You are here: Webley Page > Lever Action > Robert A. Heinlein Remembered
From the old Lever Action BBS :Area # 1 Discussion 08-12-94 16:03 Message # 1905 From : L. Neil Smith To : Ken L. Holder RCVD Subj : Robert Anson Heinlein Dear Ken -- I ran across this while tidying up a disk and don't recall answering your question. If I have, forgive my memory. We've had plenty too much houseguests and the unusual heat and humidity -- which I left Florida 30 years ago to escape -- are getting to me. Also politics; like everyone else I know, I'm seriously annoyed all the time -- although I have the comfort of knowing what to do about it and being actively involved in the doing. Anyway ... LNS> One of the niftiest things ever said about my writing was LNS> in a private conversation between Robert Heinlein and a LNS> couple of friends of mine. There's no tangible evidence LNS> of it, just the glow I feel whenever I think about it. KLH> Damnit, Neil, don't tease us like this. What'd he _say_? Well, I do have witnesses. A couple we know intimately -- he started as a fan who phoned me from someone else's signing at a local bookstore; she wound up being our nurse-midwife -- took it on themselves to visit the Old Man in Santa Cruz not long before his death. I'd known they were going to try, so to help I sent my latest book along, signed to him, since he (mostly Virginia) and I had corresponded infrequently over the years, ever since he sent me a postcard on publication of _The Probability Broach_. Virginia was off shopping. Via annunciator, Heinlein politely declined to let them in -- until they mentioned the book. "Ah, L. Neil Smith, that wild anarchist," he responded and immediately opened the gate. He spotted her as a nurse, his favorite people, kissed her hand, and for five hours, visited with them and showed them his home and mementos. They met Pixel, saw the brass cannon, and the nautiloid shower cubicle. It turned out he already had, and had read, my book. I don't recall which one it was because he had, and had read, every one of my books! Learning my friend (the husband) was an aspiring writer, Heinlein told him to observe carefully the precise mix of sex, violence, and preachment employed by L. Neil Smith, because that's just the right way to do it. (Funny how little attention I've paid editors over that issue, ever since.) In addition to being the most important writer of the 20th century (not only in terms of his own corpus, but considering the vast and varied horde of younger writers he -- well, "influenced" is far too mild a word), Robert A. Heinlein was a generous and courtly individual whom I still miss every day. I wrote a eulogy to him for _NOMOS_ which I think I'll find and upload as soon as I can; I believe that those who loved the Old Man as much as I did will enjoy it. Neil ================================================================ Author of the "single most repugnant ... piece of tripe ... ever seen ... in an American newspaper." -- a disgruntled reader ================================================================
Robert Heinlein Remembered
by L. Neil Smith
Take big bites. Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.
Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love
Imagine a lonely kid, undersized and overbright, living on an American air base overseas. Comic books taught him to read years before he started school and he'd tackle anything that fell open under his eyes. Anything about science or space travel leaped off the page as if printed in boldfaced italic. A neighbor's medical texts had such delightfully disgusting diseases you could practice having, and radio magazines ... in those days radios had vacuum-filled glass cylinders, see, and -- radio? You know, TV for blind people?
One day, sent to the library as punishment (so much, he grinned to himself, for the intelligence of authority) he ran across two books he hadn't seen before, Red Planet and Tunnel in the Sky. As would be the case years later with a certain little old Russian lady's name, he didn't know how to pronounce "Heinlein".
But the latter novel, he discovered, was about kids not much older than he was, slung across the galaxy as a graduation exercise to survive or die on a planet not even described to them beforehand. The protagonist's big sister, a tough Marine, gives him her favorite fighting knife to carry as a spare, a gift both practical and sentimental. (In time the reader would learn that Heinlein didn't see much difference between the two.) In the other book, even younger kids, on colonial Mars, rebel because the new headmaster at their company school confiscates the weapons they've always believed it their natural right to carry.
To the Air Force kid, this was powerful stuff which bent his head severely. He's writing this because it never got unbent. As a matter of fact, it got worse. But first he looked for more books by this guy Heinlein. What they were about, he found, besides science and space, was individual competence and the suicidal insanity of weighting it with political chains. What's more, each taught him something about the universe, the culture he lived in, and often, whether he liked it or not, himself.
Without knowing it, Heinlein became the advisor, confidant, sometimes the only friend of his childhood, setting standards against which the boy eventually came to measure all his adult conduct and achievement.
Over the past thirty years, I don't supposed a single day has gone by that I haven't thought about Robert A. Heinlein. The lessons I learned from him were endless, as they were bound to be, coming from a man of his pragmatic wisdom and a body of literature exceeding three million published words.
It's hard to recapitulate the second chance he offered my generation, given the abject failure of public schooling, since most of what he taught I've long since taken as self-evident. It certainly wasn't when I learned it; it was often painful and confusing. But it was needed. 20th Century America's method of rearing its young fails to produce organisms fit for -- or worthy of -- survival.
If I cite different lessons at this moment than I might another time, if I discuss them in a different order than I received them, if I select different items than you might, that's one definition of art, isn't it? It's also a measure of the fact that, above all, Heinlein taught us to accept his wisdom without becoming followers. He taught us to become, and to remain, individuals.
The Green Hills of Earth formed my first coherent vision of the future, establishing the historical context for my own life, convincing me (as kids must be if they're to turn out civilized) that, just as millions of human beings preceded me in past ages, so millions more will follow in ages to come. At the same time, Methuselah's Children revealed to me that, yes, I do want to live forever, and that such a thing, given time and the stubborn application of reason, might just be possible.
Between Planets taught me that a kid never knows when the demands of adulthood will tap him on the shoulder. There are worse things that could happen. Starman Jones taught me that the adult world makes about as much sense as the average train wreck, and that it's the first duty of anyone who aspires to be a whole human being to start re-making the world the way he wants it. Toward that end, Time for the Stars showed me that the universe can be a bizarre, hostile place, but that my feelings about that are irrelevant to dealing with it.
Citizen of the Galaxy showed me that it was possible -- and important -- to stand outside my own culture and try to examine it like an anthropologist or a visiting alien. "If This Goes On ..." from Revolt in 2100 warned me that, in any culture, things are never what they appear on first glance. At the age of twelve, I was just as shocked as the viewpoint character to learn what was going on between the Prophet Incarnate's palace guards and his attendant Virgins.
Always listen to experts. They'll tell you what can't be done, and why. Then do it.
Robert A. Heinlein, "The Notebooks of Lazarus Long"
This page has been included in the Robert Heinlein ring of the Free World index.
This essay first appeared in the Fall/Winter 1988 issue of NOMOS. It will appear in this updated form in L. Neil Smith's forthcoming collection of speeches and essays, Lever Action.
L. Neil Smith
Author: The Probability Borach, The Crystal Empire, The Lando Calrissian Adventures, Henry Martyn, Pallas and (forthcoming) Lever Action and Bretta Martyn.
Mr. Smith's celebrated first novel, The Probability Broach, was be republished, in unexpurgated form, by TOR Books in October, 1996.
Publisher: The Libertarian Enterprise
Founder & International Coordinator: Libertarian Second Amendment Caucus
Secretary & Legislative Director: Weld County Fish & Wildlife Association
NRA Life Member
E-mail L. Neil Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org
E-mail subject heading automatically set to "WEB:RAH-Remembered"
You are here: Webley Page > Lever Action > Robert A. Heinlein Remembered