the extra advance to the charity of his choice—which at the time was the National Rare Blood Club.

I expected my letter to Heinlein was friend to friend, in confidence, but Heinlein—perhaps due to serious illness at the time—didn’t view it that way. He interpreted it as his publisher breaking the rule about not approaching him for endorsements, and breaking it most grievously by an editor attempting to bribe a young author into approaching him. He called his publisher up and chewed him out royally. I expect that call raised the roof all the way up the corporate ladder.

I didn’t find out about what had happened until my agent called me saying that the editor in question said I was trying to bribe Heinlein, and said editor told my agent that he wanted to break the deal on my book. They had paid me first advance and given final approval to the manuscript, which meant that the final advance was now due. The editor said that if we held the publisher to making the final advance, he would shelve the book and tie up the rights until the contract expired (two years) but if I agreed to break the contract, I could keep the first advance and get all rights back immediately. I opted to get the rights back.

A year later, I had resold my book to hardcover (and my new publisher sent the book to Anthony Burgess, who endorsed it based on nothing more than reading it)—and the book got good reviews in major newspapers such as the LA Times and Detroit News—reviews that wouldn’t have happened to a paperback original.

Heinlein made up with the editor involved. My friendship with Heinlein wasn’t affected; he called me up to be his stentor at the blood drive reception at the Worldcon. (I lose track of Worldcons—which one was it?)

Anyway, the rumors about my having tried to “bribe” Heinlein have dogged my career for years—and was one of the reasons the editor-in-chief of the publisher who bought the paperback rights on Rainbow Cadenza wouldn’t allow the acquiring editor to make a decent offer on the book. She was taking revenge on me.

That’s the story.

Heinlein’s short story “They” is in the collection The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.

In To Sail Beyond the Sunset, Maureen spends several paragraphs criticizing historical revisionists for seeming to always criticize the United States rather than its enemies. But Heinlein was open to revisionism himself; elsewhere he has made reference to proof that the US government knew about Pearl Harbor before it happened.

Heinlein died May 8th, 1988, in his sleep, of complications due to emphysema.

And, if you want to download The Robert Heinlein Interview and Other Heinleiniana, a file containing an open sample of the book and a locked file (MS-DOS unlockable only) which you can unlock by buying the password for $4.95, is available for download from WRITERS RT Library 9. Filename is HEINLEIN.ZIP. An unlocked version is available by mail order and details for ordering are available in WRITERS BB category 9.

Neil
———-

Science Fiction & Fantasy RT
Category 3, Topic 28
Message 86 Sat Apr 27, 1991
TOM.PERRY [Tom] at 15:32 EDT

Stephan, thanks for an excellent review! I read the paperless book on Heinlein a year or so ago (and had read most of the paper-printed interview around which it centers back around ’73 when it originally came out), but I concluded that doing justice to it in a review was well nigh impossible. (This judgment was complicated by the fact that its author had himself become controversial in some circles here on GEnie; it was hard for a friend to criticize him at a time when he was being roundly criticized by others; equally hard to dilute a review with transitory matters; and hardest of all not to address some of these matters when a friend was being attacked. (Best set of excuses I’ve ever had for doing nothing!))

But yours is excellent.

One point of information: The =”attack on revisionism”= in TO SAIL BEYOND THE SUNSET was probably what Heinlein had Maureen say about the Spanish-American War and the current view that it was started for the convenience of William Randolph Hearst. I think she (and possibly he) was wrong about it … but that’s another review never written. (It occurs around the middle of the book, going by memory, or maybe a little earlier—in the chapter concurrent with the war, anyway.)

I too was interested in the completely raw form the interview takes. I quite liked the fact that it wasn’t edited, on balance. I found, for instance, the point where Heinlein refers offhandedly to Herman Kahn and is flabbergasted to discover that the young Neil Schulman had never heard of the author of THINKING ABOUT THE UNTHINKABLE, quite revealing about both Heinlein AND Schulman, and it must have taken a steel resolve to resist editing that bit just a little. (“Oh, THAT Herman Kahn!”) Again, there’s the place where Heinlein is chuckling over the fact that =”the man who said ‘Don’t trust anyone over 30′ had attained the age of 30″= (as I recall, the Wall St. Journal ran a short piece on this coming of age on its front page, and that may be where Heinlein learned of it—in the interview Heinlein doesn’t remember the name: I think the WSJ ascribed the quote to Bob Dylan, though it may have been someone else who actually said it first). I’ll read through all the stuff about stopping to turn over the tape in order to capture gems like that.
———-

Writers’ Ink RT
Category 9, Topic 12
Message 5 Sat Apr 27, 1991
SOFTSERV [NeilSchulman] at 15:39 EDT

Okay, here’s an attempt at a reading order:

If you’re recommending to a kid, I’d start them off with Red Planet. Tell them that the only thing they have to keep in mind is that when Heinlein wrote the book, a lot less was known about the planet than is known now, and the atmosphere project would have to be a lot farther along than is portrayed in the book. As to whether there are any Martians, the returns from upstate are not in yet.

After that, Starman Jones, Have Space Suit Will Travel, and Between Planets—and no particular order to the rest of the Heinlein YA books.

For an adult reader, it depends a lot more on what their tastes are. If they’re into hard s-f, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Fantasy lovers should take a look at Glory Road. Stranger in a Strange Land for the philosophically or sociologically oriented. The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag for the horror lovers. Job: A Comedy of Justice for anyone who liked The Jehovah Contract. The Puppet Masters for anyone who likes 1950’s type s-f movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

After that, they’re on their own.
———-

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