Today’s Birthday Boy 7/7

Virginia and Robert Heinlein at home in Colorado in the 1950s.

Virginia and Robert Heinlein at home in Colorado in the 1950s.

It’s Robert A. Heinlein’s 107th birthday.

As Joseph Green noted in his 2009 article for Challenger, “Heinlein vaulted to the front rank of science fiction writers within a few years of his first appearance in print, and has remained there since.” Two Locus polls taken 20 years apart had the same result – the most popular science fiction writers were Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke, in that order.

I wonder where fans would have ranked Heinlein if fans asked to name the most controversial sf writer?

Heinlein’s a controversial figure these days for all kinds of reasons. But if he’s anywhere now the news can reach, it’s virtually certain he’s pleased to hear it.

Why? Well, I’m just guessing, but there’s no doubt he courted booing the way most people court applause.

When Heinlein was guest of honor at the 1961 and 1976 Worldcon — his second and third reappearance as GoH – he was booed each time.

Joseph Green was there in 1961:

Heinlein [gave] a long, apparently extemporaneous GOH speech on Russia and their experiences there. (Ginny Heinlein had spent two years learning Russian before they left; they wanted to talk to regular people, when occasion allowed, without an official interpreter.) He paced the floor and spoke without notes. It was vintage Heinlein, colorful, strong, well-delivered, and highly controversial. Among other predictions, he stated that war was inevitable; suggested we all build bomb shelters; and be prepared to shoot our grasshopper neighbors who would want in at the last minute. He talked about the fanaticism of the Russians, the endemic lying, the dangerous convictions the government had successfully instilled in most of its citizens, the probable spread and possible success of communism, etc. The talk, like Heinlein’s later books, was over-long, but very interesting. He was booed a few times, and a number of people chose to publicly and loudly disagree with some of his major points after the speech. I suspect he was pleased as punch to have ‘stirred up the animals’.

And I heard it happen again during his GoH speech at the 1976 WorldCon in Kansas City. Heinlein was booed by some audience members after saying “Men fight to protect women and children.” Barbara Bova claims to have led the booing, according to Jerry Pournelle.

Heinlein’s biographers have documented a streak of insecurity which raises the possibility that he did some of these things not only to insure people would keep talking about him — but so that disagreement could be discounted as an exhibition of public rudeness.

3 thoughts on “Today’s Birthday Boy 7/7

  1. I’ve seen some people use “birthday” for a dead person. When people die they stop having birthdays. It’s the 107th anniversary of Heinlein’s birth but it is not his 107th birthday.

  2. We’re having fun with the idiom here. When Bela Lugosi or Robert Heinlein are addressed as “the birthday boy,” the audience here knows they are long dead.

  3. With all due respect for Laurie’s expertise relating to dead people, and whatever style guide she may be referring to, that’s not what the English word “birthday” means.
    The online dictionaries that I just quickly checked all define birthday as “the anniversary of a birth”, or “the anniversary of the day on which someone is born”, or similar language. No definition that I can find says, “the anniversary of the date of birth of a living person.” And if you’re not Humpty Dumpty, the words mean what they mean, not what you want them to mean.
    Yes, Heinlein is dead and is therefore no longer “having” birthdays, just as he’s no longer having doctor’s appointments, and no longer having breakfast. But this is still his 107th birthday, even if he’s not 107 years old.
    I grew up getting a day off from school for the holiday called “Washington’s Birthday”. Even when they moved the holiday from Feb. 22 to the third Monday in February (so that it can never fall on Washington’s birthday), it was stilled called “Washington’s Birthday”, although more recently there’s been a general shift towards calling it “Presidents’ Day”.

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