In 1933, Heinlein came down with a case of tuberculosis so severe that he was forced to retire from the military. He then entered politics. After working on the failed effort of Upton Sinclair to become governor of California in 1934, Heinlein became an anti-Communist Democratic activist. But his loss for a California State Assembly seat in a 1938 primary led him to start writing.
Heinlein’s skill rapidly led him to become one of the leading sf writers of the 1940s, He helped steer science fiction away from stories about space battles and tedious scientific lectures and toward serious efforts to show what the future might be like. Patterson reminds us that Heinlein’s most important stories of this period — the novellas “Magic, Inc.
” and “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag
,” the novels Revolt in 2100 and Methuselah’s Children
— are important milestones of the field that remain readable and entertaining today.
The first volume of William Patterson’s life of Robert Heinlein shows how Heinlein became one of the greatest sf writers of the 20th century. Patterson’s concluding volume, due in 2012, should show how Heinlein became the most important conservative voice in the genre.
– Martin Morse Wooster, a former editor of The Wilson Quarterly and The American Enterprise, frequently reviews science fiction and fantasy. The Hudson Institute has just published the revised edition of his book Great Philanthropic Mistakes.