Look Back In Dread

Stephen King once said that most writers endured a period of isolation in their childhood when books were all they had for company. For him it was an illness, for me it was two years of living in rural New Jersey.

Fortunately, I was born with a hyperactive imagination and the ability to entertain myself. Even more fortunately, my father was a science fiction fan and he never threw a book away, even the ones he didn’t like.

I started my real education by perusing this wall of shelves populated by an odd assortment of paperbacks, hardbacks, and QPBs. Being in 5th grade, my selection process was pretty simple: I chose the most interesting cover.

At the beginning I hewed close to age appropriate stuff, what they called “juveniles” before YA was a term, but I pretty quickly followed my new favorite author, Robert Heinlein, into his more grownup stuff.

I read them all — Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bardbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Philip Jose Farmer, and on and on — but I clicked with Heinlein. I idolized him to such a degree that I never went back and reread his books when I got older.

A little voice inside my head urged me to let that memory go undisturbed. And I heeded it.

Until the other day when I discovered that someone is publishing Heinlein’s last unpublished novel and, in order to make my decision, I read some of the preview text.

The thing I have to remember is even though he wrote through the 60s and 70s and he was an early feminist and progressive, he was also a man of his times who learned his craft in the 1940s and eventually became a grumpy, old libertarian.

But mostly, it’s his prose. It’s the bounding, leaping, exclamation point prose so common to him and his peers, the people who came before the writers of the naturalistic style we’re so used to today.

I didn’t buy the book and I certainly didn’t return to Starship Troopers, Glory Road, or Stranger In A Strange Land to revisit those books so cherished in my imagination. Better to leave them there, pristine and dripping with the dew of new discovery.

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