By Martin Morse Wooster: Authorized Heinlein biographer Bill Patterson spoke at the Cato Institute on October 21. The event, part of an East Coast promotional tour that also included a lecture at the Naval Academy, was apparently the first event at the Cato Institute devoted to an sf writer. The auditorium was about a third full, and I didn’t see any fans there that I recognized.
Among the more interesting parts of Patterson’s talk:
- Heinlein regularly attended Hudson Institute seminars on “grand strategy” in the early 1960s. Heinlein’s invitation came about because Hudson founder Herman Kahn “was a science-fiction fanatic and got Jerry Pournelle to invite Heinlein to his next seminar. Heinlein was fascinated by the idea of ‘grand strategy’ and put some of the ideas” learned at the Hudson seminar “into The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.”
- Patterson said that Heinlein’s most important political legacy was his support for the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Reagan administration anti-missile space defense program popularly known as “Star Wars.” Patterson traced the origins of this space defense idea to Jerry Pournelle. In 1970 Pournelle and Stefan Possony wrote an article stating that missile defense in space was technically feasible. In 1979 Pournelle invited Heinlein, Larry Niven, and other sf writers to a panel, which advised Ronald Reagan both as a candidate and as president to build a missile shield in space. The Strategic Defense Initiative was implemented beginning in 1983, and Patterson saw it as the catalyst that ended the Cold War and led to the death of the Soviet Union, since the USSR could not compete against the West both in missile construction and in outer-space defense. “If Heinlein was to claim a legacy,” Patterson said, “having the Soviet Union disappear from the face of the earth” was a good one.
- Politically, Patterson said, Heinlein “was always a libertarian” but his political evolution was from a libertarian socialist to a right-wing libertarian. One key point in Heinlein’s political evolution came in 1954 when he read an article skeptical of the official government story about why warnings about the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack were ignored. The article led to Heinlein quitting the Democratic Party. Heinlein stayed an independent until 1964, when he became a Republican and started volunteering for the Goldwater campaign.
- When asked which writers continued Heinlein’s legacy, Patterson named two. John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War and Last Colony were books Patterson saw as books directly influenced by Heinlein “and probably in dialogue with Stranger in a Strange Land.” Patterson also saw Charles Stross as being a Heinlein literary descendant, not so much for the sort of books Stross writes but in the way he meshed together disparate genres, such as in novels combining speculation about artificial intelligence with Chthulu Mythos references. Patterson saw Stross’s genre jumping as comparable to Heinlein’s attempt to weld genres together in his novels of the late 1970s and 1980s.
No date has been set for the publication of Patterson’s second volume, but it’s likely to appear in 2012.
[Editor’s note: The Cato Institute has posted a video of Patterson’s talk.]