Posts tagged ‘David Dyer-Bennet’

Robert A. Heinlein at MidAmeriCon, 1976. (Photo by David Dyer-Bennet.)

Robert A. Heinlein at MidAmeriCon, 1976. (Photo by David Dyer-Bennet.)

Marty Greenberg and a couple of the others who were clustered in the Kansas City hotel lobby were coaxing me to stay, and one of those (apparent) teen-age graduate students nailed me down with a comment that was clearly intended to lead to a series of questions, “I understand you know Mr. Heinlein quite well, and I’ve just finished reading his Stranger in a Strange Land,” the apparent teen-ager informed me.

And Marty, eager to put temptation in my way, said, “Tell her the story about the Budrys review.”

Everybody seemed to be listening pretty attentively. Robert A. Heinlein being the Guest of Honor at MidAmeriCon, nobody wanted to go home without a few new Heinlein stories to spread around. The one Marty wanted me to tell was a favorite. I had at the time just recently taken on the job of editing Galaxy when Horace L. Gold got too sick to continue, and I had also just made AJ Budrys the book reviewer for the magazine when Stranger popped up. I handed it over to AJ as his first assignment.

I had told him he had a week to do the review, but at the end of the week, and a few extra days, there was no sign of the review. When I got him on the phone he told me that it was a big book and he would need at least another week or ten days to do it justice. That wasn’t really a surprise, or, indeed, much of a problem. I had confidence in AJ’s writing and was pretty sure the review would be worth waiting for. So I pulled a 5,000-word short story out of inventory to replace it, and rescheduled AJ’s first column for the next issue. And when at last he did deliver the review I saw that, ah, yes, no matter what I had expected, there certainly was going to be a problem.

AJ had given Heinlein’s science-fiction novel the sort of close-focused attention that I suppose Bishop Challoner must have given the Vulgate texts when he was preparing the Rheims Bible. It was a splendid review, both erudite and entertaining.

It described all the influences that must have been whirling around in Robert’s head as he was creating the book, as well as everything that could be said about Robert’s background and private life. Among the liberties AJ had allowed himself in writing the review was the privilege of speculating how much of Heinlein’s Naval Academy experience — the discipline, the hazing of first-year men, the prohibitions of marriage and various other distractions affecting young men and so on — had caused Heinlein’s obviously troubled feelings about patriotism, authority and proper behavior.

I was absolutely certain that the readers would love both the book and the review … but even more convinced that I couldn’t allow Robert’s first glimpse of the review to be when, all unsuspecting of what was in store for him, he opened up his subscription copy of the magazine that contained it.

So I pondered the problem for a while, and then I took out a little insurance policy. There were no such things as Xeroxes in our little office so I had my assistant of the moment — I think by then it was Judy-Lynn Not-Yet-del-Rey — type out a copy of the review, which I mailed off to Heinlein, with a note explaining that, due to the importance of this novel, I would like to hear any comments he might have about the review before scheduling it.

And time passed.

Continue reading ‘Arrival, Part 2: Heinlein Stories’ »

Virginia Heinlein, 1976. (Photo by David Dyer-Bennet.)

Virginia Heinlein, 1976.
(Photo by David Dyer-Bennet.)
 

Robert Heinlein’s next, and final, wife was Lt. Virginia Gerstenfeld. She worked with (and outranked) Heinlein at the little wartime research group in Philadelphia that was charged with trying to figure out what a high-altitude (read: space) suit should be like.

Politically, she and I were nowhere near close, but we agreed to disagree and generally talked about something else. That didn’t really matter. Bob had picked her and she was his loyalest fan and ferociousest protector, and as long as he lived that was plenty good enough for me.

But then he died, and Ginny didn’t stop protecting all that was left of him. Specifically his image — or rather her image of him, which I believe was of a chivalrous, well-mannered and quite refined Annapolis man.

This became a problem for me when I was editing the SFWA Grand Masters series of anthologies for Tor. My plan was to include for each of these giants a selection of their most important work. I knew exactly what I wanted, too. In The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the opening part of the story is told in a sort of modestly Russian-Latino English-language dialect, by its central character. I desperately wanted to reprint those opening scenes, in which the narrator tricks a giant computer into revealing that it has become a person. Ginny would have none of that.

When I first told her my plan, she said she’d have to think about it, and when she had thought she said, well, no, she didn’t want to include anything from that book because she had discussed it with some friends and they agreed that it was, well, a bit … “vulgar,” I think was the word she used. And she was unswayable.

Then there was Grumbles from the Grave. Robert had talked about allowing posthumous publication of his real feelings about a lot of things that he didn’t feel comfortable to talk about while he was alive, and indicated that some of his private letters would be a source for the book. Then some posthumous book with that title did come out, and it was a great disappointment. Someone — it could have been only Ginny — had washed his face and combed his hair and turned whatever it was that Robert might have wanted to say into the equivalent of thank-you notes for a respectable English tea.

I know that Robert wrote some much more raunchy letters than any of those, because I myself got one or two. But all the raunch has been edited out. What’s left is actually rather boring and does a great disservice to the real Heinlein, whose physical person may have been embodied as a conventional hard-right conservative but whose writing was — sometimes vulgarly — that of a free-thinking iconoclast.

Pity. It is good that Heinlein’s novels are now going to be reissued as he wrote them, without the alterations of editors like me. It would also be good if a similar job could be done on his letters.

 
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Judy-Lynn and Lester del Rey (Photo by David Dyer-Bennet)
Judy-Lynn and Lester del Rey (Photo by David Dyer-Bennet)

Quite a few years ago —well, about seventy of them, to be exact —I was the teen-age editor of two professional science-fiction magazines for the giant pulp firm of Popular Publications. I didn’t pay much for the stories that went into my magazines but I did pay something, and so most of the science-fiction writers of that era dropped by from time to time to see if I would care to relieve them of some of their stack of Astounding rejects.

People like hoary old Ray Cummings and bright-minted new stars like L. Sprague de Camp came by my little office at the end of 42d Street, just where it stops dead at the East River, and one day our switchboard girl, Ethel Klock, informed me that I had a new visitor named Lester del Rey.

Though I’d never met the man, I knew the name; I had seen it, enviously, any number of times on the Astounding contents page. “Shoot him right in!” I commanded, hoping that he would come bearing manuscripts, and a couple of minutes later there he was, short, angel-faced, no more than a couple of years older than myself — and, yes, with two short-story manuscripts in his hands!

There is an established procedure for such events. It doesn’t allow the editor to snatch the typescripts from the author’s hands, or the author to throw them in from the doorway without a word. There has to be a little chatting back and forth first, so I had to wait until Lester was back in the elevator to start reading. The stories were short. I finished them both in a quarter of an hour.

Then I rejected them both.

What was wrong with them? I don’t remember. What were they about? I don’t remember that, either. And not only did I bounce them, so did every other editor Lester showed them to. Years later I asked him what had become of them. He said he had no idea, didn’t remember anything about them, and hoped I would never ask him such an embarrassing question again.

So that was my unpromising start to knowing Lester del Rey. Fortunately, later on things got better.

 
Later on things did, but it took a few years. John Campbell got over his nasty habit of rejecting any of Lester’s stories, so Lester had nothing to sell me; and then the Air Force invited me to join them for World War II so I had no magazine to buy them for, anyway. Then, postwar, Lester and I ran into each other now and then at various gatherings, and then in 1947 we ran into a big one. That was the ’47 World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia.

We were both there. When it was over we were having a cup of coffee together somewhere when we got to thinking. We had had such a great time mingling again with our nearest and dearest (as well as some of our farthest and dislikedest) from the world of science fiction that we decided we really ought to organize some sort of local sf group so we could do more of it. So Lester commandeered a couple of his friends and brought them to my Greenwich Village apartment, where I had collected a few of mine, and we sat down and created the Hydra Club. (Why Hydra? Because there were nine of us there, and the mythological Hydra had had nine heads.)

This was a definite public service, because for years thereafter the Hydra Club had become the place where sf writers from out of town visited when they came to New York in order to find people they could talk to. (Out of town sometimes meant very out of town — in the case of Arthur Clarke or W. Olaf Stapledon, the United Kingdom; in the case of A. Bertram Chandler, from about as far away as you could get without leaving our planet entirely, namely Australia.)

Nor was Hydra merely a place where you could exchange trade gossip with colleagues. Lester and I both found wives there, and we two couples made a habit of going to cons together. What made that easy was that after a while Lester and Evelyn del Rey came out to visit with Carol and me and our growing number of children in our big old house in Red Bank, New Jersey. The del Reys’ intention was to spend a weekend. They wound up staying seventeen years — well, seventeen years in the neighborhood, anyway, since after a while they bought a house of their own down the street. It might have been longer, but one day, driving to a small vacation in Florida, their car got entangled in the wake of an eighteen-wheeler and was sent spinning off the road. Evelyn was thrown clear, but then the car rolled over on her and she was killed.

After that Lester could not stay in their house. He sold it for a pitiful amount —furniture, books, wine cellar and all — to the first person who thought to make him an offer, and moved back to the city.

 
For all those years we had been keeping busy, Lester writing, me doing some of that but also fooling around with editing and other diversions. After putting together a string of anthologies for Ian Ballantine, I wound up as editor of a couple of science-fiction magazines, Galaxy and If. It was not a well-paying job but I loved it. It gave some welcome perks, including a full-time assistant.

When I needed to hire a new one I interviewed a recent Barnard graduate named Judy-Lynn Benjamin, who seemed to be bright and energetic enough for the job, but presented two worrisome problems. One was that her specialty was the works of James Joyce and she knew nothing at all about science fiction. That, I figured, could be handled; I would not ask her to make any buy-or-bounce decisions, and everything else I could easily teach her.

The other struck me as tougher. Judy-Lynn was an achondroplastic dwarf, not much over three feet tall, and I didn’t know how she would manage to reach the top drawers of the filing cabinets. But I took a chance, and actually she worked out rather well, turning out to be capable of managing anything at all. After I left the magazines, Judy-Lynn went to work for Ballantine Books, winding up running the enterprise, which is why its current avatar, Del Rey Books, was named after her.

Lester entered the picture when my publisher, Bob Guinn, urged me to add a fantasy magazine to my group. I had nothing against fantasy, but I didn’t have a great deal of interest in it, and anyway I didn’t want to add to my work load. So I persuaded Lester, now a widower for some years, to come aboard as its editor. He did well, and the three of us got along well, too, in fact better than I realized until I got a phone call from Lester to say that he and Judy-Lynn were getting married, and would I care to be his best man?

I would. They did it. And after a while, he joined Judy-Lynn at Ballantine, and — no surprise to anyone who knew them — with Lester handling the fantasy side of the operation while Judy-Lynn continued with the sf, they were fabulously successful, leading the field in the number of their books that wound up on the New York Times bestseller list.

What made Judy-Lynn successful? The answer to that is simply that she worked with (and/or married) three of the best editors around, studied what they did attentively and learned from all of them. (I know that makes me sound immodest, but I learned from the best there was, namely J. W. Campbell.)

Lester had a whole other style. Lester took as his model some of the historically great editors of the past and, like them, questioned every phrase and comma in every manuscript he accepted and made the authors rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. It paid off — once when I was having lunch with Lester’s boss he told me that he believed Lester was the most profitable editor in the publishing industry — but it was arduous. Some authors dumped the man who had made them bestsellers in favor of some other editor who might give them a less stressful life.

So the del Reys were riding high, but it came to an end. One of the penalties of being an achondroplastic dwarf is the likelihood of a short life span. After some very good years, Judy-Lynn had a massive stroke and then died of it, and a few years later Lester followed her.

Other husband-wife editorial teams in science fiction and fantasy — Ian and Betty Ballantine, Donald and Elsie Wollheim — have done wonderfully well, but in making that Times list, no one has done better than the del Reys, and I don’t really think anyone ever will.