After a solid half year and more of labor, I finally got the last pieces of Critical Insights: Robert A. Heinlein to my series editor last week. Looks like it may come out in October--yay! All the best college and university libraries, I believe, will want this one...
Well, I went to Curious Books in East Lansing again, and I ended up picking up a few more nice old Heinlein pulps from 1941... After scanning them—and not even yet getting to the interior art of “Methuselah’s Children,” come to think of it—I suddenly realized that I had a full fifty pics. Rather than keep them in the “Early Works” page, therefore, I finally broke down and created a new page solely for them: “Pulp Magazines.”
I am so happy to have these in my collection, and I hope that you, too, you may enjoy their art posted here.
Yesterday I stopped into Curious Books in East Lansing and picked up a couple Heinlein editions whose covers were new to me, including a British Number of the Beast with wonderfully splashy mid-80s art that has absolutely zero to do with the plot.
Most importantly, however, I happened to take a look at their pulps, which included some niiiiiiice stuff...
For example, imagine my surprise in prowling through the shelves of Astounding to find the August 1939 issue containing “Life-Line,” Heinlein’s first published story—wow! I guess I never imagined I would hold one of these in my hands, but apparently they have not all been snapped up by collectors, and do still exist in shops here and there. Well, not this one anymore, of course...
In any event, I also chanced to grab “Misfit,” “Requiem,” “ ‘If This Goes On—’,” “The Roads Must Roll,” “Coventry,” and “Blowups Happen.” For a Heinlein aficionado, these are some of the true holies.
I scanned each lovely cover, therefore, plus, with care, their nifty pen-and-ink interiors, too, and now all are in my Heinlein cover art galleries.
I read The Caine Mutiny about three weeks ago and did a a very quick post on Goodreads, but now I finally got the chance to go back in to update and expand and I really needed: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1281337606.
I've always enjoyed the film version of The Caine Mutiny and hence was excited at last to find an old 1951 printing of the novel itself. As I rather expected, Herman Wouk indeed had done a marvelous job, both more detailed and also subtler than the ensuing film.
To anyone who only has seen the movie, for example, the depiction here of Willie Keith's initial shallowness and then slow growth to maturity, for example, will come as a wry delight. Willie in the film, after all, is something of a Mama's boy, and certainly unused to real effort or discipline, but he also seems a young man proud to receive his naval commission and at last take the fight to the Japanese. The original novel, however, first introduces the Princeton graduate's naval career as merely a stratagem to avoid being drafted for presumably even more dangerous combat in the Army.
Prior to his belated, seemingly patriotic gesture, Willie was but a shallow playboy, someone feeling very grown-up to be receiving an actual salary for banging out pleasantly obscene ditties on nightclub pianos...a pittance more than supplemented by the allowance from his mommy, in whose house he still lives. He has "passed the first war year peacefully" as only a man with "one of the highest draft numbers in the land" can (9); after all, "A very high draft number, in those days, helped a man to keep calm about the war" (10). After Pearl Harbor he had made a brief show of considering joining up so that he can be talked out of it, whereupon Wouk archly gives us one of the best lines in the entire book: "So it was that Willie Keith sang and played for the customers of the Club Tahiti from December 1941 to April 1942 while the Japanese conquered the Philippines, and the Prince of Wales and the Repulse sank, and Singapore fell, and the cremation ovens of the Germans consumed men, women, and children at full blast, thousands every day" (10-11).
Clearly, then, it will be a long, long climb into manhood. Wouk handles it all very nicely: the indignation of the pampered college boy unused to criticism from this lessers, the confused understandings, the eventual maturity so slowly and subtly arrived at that no one, least of all Willie, could point to a single defining incident and say, "That was it." After long sea duty, though, when the now-skilled sailor looks over some newly arrived crewmen much like his earlier self, Willie doesn't like what he sees, and we therefore see how far he has come.
In depicting the painful growth of shallow young Willie Keith, who must learn much before he can find integrity and purpose and even love, Herman Wouk explores the conflicting emotions and the self-deception common to humanity, and he occasionally turns a beautiful phrase well worth a wry smile. Willie's first glimpse of the slovenly deck of the Caine, where "[o]aths, blasphemies, and one recurring four-letter word filled the air like fog" (66), is memorable in its own way, yet so, too, in another way, later, is the surprisingly touching evocation of the strange loss of purpose that accompanies the end of the war, along with the equally poignant scene of the final decommissioning of the aged and battered ship. The Caine Mutiny is a five-star read that captures powerfully the conflict within as men struggle in the conflict without that decided the course of our modern world.
24 May 2015
Trying to get caught up on rolling some recent Goodreads reviews to the blog--here is one I did on a completely random little 1950s novel called A Matter of Morals https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25556059-a-matter-of-morals.
The splashily packaged 1951 A Matter of Morals by Joseph Gies is an interesting little read--not great art, of course, yet definitely not the soft-core porno suggested by its beautifully leering cover art or its overblown, even misleading back blurb.
The cover of my 1953 Popular Library reprint depicts a professor-type fellow in the woods passionately kissing some bent-back gal while a letterman and his good-girl girlfriend hurry disapprovingly down the trail. Despite their obvious disapproval--it is a matter of morals, after all--the supposedly shocked coed looks open-mouthed over her shoulder rather more than is polite, and the artist has painted her blouse opened so deeply at the neck that no brassiere possibly could be worn. Ah, furtive Fifties semi-sleaze!
The novel itself really is only semi-sleazy, though. Yes, there's some drinkin' and some neckin' after the big game in automobiles on lonely roads and on the wide verandas of sorority houses; the secretary of the Chair of History has had a few affairs; and youngish Assistant Professor Vic Townsend does indeed entertain certain stray thoughts of flirtation and perhaps more when his wife and children are out of town for the week. Despite the promises of the first page of advertising blurb, however, there exists no "Delta Gamma 'Love Couch'" upon which "almost every man" supposedly enjoys the sorority queen, and conflicted, rather wishy-washy Dr. Townsend is no "Greek god," let alone "ready to take off the glasses at a moment's notice. If a coed was interested, that is..." (1).
The intertwined tales of nervous Townsend and his acidic wife, the vulnerable yet hot-to-trot secretary of his boss, the unctuously overbearing Dean Telfer, and the staff of the independent student newspaper are tolerable fiction of the middling three-star variety. For 1951 it probably is a tad racy, though sex is mainly offstage, except for brief, chapter-closing hints, as when at the end of a double-date, the half-drunk boy in the back seat with the sleeping date blinks into the front seat at the heavily breathing, shadowy form that turns out to be two figures, "one superimposed upon the other" (65), or when the professor who comes in out of the rain suddenly realizes that the secretary has no other clothing beneath her robe, and "[h]is trembling hand slip[s] inside" (108), or when the once-shy undergrad reporter finally gets to second base with the glossy blonde sorority girl: "It was the first time he had ever touched a woman's breast; it was indescribable" (132).
Easy as it is to be waggish about the titillation of yore, one should note that A Matter of Morals has some positives. One is the conflicted natures of Townsend, secretary Evelyn, editor Emmering, and reporter Slidell; each has a great deal of indecision and self-doubt beneath a seemingly composed and confident exterior, which is a nice touch, though Gies sometimes does spread it on a bit thick. The time of setting is intriguing, too--the novel begins in October 1938, just days after the Munich Conference--and yet despite some characters' discussion of appeasement, the Spanish Civil War, and whatnot, these tantalizing threads go nowhere. There are occasional potentially interesting whiffs as well of Red panic, casual anti-Semitism, classism, and easily hushed-up police brutality, but, frustratingly, these lead nowhere either. Finally, stylistically, point of view bops around from head to head rather much, which weakens the work for the reader of discernment.
For a period-piece quickie-read, A Matter of Morals is not that bad at all, though lasting literature it ain't, and the gap between the mild raciness of the actual text and the campus-Sodom-and-Gomorrah schtick of the completely misleading packaging sits rather strangely indeed...
17 May 2015
A few days ago, academic publisher McFarland Books released The Fantastic Made Visible: Essays on the Adaptation of Science Fiction and Fantasy from Page to Screen, edited by Matthew Wilhelm Kapell and Ace Pilkington. It looks to be a very interesting text, and of course I have a chapter there on Robert A. Heinlein’s course from Rocket Ship Galileo, “Requiem,” and “The Man Who Sold the Moon” to Destination Moon.
Does your college or university library need this text? It just might... I know I am looking forward to my contributor copies!
It was a lovely day in mid-Michigan, so I went over to the always-delightful Curious Books in East Lansing, where I found another seven copies of various Heinlein that I wanted. And then as I was checking out, the clerk, noticing the trend of the pruchases, pointed out a British Space Family Stone (i.e., The Rolling Stones) with a lovely science-fictional cover of speedboating on a wild alien world--the art has nothing to do with the plot, of course, but for a couple more bucks, I couldn't resist. All covers now are scanned to the appropriate pages of my Heinlein cover art galleries.
Yesterday we drove down to Ann Arbor to go through the U of M museum, which we hadn’t visited in quite a few years, and we also stopped in to the Dawn Treader bookstore on Liberty Avenue. This really is a helluva shop, beautifully cluttered in the way that only a good used bookstore can be. It may not have more masks than my attic, but it has a nice assortment, along with a lovely faux Egyptian sarcophagus that it is quite eye-catching, and its SF collection is lovely and varied, with some things piled so high that someone around six feet tall may juuuust reach ’em. Oh, yes, and Dawn Treader also has a section of first editions and signed editions that the easily tempted, especially those with slack on their credit cards, perhaps should not peruse...
In any event, I picked up 10 nice Heinleins, including some beautiful old first edition Scribner’s and an edition of Variable Star signed by Spider Robinson. I scanned all covers, plus the occasional Clifford Geary interior and some further Richard M. Powers interiors of the illustrated Fawcett The Number of the Beast. All 24 shots now are posted to their appropriate pages in my Heinlein art galleries.
At last I got around to finishing the second volume of William H. Patterson’s biography of Robert A. Heinlein, and it was wonderful.
Below is the review I did on Goodreads:
The second volume of William H. Patterson's Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with his Century is an enjoyable and informative read for anyone with an interest in Heinlein, and especially those who have read the first volume. I confess that I probably enjoyed the first volume over this one just a hair more, but I believe this is simply a natural product of the material. The details of Heinlein's early period, after all--his naval career, his marriage to Eleanor Curry and then to Leslyn MacDonald, his early political ideas, his entry into the pulps--are less known to most of us than the later period, and for me, at least, they make perhaps the fractionally better read.
Nevertheless, the second half of Heinlein's life is well worth study, and Patterson's heavily footnoted tome provides details large and small, woven together engagingly. Oh, every now and then we might quibble over a turn of phrase that is not quite as adroit as it could be, and yet while reviewers occasionally comment on Patterson's seeming agreement with, say, Heinlein's distaste of Alexei Panshin or H. Bruce Franklin or his support of Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, I doubt that the same people would fault him for sympathizing with Heinlein's zeal to defeat the Axis in the Second World War--I myself prefer to allow a biographer his opinions, as I would any other human. And of course the final chapters, detailing Heinlein's decline in health, and ultimate death, and painful--and yet they must be read.
In short, Patterson's two-volume biography of Robert A. Heinlein is wide and deep, an invaluable resource to any reader of the most famous and influential name in modern science fiction, and the second half is an grand a treat as the first.
7 March 2015
Author of two-dozen-odd pieces of literary criticism, novel Student Body, some poetry, and quite a bit of advising/Banner training materials.