ROBERT A. HEINLEIN:A READER'S COMPANION
by James Gifford
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
When I buy an anthology or collection, especially one which contains reprinted stories, I always flip through the book to read the introductions to the stories which may already be familiar to me. In my opinion, the best collections include information about what the author was thinking when he wrote the story, where the idea came from, or some little bit of trivia to tie the story to the person who wrote it. James Gifford's Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader's Companion is an entire book's worth of those introductory notes, requiring the reader only to find the actual stories to go along with them.
Gifford has had the opportunity to look through Heinlein's personal papers and discover notes the author wrote concerning the creation of his various stories, novels, essays and articles. Gifford presents many of these tales in this compilation which is organized in alphabetical order by title. In addition to simply giving background material, which can be as esoteric as the namesake of Lazarus Long, Gifford discusses the ties between Heinlein's various stories and changes in different editions of the stories and books.
While Gifford has clearly written his book with the Heinlein scholar in mind, and provides an intended canonical listing of Heinlein's writings for that purpose, the fact that the book is extremely readable and entertaining is what makes it successful. Rather than discussing Heinlein, specifically, he focuses on discussing Heinlein's works and the various ways in which they can relate to each other.
An introduction to the book is provided in the form of a dialogue between L. Sprague de Camp, who worked with Heinlein during World War II, and Catherine Crook de Camp. Originally presented at a memorial for Heinlein following his 1988 death, these short, intertwined, pieces provide a personal glimpse of the author which Gifford's research reflects at a slightly removed distance.
Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader's Companion is, naturally, not an introduction to Heinlein, which should be accomplished through the author's own works, but is a detailed addition to an Heinlein library and will enhance the enjoyment of Heinlein's stories and novels.
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