Alexei Panshin's The Abyss of Wonder

Was it Really Heinlein?

  by Alexei Panshin

  Thank you for letting me see Gary Farber's letter.  I can confirm it to this extent -- the person who stepped out of the crowd and addressed the man signing autographs and dodging questions was me.

  On the other hand, I'm not so sure that the man who came to the Poetry Center and addressed the gathering in Heinlein's name actually was Heinlein.  I've had a month to think the matter over, and I am now convinced that the "Heinlein" I saw that night was an imposter, an actor taking the real Heinlein's place a la Double Star.

  I first became suspicious during the talk.  I expected cogency from Heinlein, the same sharp intelligence, the same originality of view that first made me a fan of his work so long ago.

  Instead, however, what we were offered was platitudes, canned anecdotes and twice-told tales.  Nothing new.  Nothing an actor could not have been coached on.  Nothing I couldn't have said word-perfect myself.

  Added evidence:  Heinlein, or the actor who impersonated him, only accepted written questions from the audience and picked out those which he chose to answer.  The real man would not have needed to protect his real state of knowledge that way.

  This pseudo-Heinlein even so said some incredible things.  He said that his stories were entertainments and no more.  He said that he wrote his stories only for money and for no other reason.  He said that repeatedly.  He must have hoped that we would not notice the significance of the old Heinlein anecdote -- which he repeated -- about snatching up a remark of Mrs. Heinlein's, disappearing into his study and reappearing thirteen days later with a complete novel, The Door Into Summer, when any reasonable person must surely know that this is not the way that entertainments written solely for money are produced.

  Gary Farber's letter further confirms my suspicions.  He says he asked the "Heinlein" that he so gleefully accepted autographs from (what are they worth now, Gary?) whether or not he had seen the article on his work by the Panshins that had appeared in TAC#9.  And the man replied, "I do not read fan magazines."  Replied "coolly", we are told.  A cool reply indeed from this impersonator since the real Heinlein not only advertises in Locus but has a subscription to TAC.  Obviously a ploy to avoid having the real extent of his knowledge tested.

  I believe this is also why the man threw his left-field accusation of reading his mail at me.  It is true that nine years ago, when I was in the course of researching Heinlein in Dimension, a widow of a friend of Heinlein's, desperately hungry for attention, pressed some letters from Heinlein on me.  I said to her:  "I can see that you have a great deal of respect for Mr. Heinlein and if there is any possibility in your mind that letting me see his correspondence might be in any way a disservice to him, I would prefer that you did not send me the letters."  She did send the letters.  They proved to have no relevance to the book, and I returned them.

  Heinlein knows this.  He is in possession of the entire exchange of correspondence I had with the woman.

  But the imposter apparently only knew of the fact that I had seen letters from Heinlein many years ago, and used this to avoid meeting me.  This actor assumed the guise of anger to keep me at a distance since he feared I might know too much about the real Heinlein and might have exposed him.

  Wow!  It is all very strange to me.  What is really happening behind the scenes is a mystery I haven't fathomed yet, but I am sure we will all be surprised when the truth is revealed.  I may have said too much already.

  For my part, however, if Heinlein is still alive -- the real Heinlein -- I have my hopes of meeting him someday.

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