Posts Tagged ‘1989 Biography’

Grumbles from the Grave by Robert A. Heinlein, edited by Virginia Heinlein ~ 1989. This edition: Del Rey/Ballantine, 1989. Hardcover. 281 pages.

My rating: 7/10. What was there was fascinating; what was left out perhaps even more so.

A very brief, rather incomplete biographical introduction by Robert A. Heinlein’s third (and longest-serving) wife Virginia, followed by a collection of excerpts from letters mostly by Heinlein (with some replies); and mostly to his long-time literary agent and representative, Lurton Blassingame. This book was published after Heinlein’s death, by his specific request, apt title previously supplied. Heinlein was very aware of his own mortality and was well prepared for his own demise; he suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis in his twenties, and various related and other serious ailments dogged him for the rest of his life. (Heinlein was born in 1907, and died at the age of eighty-one in 1988 – a longer life than might have been expected, considering the severity of some of his medical episodes.)

This is decidedly a book of most interest to those already very familiar with Heinlein’s body of work. Coming to it cold, expecting to find a conventional autobiography, one would be disappointed. While some effort is made to provide references and brief descriptions of the books under discussion, the assumption seems to be that the reader is already a serious Heinlein fan.

I do not think I qualify as a truly serious fan, though I’ve read most – perhaps all? – of Heinlein’s full-length works, plus several short story collections, and have greatly enjoyed all of some of them, and some of all of them. A few, such as Door Into Summer and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, are nostalgic favourites and frequent re-reads; I first encountered Heinlein in my high school library and found his works marvelous “escape lit” during a dark, angst-filled period of my teenage life. This said, there are things that make me a bit uneasy in every one of his stories, in particular the later “adult” novels which have a certain patronizing (not quite sure if that is the right term, perhaps “appreciatively leering” is more apt?) view of women out of context with the era of the time of writing.  There are random passages in Heinlein’s books, usually in relation to some of the female characters, which make me suddenly cringe in distaste, all of the author’s commentary about his views of “true equality” taken into consideration.

Heinlein makes no apology for his personal views, which I can best describe as far right-wing with sudden dashes of liberalism when least expected. When he starts to politically pontificate in his books, my eyes glaze over and I scan ahead until we get back to the story at hand; Heinlein himself offers something of an apology for letting himself go on occasion, but his self-awareness of this tendency didn’t stop him from doing it time after time.

It was quite interesting to discover something of the background of some of the best-known novels which I am very familiar with , as well as some of the more obscure juveniles and the vast amount of short stories published early in Heinlein’s career in the sci-fi “pulps” under an array of pseudonyms: Lyle Monroe, Anson MacDonald, Caleb Saunders, and John Riverside. Apparently there was a different rate scale for each of these pseudonyms as well – while “Heinlein” and “MacDonald” might receive a top rate, in 1941, of a cent and a half per word, “stinkaroos” written by “Monroe” were peddled at a lower rate. From a letter to sci-fi magazine Astounding editor John W. Campbell, Jr. in 1941:

…I have a phony name [Lyle Monroe] and a phony address, fully divorced from the RAH persona, under which and from which I am trying to peddle the three remaining stinkaroos which are left over from my earliest writing. For such purposes I prefer editors whom I do not like. It would tickle me to sell off the shoddy in that fashion. I don’t think it is dishonest – they examine what they buy and get what they pay for – but I’m damned if I’ll let my own name appear even on one of their checks.

The editorial voice of Robert’s third wife Virginia, his proofreader, assistant and sometimes-typist as well as his business and financial manager in later years, is apparent throughout. The excerpts that appear are much of a muchness; I have to wonder what was left out of this compilation? Heinlein talks of personally answering all of his fan mail in the earlier years; I would love to see a sampling of some of those early letters, before his sheer popularity made the flow of mail so great that he resorted to one-line, postcard answers.

I generally enjoyed this biography of sorts. It was a glimpse at the back story to the writing some of the novels, and a small window into the life of this passionate, opinionated and very talented writer.

This is a good addition to a shelf of Heinlein’s fiction; I will be keeping it there myself, to one day pass along to my son along with the rest of my collection of vintage sci-fi/fantasy which he has enjoyed dipping into in his own teen reading years.

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