Saturday, December 11, 2010

Policy matters

My November (!) Astral Weeks is finally up at the L.A. Times—a review of William H. Patterson Jr.'s biography Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century (Volume I: Learning Curve, 1907–1948)[!]. Here's the first bit:

"I am submitting the enclosed short story 'LIFE-LINE' for either 'Astounding' or 'Unknown,'" Robert A. Heinlein wrote to editor John Campbell in 1939, "because I am not sure which policy it fits the better."

The former magazine published science fiction, the latter fantasy. Heinlein's short story — the first he had attempted professionally, at age 31 — concerns a machine that can predict when a person will die. That he sold this neophyte production, on first submission, to a top pulp editor (kicking off an intense friendship and correspondence) is exciting in and of itself. Heinlein's uncertainty about to which slice of genre this story belonged is an ironic and humanizing detail, given what a titan Heinlein would become as the author of everything from juvenile SF in character-building mode to the counterculture touchstone "Stranger in a Strange Land" (1961).


While we're on the subject of openings—I just re-read the opening of the October Astral Weeks; kind of funny, non?!

Not a short story, not quite a novella — wasn't that a Britney Spears song? — the oxymoronic long short story is an underemployed literary form.

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