Volume 08, Number 04, Fall, 1990


Dear Editor:

I wish to dissent from your contributors’ recent idolatry of Robert Anson Heinlein. While many of Heinlein’s ideas are sound, including his portrayal of cryonics in The Door Into Summer and of aeonic life in Methuselah’s Children and its sequels, on May 8, 1988 he announced, in effect, “Just kidding, folks.” The champion of liberty sanctioned his own victimization by entropy.

He did not have to end that way. For the past several years a competent and thriving cryonics organization, the Alcor Foundation, has existed in Southern California. Heinlein knew of Alcor, and had the vision, intelligence, and resources to take advantage of its services. His unseemly hypocrisy at the end of life no doubt followed, from his irrational belief in the “afterlife,” as evidenced in many of his writings. (Even if the existence of the “afterlife” could be established, it by no means follows that that form of consciousness lasts forever, or is even desirable.)

While I still find value in Heinlein’s writings, I choose not to emulate his personal example. I am in the process of signing up for cryonic suspension with Alcor because, if I ever need it, unlike Heinlein I shall bravely step through the REAL “door into summer.”

Long life,
Mark Edward Potts


Dear Bill,

I owe Brad Linaweaver an apology. Seeing his name in front and in back of the Summer, 1990 issue (so to speak), I assumed it was he who was calling L. Sprague de Camp a liar. Actually it was one “William Alan Ritch”—where have I heard that name before?

Though I never thought De Camp was lying, I did think he was mistaken. Until I remembered that “liberal” in 1950 did not mean what it means in 1990. For one thing, anti-communism was an integral part of 195O liberalism; a 1950 conservative would be an isolationist, like as not. For another, the attitudes toward sex and race in The Puppet Masters are liberal by 1950 standards. Remember the episode in which the crew of a little amphibious tank dies heroically to keep an alien spacecraft from escaping: one of the three “man” crew is named Elspeth; another is named after Booker T. Washington.

But all this is almost beside the point. A libertarian is supposed to look alternately like a liberal and like a conservative, depending on the angle of approach. Why Brad Linaweaver chooses to respond to my FOSFAX remarks here, instead of in FOSFAX, I do not understand. My remark about avoiding cholesterol was meant to be a gently humorous way of saying, “Calm down!” I am sorry if it gave offense. On the general question of whether having a conniption fit is a good way of promoting libertarianism, the same day I received my copy of Prometheus, I also had a letter which asserted that a certain libertarian’s intemperate FOSFAX writings are a good example of “why people think libertarians are dimwits.”

To paraphrase Gen. Patton, instead of having a conniption fit yourself, your goal should be, calmly, to give one to the other guy!

Though I prefer to call myself a classical liberal, I’ve spent a good deal of time defending both libertarian positions and libertarian SF in the pages of FOSFAX. To a woman who called the Prometheus the “circle jerk award”, I responded that I would not trade just two Prometheus winners, Marooned in Realtime and The Rainbow Cadenza, for all ten Hugo winners of the 198Os; and that people who only knew L. Neil Smith’s later work would not believe how good The Probability Broach is.

On the other hand, I criticized Smith’s Crystal Empire. Linaweaver asked my reasons, I gave them; he did not respond. I criticized New Libertarian as tending toward incomprehensibility. With my hand on a stack of NLs I waited for someone to call me on this, knowing that if I, a heavy reader of libertarian literature since the early seventies, found it hard going the average FOSFAX reader would be totally baffled, but no one responded.

The general point is one that recurred to me ten days ago, as I watched Victor Koman win the Prometheus, for what is I hear a very good book, before a NASFIC audience of exactly twenty (counting all the speakers, Koman’s wife and little daughter, and myself). Distinctions made on the basis of ideological purity, disregarding quality, are of interest only to the ideologically pure.

Taras Wolansky


Dear Bill:

Thank you for your favorable comparison of my books to the restored novels of Robert A. Heinlein (Prometheus, Volume 8 Number 3). It’s the second nicest thing every written about my work. The first nicest, of course, was Brad Linaweaver’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution review in which he said my Henry Martyn resembled a three-way collision between Star Wars, Treasure Island, and Story of O.

I do find it more than a little ironic that Del Rey books, the Random House imprint presently returning Heinlein to unmutilated form so self-righteously, is the same company that butchered my novel, Tom Paine Maru, typesetting it with dozens of pages chopped out (due to the political content) without my knowledge or consent, then publishing the crippled result over my strenuous objection.

I agree with you that Heinlein should never have gone along with the changes Alice Dalgliesh inflicted on him (I gather she’s dead now; I only hope it was something prolonged and painful), but you’re probably correct about his reasons. New York publishing’s limousine liberals maunder on ad nauseam about the blacklisting of leftist writers in the 50s (a history, as far as I can tell, which has been enormously exaggerated if not manufactured outright), but they never miss a chance to impose controls of their own on the expression of ideas they disapprove of. Their working principle seems to be that free speech is for liberals—and selected token conservatives—and others need not apply.

In any case, they’ve seen to it that the virtue of integrity becomes its own punishment. My own corpus often seems to me to be a sorry patchwork of unfinished business, truncated series, and untold tales. The North American Confederacy series was supposed to be open-ended, but Del Rey did their best to stop it at six books with the Bucketeers subtrilogy still incomplete. Avon “lost interest” in my MacBear/Lysandra Heptalogy, seven volumes intended to continue the Confederacy series, after only two books. Due to Ace’s typical failure to promote and distribute decently, the Nathaniel Blackburn Trilogy began and ended with The War Dove.

Now my Forge of the Elders Trilogy (Contact and Commune, Converse and Conflict has been shut down. Concert and Cosmos is finished and in their hands (or my agent’s), but it will not be published and the party responsible for that decision is lying about the reason. I strongly urge you to return your copies of the first two volumes—or better yet, the torn-off covers—to Brian Thomsen at Warner Books, 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10103 and demand a refund.

In general, I apologize to my loyal readers for the mess and confusion. There’s always the possibility, of course, as an editor of mine used to point out during his occasional lucid periods, that what looks like a conspiracy is merely a result of the consistent application of stupidity. This culture’s method of producing and distributing books is hideously antiquated and never worked very well in the first place. Even worse, it’s full of practices which systematically punish success and reward failure—a recipe for disaster which Behaviorists call an “extinction paradigm.”

As a consequence, I’m about to start experimenting with an alternative distribution method (not computer-based—ask J. Neil about stupidity as consistently applied by the GEnie network) which seems to have potential. And I plan to rejoin SFWA to see what literary subversion I can spread among my colleagues, Libertarian and non-Libertarian alike. It will be nice to tell all my untold tales and finish my unfinished business before going on to something new. It will be nicer to stop worrying about utility bills, health insurance, and mortgage payments.

I’ll let you know how it turns out—or it it works, maybe you will.

Thanks again,
L. Neil Smith

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