Posts tagged ‘Robert A. Heinlein’

jet

 

I tried to figure out why I had been so open with Professor Betty and so closed-mouthed with most of the rest of the world.

I finally figured it out. I hadn’t want to discuss it with anybody, I just wanted to spill it out and get rid of it, so it had to be a stranger. And when I woke up the next morning, I did feel that a weight had been lifted off my chest.

I had obligations to MidAmeriCon that day, but I couldn’t see anything past that afternoon that I couldn’t just skip. So I sat in on the Saturday morning breakfast, with Robert Heinlein (the guest of honor, remember?) at the head of the table and being sure to chatter with each of the special guests, and I gave my “Thank You For Being You, Robert” speech at one-thirty, as promised. It went well, especially with my one big joke — “And, Mr. Chairman. I see you’ve got a Robert A. Heinlein luncheon promised for tomorrow, but this is a big con and he hasn’t gained any weight. Are you sure there’s enough of him to go around?”

And then I pocketed the cash refund for the unused day of my stay and got in a cab and a little over an hour later we were taking off from my favorite airport and I was on my way home.

More, when I write it.

 
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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’ »

 

Everything’s up to date in Kansas City.

On a day late in August, in the year of 1976, I was sitting at my ease in a very comfortable first-class seat in a four-engined jet that was just about to land at my favorite airport in the world. I was sipping on a nearly empty glass of Hires root beer, which the stew had already replenished for me twice, and I was prepared to swallow what remained in the glass as soon as the captain ordered us to get ready for landing. I was employed in a well-paid job as the science-fiction editor for Bantam Books, and I confidently expected to be offered a package including quite a lot more money as soon as I got around to sitting down with my boss and talking about that subject. It won’t be much of a surprise to you if I mention that I was feeling good.

I might have been feeling even better if I had known one important fact, namely that this was the day when I would make the best decision of my life, but that information had not yet been revealed to me. The only “best” that I was aware of in my mind was the one that related to the airport we were approaching, Kansas City Intercontinental.

Now, I emphasize right away that what I’m talking about is the airport itself, not about the cities it served. No one has ever dreamed of two enchanted weeks of vacationing either in Kansas City, Kansas, or in the other Kansas City. You know, the one that couldn’t think of a decent name of their own, so they simply swiped the name of their next door neighbor.

KCI’s superlative qualities had nothing to do with the cities it served. It’s the design of the airport itself that is the marvel. You see, when your plane lands, it will taxi to its own gate, set into the outer perimeter of one of the three great circles that hold all the jet gates in the airport. The aircraft door opens, freeing you to go up the short ramp to the walkway that surrounds the entire circle of gates.

A half-dozen or so more steps take you to the baggage claim for your suitcase. It is probably there already, waiting for you before you get there, because now it is only a couple of yards from the place where it rode out the flight, which was in the baggage compartment of your jet, and that other place where it is now, which is firmly on the solid ground of the airport’s baggage claim. You never have to search for your bag in a mass of other bags originating from Buffalo and Barcelona and Bujumbura, either. None of those bags was ever aboard this flight. (Well, I mean, unless that’s where you’re originating from yourself.) Then, bags in hand, you take ten or a dozen steps more and you’re out in the open air, standing at the curb of the outermost strip of the great wheel, waving at a cab which is slowly cruising somewhere along the wheel, and will shortly pick you up right where you stand. Or, if what you want to board instead of a cab is the bus that takes you to the parking lot, or to car rentals, or some other destination, those will also be cruising the great wheel and they will pick you up in minutes. That takes very little more effort to summon, and certainly no more walking than the cab. What more can you ask?

 
Oh, I know what you might ask to make your trip more enjoyable still. You might ask for it to be at some destination other than one of the twin Kansas Cities, and there, I must confess, I have not been entirely frank with you.

I admit I wasn’t happy just about going to either of the Kansas Cities in itself. That city is — either of those cities is — hardly anyone’s favorite gotta-go-there destination for tourism. What elevated my mood, when it wasn’t depressing it, was what I would be doing when I got there, which was attending the annual World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, which had been my custom for most of the years since 1939. (That 1939 one was the first Worldcon of all, the one that I and a few other Futurians were unjustly kicked out of. If you want more details on this event, simply pick up your treasured copy of The Way the Future Was and turn to page 76.) Anyway, that fannish rumble was long ago. Hardly anyone who was involved is still alive. Or cares.)

For me, and for my nearest and dearest, the Worldcons were the places we most looked forward to visiting each year, Sometimes they were held at places that we loved to visit anyway — London, Toronto, a couple of American cities where we had well-loved but not frequently visited friends and relatives. The specific city didn’t all that much matter, though. It was the con itself that was the attraction, the place where we could count on getting together with good friends that we didn’t see every day, because they lived so ridiculously far away — like Patrice Duvic from France, and Sashiko and Takumi Shibano from Japan, and Yuli Kagarlitsky from what was then still called the Soviet Union, and batches of others from Italy and the UK and Sweden and Spain and Brazil, and, of course, from many of the remoter parts of the U.S.A. itself as well.

So what I was really looking forward to was the people who comprised the con itself. That is, I was until I got to my hotel.

Continue reading ‘Arrival: The Happiest Airport’ »

Who Bashed People With His Wit, Then His Cane

Keith Laumer

Keith Laumer

The first manuscript by Keith Laumer that I remember seeing was about an interstellar diplomat named Retief, which caused me to stop reading manuscripts that day to write the author a letter, telling him I was buying the story and adding, “Please write me more stories, lots more stories, about this guy, because I love him.” And Keith did it, too, becoming, I’m pretty sure, one of the three reasons why If, the magazine I published them in, won the Best Prozine Hugo for three years in a row. (The other two reasons? Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker stories, and Robert Heinlein’s serials.)

I felt pretty proud of myself for recognizing their worth so quickly, but I later learned that he had intended them as a series all along, but planned for the series to run in Cele Goldsmith’s Amazing (and I can’t imagine why Cele, bright as she was, let them go). The thing about Laumer is, first, that he was great at satirizing people he had had a bellyful of, particularly Americans in the diplomatic service. (Keith had served a tour in Burma, which gave him much grist for his mill.) Second, that he had a keen sense of comedy, and, third, that he wrote quickly and well.

Not all of Keith’s sf was part of a series. He wrote stand-alone stories when the spirit moved him, some of them really good. There was one in particular — I’ve forgotten its name — which had to do with a time traveler who, leaving his family behind, travels a century or so into the future, where he finds a dreary, post-catastrophe world where his only companion is a nearly out of it centenarian who, when the time traveler mentions his name, sobs, “Daddy.” Corny, maybe, but it took me unawares to the point of actually bringing a tear to my eyes — something which rarely happens.

I left the Galaxy group shortly before Keith suffered the massive stroke that pretty much ended his successful writing career, but I did see him from time to time. Sadly, the wreck of his brain made him the legendary even-tempered man: mad all the time. It was a terrible fate for one as talented as he and, though he lived for twenty-some years after the stroke, he never regained the art of writing a Laumer story, and almost never managed to carry on a conversation without breaking into rage.

Part 7 of “Alfred Bester and Frederik Pohl — The Conversation,” recorded 26 June 1978 at The Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.
 

Alfred Bester, ca. 1964.

    Alfred Bester, ca. 1964.

Pohl: I want to tell you something about this arrogance that you were talking about. It is not just editors, although the best in science fiction have been pretty insufferable in one way or another. We’ve mentioned Horace Gold, who was also demented. John Campbell clearly had a very decisive personality and impressed it on everybody around him all the time.

Some years ago two psychologists decided they wanted to find out what science-fiction writers were like. They sent out a questionnaire to a bunch of science-fiction writers and asked them to answer the sort of questions you get on psychological-testing papers. How do you feel about your mother and this and that. And from these they prepared a group psychological profile of science fiction writers.

They compared it with a similar group profile for some other kind of writers and for a third group of people. They found out that the science fiction writers were in many ways similar to most human beings! There were a couple of differences, and one was in what is called “aggressive” versus “withdrawn” “cyclothymia.”

Bester: What is “cyclothymia”?

Pohl: It’s a kind of lunacy. [Editor’s note: Cycling mood swings, but short of actual bipolar affective disorder.] But the question was not whether you had it, but if you had it which way you would go. Withdrawn cyclothymic people are more or less passive and tend to let things go; they overlook something that is wrong. The people who tend the other way are stubborn and won’t take nothing from nobody, and have their own opinions which you’re not going to change with an ax!

And science fiction writers were like that — the stubbornest, most difficult human beings alive!

Audience: How do writers get along with their readerships?

Bester: Fine, splendid. People ask me questions, and I answer them. People ask for autographs and I sign them. People want to talk to me. They’d like to be writers, so l try to help as hard as l can. I get along fine with readers.

Fred, have you ever been attacked by a reader?

Pohl: Not physically, no! But I went to a meeting in Boston some years ago; it was a Mensa meeting, and I was supposed to talk about science fiction and discuss it with somebody else, and this person came up to me and handed me a copy of one of my books.

I said, “Oh, you want my autograph.”

And he said, “No, I want to give it back to you. I hate it. I don’t want it in my possession.” And that’s the closest I ever came to being attacked. Of course, I started out as a fan.

Bester: So did I. I read what’s his name’s Amazing Stories when I was only that high. I couldn’t even afford to buy any. I used to read it on the newsstand. Until they chased me, and I’d come back five minutes later and I’d finish the story.

Pohl: Well, I didn’t do that. I bought them in secondhand stores and got them for a nickel. I identify more closely with readers than I do with most writers. I still read science fiction for pleasure. Not all of it, because who can? 1,200 books a year is more than I can handle. But when I have finished reading what I have to read professionally in science fiction, I read some just for fun.

Bester: Fortunately I don’t have to read it professionally. I read it just for fun, and I do read science fiction regularly.

Alas, there is not as much fun for me today because now that I’m a professional writer, always in the back of the mind is the critical writer, saying “Oh man, you loused that scene, you could have done it better.” That kind of thing kills a lot of stories for me. But occasionally a beaut comes along.

Continue reading ‘Me and Alfie, Part 7: Cyclothymia’ »

L. Ron Hubbard, left, and John W. Campbell

L. Ron Hubbard, left, and John W. Campbell

Part 6 of “Alfred Bester and Frederik Pohl — The Conversation,” recorded 26 June 1978 at The Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.
 

Pohl: I’ve just realized something very significant. Of all the science fiction writers in the English-speaking world who began in the late ’30s and ’40s who have survived since and done reasonably well, there are only two who were not largely and directly influenced by John Campbell. That’s you and me!

John Campbell is the fellow who took science fiction by the scruff of the neck in the late ’30s and changed it. Made it much better. And people like Isaac Asimov and van Vogt and Bob Heinlein, and almost everybody else who really became significant writers around that period owe a great debt to Campbell. They were published primarily in his magazine and got a great deal of advice and guidance from him. And I know I didn’t.

John Campbell was a good friend of mine but he had this one tacky personality trait — he never bought any stories from me! I kept trying but he never would buy them. How about you, Alfie?

Bester: Oh, I had an experience with Campbell! As Fred has said, he really took science fiction by the scruff of the neck and shaped it into something really worthwhile. Up until then it had just been hack writing by guys who were translating westerns into science fiction. Campbell changed all that. He was a great man. I worshipped Campbell, of course.

I wrote a story called “Oddy and Id.” The premise of the story simply was that we are not consciously in control of our actions but this deep Id, this well of primal urges within us, is really in control. I submitted the story to Campbell and got a phone call from him — I’d never met him.

“I want to talk to you about the story. I want to buy it but I want some changes. Will you come and see me?”

“Oh God, yes, Mr. Campbell.” It was when their office was out in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Now, you’ve got to picture me, a guy from Madison Avenue writing scripts; all I know is the networks, the advertising agencies and all that jazz, it’s what I’m used to. I’m also used to the rates that they pay. But I have to meet Campbell.

I go out to Elizabeth, New Jersey, and I come to this goddamn printing plant, this factory, expecting to be ushered into the great office of this great man. But I go into this tacky little office which is about two feet by four feet and here is this guy who is about the size of what we would call in American football, a defensive tackler. He’s about 19 feet high, 47 feet wide, a towering guy. He sits behind his desk and I squirm into the one visitors’ chair.

He says, “Now about your story. Freud is finished!”

Continue reading ‘Me and Alfie, Part 6: John W. Campbell and Dianetics’ »