TI:Hayford Peirce/Heinlein

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Reminiscences

Sometime in 1974, sitting at home in Tahiti, I opened the latest copy of Analog to arrive by seamail and read Robert A. Heinlein’s "Address to the Naval Academy." In it, before moving on to more serious matters, the old Naval officer enumerated five short rules that would make you a published writer. They were exceeding simple, something along the lines of: 1.) You must write. 2.) You must finish what you write. 3.) You must not rewrite. 4.) You must send it out. 5.) You must keep sending it out until someone buys it.

That seemed easy enough, so I sat down at my small Smith-Corona and started writing stories and mailing them out, some of them in first draft, none of them with carbon copies kept at home, and all of them on that old-fashioned light-weight onionskin typing paper that editors hate to handle (airmail postage from Tahiti was expensive). Later I learned to do things more professionally, but in the meantime I had been fortunate enough to sell two or three of the first four or five stories I wrote.

Almost all of the stories I sold were bought by Ben Bova, the editor at the time of Analog, where he won five or six Hugos in a row as the Best Editor for those particular years. Not long after selling him my first story, I visited his office in New York and he and his wife became close friends of my wife and myself. Several years later, after Ben had moved on to Omni (where he won yet another Hugo or two), he wrote me that his friends Robert and Ginny Heinlein had signed up for a round-the-world cruise on one of the big old liners, the Rotterdam, I believe. They would be sailing from Los Angeles for their first stop in Tahiti. Ben said that he and his wife would be joining the Heinleins on the cruise as far as Tahiti; there they would jump ship, spend a week or so with us, and then return to the States by air.

Alas! Both Robert and Ben were extremely opinionated, strong-minded individuals. Between the time of Ben's letter and the arrival of the Rotterdam in Tahiti they had had a very conclusive breakup about some editorial changes that Ben had wanted to do for an article that Robert had written for Omni. So the Bovas cancelled their journey. But the Heinleins, of course, went ahead with their own plans.

My French wife and I drove down to Papeete harbor a few hours after the Rotterdam pulled in and picked up the Heinleins, whom we had previously seen from afar at a science-fiction convention but had never met. We chatted briefly, then drove up a single-lane road for lunch at the Belvédère restaurant, high in the mountains behind Papeete. There, at an altitude of about 2,000 feet, we sat and drank rosé wine while looking down at their toy-like ship in the harbor, the broad Pacific, and the dinosaur-like outline of the sister island of Moorea on the horizon. We ate salade, bowls of tiny little cockleshells in marinière broth, and fondue bourguignonne and the best french fries in the world. And we drank probably three bottles of wine -- no more, for I had to drive back down the mountain....

Probably towards the last bottle I ventured that I had always thought that The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress was his best work. Robert smiled gently and nodded. "That's what I think, too," he said.

After lunch, we drove to my house, where we sat together on the couch in my library and, I suppose, had another drink or two. Our son took a couple of photographs of us together. Finally, it was time to return the Heinleins to the ship. Robert asked if I owned a necktie and jacket. "One of each," I said. "Good, come to dinner with us on the boat tonight. And bring the two children." Before leaving our house, he signed a couple of his young adult novels in French that I had bought at some point for our daughter -- earlier, on the boat, he had given Douchka and me a thick omnibus edition of H.G. Welles, an LP record called The Green Hills of Earth, based on his most famous short story, and a biography of Noel Coward. An eclectric set of gifts!

We spent a delightful evening with the Heinleins on the boat, then stayed in touch with them until, first, his death and then, several years later, Ginny's. Along with the two children, we had dinner with them at their circular house (designed and built by Robert himself to save steps) near Santa Cruz, and later had a few long phone conversations. I was happy to have published my first novel just before Robert's death -- it was, as so many other books have been, dedicated to Robert A. Heinlein. (When we entered his house, the first little hallway area had a ceiling-to-floor bookcase: it was filled with nothing but books that had either been dedicated to Robert or had been inscribed to him by their author.)

On Mother's Day of 1988 I drove my mother and my wife from San Francisco up to the Napa Valley for a fine lunch at Mustard's. On the way home, I said, apropos of nothing much, "I ought to call Robert one of these days, he called me a month or so ago...." That evening I got a phone call from my sister. "Have you heard the news?" she said. "Robert Heinlein just died." For many years, and even now, I couldn't tell that story without tearing up....

He was a remarkable man, and all science-fiction writers since 1940 are in his debt -- he was probably the most influential man the field has ever known....Hayford Peirce 22:20, 5 March 2008 (CST)

Photographs

Here are two photos taken at my home in Tahiti circa 1979: