Tribute to Bill Patterson

When Bill Patterson died on April 21, the sf field lost its best-known Heinlein biographer and fandom lost one of its most interesting raconteurs.

Bill’s health problems dominated his Facebook page in his final days – he complained about a painful hiatal hernia on April 19, struck an ominous note about needing to “catch up enough oxygen” on April 20, and made a thoroughly alarming post on April 21: “Reaching some kind of transition — too little o2 in brain to function.” The next day he passed away.

Bill’s sister, D. Rhonda Wallace, commented online: “He lived his life to the fullest and the way he wanted. That is all anyone could ask for! (He did it his way).”

Patterson was born in St. Louis in 1951 but grew up in Phoenix, where his family relocated in 1956. As a young man he attended Arizona State University for two years, majoring in history.

In 1969 he joined a local science fiction club at the Phoenix Public Library. Before long he was also involved with the Phoenix chapter of the Tolkien Society where a very young Patrick Nielsen Hayden met him in 1971 – “Being twelve, I was mostly ignored by all, save for a large fellow named Bill Patterson who talked to me almost as if I were human…. When I showed up for the next meeting, I found they’d changed the location and not bothered to tell me. Well, I was twelve.”

Within five years Patterson was one of many Phoenix fans working on a successful bid to bring the Worldcon to town – but only after their ambition to host the Westercon had been frustrated by an LA committee co-chaired by yours truly. Everyone was impressed with Bill’s publications for the bid and the 1978 Worldcon. They looked super professional, the text prepared with a IBM compositor at a time when the rest of us were using typewriters.

Partly inspired by the collision between these two committees of college-age fans, Patterson wrote an 80,000-word history of Phoenix fandom titled The Little Fandom That Could in which I was not held up as a good example. However, nearly all of us reconciled sooner or later. Bill agreed to participate in the 2010 Loscon program which I organized. And at the 2011 Hugo nominees’ reception I made sure to tell Bill how much I admired his work on Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, Volume 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve. I thought it was highly readable and a first-rate work of historianship. I respected his consistent decision to confine the narrative to things that could be established by documentation and testimony — bypassing the very many juicy opportunities for speculation and opinion-mongering, all of which were relegated to endnotes. (And they are fascinating endnotes!)

Because Patterson was Virginia Heinlein’s choice for her husband’s biographer some expected him to deliver a hagiography. He did not. Besides, even a hagiography would have annoyed Heinlein. Those familiar with the Dean of SF know he would have been irate to see all of his personal activities publicly analyzed, no matter the tone. Patterson was as frank as he could possibly be with the sources available. And they were quite extensive. He said there were 75 million words of Heinlein material in the repository.

In the 1980s Bill moved to San Francisco and developed into a Heinlein scholar. He founded the Heinlein Journal in 1997 and co-founded the Heinlein Society with Virginia Heinlein in 1998. After she died in 2003, the newly-formed Heinlein Prize Trust asked Patterson to consult with the Robert A. Heinlein Archive of the University of California, Santa Cruz’s McHenry Library to integrate new material she had donated. He was designated The Heinlein Scholar of the Heinlein Prize Trust.

Bill did a vast amount of work on the Trust’s Virginia Edition of the Collected Works of Robert A. Heinlein, locating manuscripts and writing extensive endnotes for the books.

He also helped organize the Heinlein Centennial which took place in Kansas City in 2007.

Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better by William Patterson, Jr. is scheduled for publication June 2014. Readying the second volume for publication was not as straightforward as Bill had expected. Time was spent expanding the text and dividing the manuscript to make two volumes instead of one, an idea ultimately abandoned:

In the spring of this year [2012], midway into David [Hartwell]’s first set of edits for this volume, he brought up the possibility of splitting this volume into two books, giving a three volume biography in all. There was some back and forth; ultimately David decided not to go forward with a third volume, and since he gave me the word late in August, I’ve been working ever since to cut the manuscript back to the same size as volume 1. Possibly with the idea of a third volume in mind, David had asked for an expansion of the text that ultimately accounted for about 400 pages of new manuscript. The expansion itself was not particularly demanding, as I had cut much more than that out of the manuscript in 2005 and 2006 — but it was neither possible nor desirable simply to restore the old version; the expansion incorporated all of Hartwell’s edit.

Cutting a 1400+ page manuscript back to about 1000 pages is a time-consuming and finicky process involving several passes through the entire thing.

Almost 15 years after Bill started work on the biography, with the final volume on the verge of appearing, Bill died unexpectedly. I’m so sorry he will miss the accolades he deserved for finishing this epic task.

[Thanks to Michael J. Walsh and Joseph T. Major for the story.]

Ed Is In The Finals!

Ed GreenCongratulations to Edward L. Green for making it to the final round of The Reel Deal. Top vote-getters in this round will be selected for the show.

Ed’s reaction is –

Never, ever, in a million years did I think I’d be able to call myself a working actor. And now I’m involved in something like this. I’m grateful for all the support my family and friends have shown me.

Over 850 actors, writers, composers, and directors completed The Reel Deal’s registration process. Of those, 151 have reached the Season 1 finals. Voting is now open – I’ll have a post here soon with details about how to support Ed’s quest to get on the air.

Jackson Tells Third Hobbit Movie Title

Peter Jackson revealed on Facebook today that the title of the third film of The Hobbit has been changed to The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, superseding a couple of other titles had been registered and discussed in the media.

Green Dragon’s reaction at The One Ring gave me a laugh. He wrote:

Personally, I’m disappointed that they didn’t go for The Beorn Ultimatum…

William H. Patterson Jr. (1951-2014)

William H. “Bill” Patterson Jr., author of the Hugo-nominated Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century, Vol. 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve, died April 22, only a month before the second and final volume of the biography will be released.

Full obituary to follow.

[Thanks to Michael J. Walsh and Joseph T. Major for the story.]

Update 04/24/2014: Click here to read my tribute to Bill.

Eileen Gunn in Smithsonian Magazine

Eileen Gunn, past Nebula winner and Hugo nominee, and author of the short story collection Questionable Practices, appears in the May issue of Smithsonian Magazine. Her article “How America’s Leading Science Fiction Authors Are Shaping Your Future” explains that science fiction isn’t meant to predict the future — although sf ideas that fire inventors’ imaginations often have become reality.

The piece quotes Cory Doctorow, William Gibson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ted Chiang, Neal Stephenson. Samuel R. Delany, Sophia Brueckner and Jordin Kare.

Jordin Kare, an astrophysicist at the Seattle-based tech company LaserMotive, who has done important practical and theoretical work on lasers, space elevators and light-sail propulsion, cheerfully acknowledges the effect science fiction has had on his life and career. “I went into astrophysics because I was interested in the large-scale functions of the universe,” he says, “but I went to MIT because the hero of Robert Heinlein’s novel Have Spacesuit, Will Travel went to MIT.” Kare himself is very active in science fiction fandom. “Some of the people who are doing the most exploratory thinking in science have a connection to the science-fiction world.”

[Via Ansible Links.]

2014 Compton Crook Winner

Charles Gannon’s Fire With Fire (Baen) has been named the winner of the 2014 Compton Crook/Stephen Tall Award.

At Balticon 48, May 23-26, Gannon will receive a $1,000 check and an award plaque.

The Compton Crook Award is given by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society to the best first novel by an individual (no collaborations) published each year in the field of Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror. Selection is made by vote of the BSFS membership.

The Award is named for science fiction author Compton Crook (d. 1981), who wrote under the nom de plume Stephen Tall. The award has been given since 1983. For more information check the BSFS website.

New Apex Magazine Submission Guidelines

Apex Magazine has modified its submission guidelines, hiking the word limit for short fiction, increasing the pay rate, and setting new rules for poetry submissions.

The limit on short fiction submissions, formerly 5,000 words, is now 7,500 words. The press release explains this will “[give] our authors more room to tell their tales and bring our readers some longer pieces of fiction.”

Apex Magazine will begin paying 6 cents a word for all original short fiction on July 1, complying with SFWA’s latest rate requirements to continue being considered a professional market.

Finally, the magazine has set a 200 line limit on all poetry submissions. All poetry must be original and unpublished.

The Apex Magazine submission guidelines may be read in their entirety here.