Alexei Panshin's The Abyss of Wonder

Robert Heinlein at the Poetry Center

  by Gary Farber

  Robert Anson Heinlein spoke here in New York on Wednesday, May 29 at The Poetry Center of the 92nd Street YM-YWHA.  He came out onto the stage in a full tux, ruffled shirt, black tie, and all.  He appeared somewhat uncertain of what the audience wanted to hear, and had no prepared speech.

  Apologizing that he was tired and nervous, he asked to be excused for any stammering he might do, and said that if it appeared he was chewing gum, this was so.  Aspergum.

  He several times asked the audience if there was something in particular that they wanted to discuss.  He went over much of his Annapolis speech, reprinted in Analog.  When asked several similar questions on current sf writers (i.e. what is your favorite sf writer, whom do you enjoy reading, etc.), he refused to comment, but did say that he prefers Wells (H.G.) over Verne.  He also said that for light reading of non-sf, he enjoys Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm series, and much of John MacDonald's detective writing.

  After the staged speech, Mr. Heinlein and anyone interested (about 60 hardcore fans) adjourned to a nearby room where RAH sat at a little table and signed books, programs, etc., according to a rigid system of protocol (first one copy of one of his books, then a second, then a third, then a program, then an autographed piece of paper, etc).

  I happened to ask him if he saw the article on him by the Panshins in The Alien Critic 9.

  Foolish me.  He replied coolly, "I do not read fan magazines."

  About the time Heinlein had just finished up signing things and was talking quietly to anyone who wanted to, Alexei Panshin (or an imitation claiming to be him) stepped out of the crowd and said (this is all to the best of my limited memory, and if anyone wants to quibble about exact words, they may do so with limited probable justice, but I believe that the gist of it is correct.  If anyone has any objections or corrections, they should bring them to me and I'll see if I will agree to them), "I'm Alex Panshin."

  At which point in the many-dimensioned universe, Mr. Heinlein said brusquely, "Goodby sir!" and turned away angrily.

  AP then tried to say, "You said on the stage that your attitudes change over the years," but RAH interrupted him in the middle to say very forcefully and angrily, "You have gotten hold of and read my private letters, sir, without my permission.  This I will never change.  Goodby, sir!"

  AP tried to finish his previous statement, but was again interrupted by RAH saying "Goodby, sir" several times and finally said, "Goodby, sir" and left.

  Most questions Heinlein refused to answer, such as "Will you be at the Discon?" and "Will you write another novel with Lazarus Long?"  He also said that his favorite novel is always the one he is working on currently.

Showdown - Farber - Lillian - CollinsReply - Afterword - Mystery
Return to Critics Lounge Annex

Border courtesy of FDZ Graphics