Letter to Rita Bottoms and a Reply from Alexei Panshin
In 1973, I applied for access to the Robert A. Heinlein Special
Collection at the University of California at Santa Cruz. I
told that permission to use the collection was necessary, but was
denied me "explicitly." So I wrote again to ask what credentials were
necessary to gain admittance.
In answer, I
received a copy of an 8-page letter from Heinlein to the librarian in
charge of the collection, the final two-and-a-half pages of which
concerned me and my application, along with a letter of permission from
the librarian. The relevant portion of Heinlein's letter
below, followed by the letter that I wrote to Robert Heinlein
response to several questions he'd raised.
Robert A. Heinlein Letter to Rita Bottoms:
Thomas V. Bottoms Special
Collections Librarian University of
Forgive me many digressions -- I have not wanted to discuss the last
item of business I must discuss with you today. I will say
this for Mr. Panshin: He has not to my knowledge ever
published any personal facts about me that were not already public
knowledge. So I trust him on this point. He has
published many things I do not like .. especially unfounded conjectures
inaccurate and offensive to me. But he has never (so I
believe) published anything as wild and nastily offensive as some
no-byline writer did in the Chronicle about me and the Manson case --
especially distressing to me as I had met Sharon Tate and liked her
very much. (But all I could do about that piece of nastiness
was to refuse to comment; anything I could say would only make matters
worse for me and especially her poor husband.)
I do not like Mr. Panshin -- but I do not think he is that sort of
utter skunk. You may send a Xerox of this letter to Mr.
Panshin and later you may send him copies of exhibits to be appended to
this letter as part of it -- when I get time to write them.
I do not think Mr. Panshin will like some of the things in this letter
and its exhibits but he has been quite free in publishing in open print
many things I do not like so I now feel equally free in speaking of him
in what is not open print but can be seen only by serious scholars, not
reason for disliking
Mr. Panshin is that he obtained and read without my knowledge or
permission a file of very personal letters from me to my dearest friend
-- all this after my friend's death. Details, with proof,
will be Exhibit A. A man of meticulous honor does not do
this. In the words of a great statesman: "Gentlemen
do not read other people's mail."
found out about this detestable invasion of privacy, I resolved neither
to read anything written by Mr. Panshin, nor ever to have anything to
do with him. I kept this resolution until you told me of his
second letter. Up to then I had not read one word of his book
HEINLEIN IN DIMENSION, nor any of his fiction. But I have a
file of a periodical which published several excerpts (not read by me)
from this book. I have now read them, which caused me to send
for a copy of the book. I will read it carefully and write a
review, not for publication but as Exhibit B.
From the sample I have read, I do not expect Mr. Panshin to like my
review. I shall be factual and as fair as a self-interested
critic can be. I shall avoid making the sort of wild
conjectures he makes in his book. But I will not be gentle;
the facts are rough.
have never read, a novel by him; I bought and filed it because I had
heard from many sources that it is a pastiche of my work.
Ginny has just read it and agrees with this opinion, so now I shall
read it and review it, Exhibit C not for publication. Again I
shall stick to facts and to opinion so labeled -- I will not use the
sort of wild non-sequitur with which he larded the excerpts I have read
of HEINLEIN IN DIMENSION.
for Mr. Panshin goes back to an item he wrote for an amateur fan
magazine more than a year earlier than his reading of my letters to my
deceased friend. (So far as I know HEINLEIN IN DIMENSION was
almost the first writing for which Mr. Panshin was paid although he
often referred to himself before that time as "a young professional
writer." Being a "professional" can be a state of mind -- but
the Authors' League of America defines it explicitly and so does The
Science Fiction Writers of America. I would be mildly
interested in seeing proof that he could qualify under either
professional society's quite liberal definition on 31 Dec 1964, that
being the date of a letter to my agent in which Mr. Panshin so
described himself, then asked many, many improper questions about my
private business affairs -- all of which my agent refused to answer but
quite gently in view of Mr. Panshin's representations. I will
believe that Mr. Panshin was a "professional writer" at that time only
when and if I see proof; as of now I am not convinced. I
conjecture that it may have been a boastful exaggeration intended to
cause strangers he quizzed about me (many!) to take his inquiries
amateur article referred
to above was titled HEINLEIN: BY HIS JOCKSTRAP. Mr. Panshin
told me in a letter dated 15 Dec 1964 that the title was placed on his
article by the editor, but he did not assert that the title was used
for his article without his permission. I think that the
title was exceptionally apt, as it fits perfectly the content and tone
of his article.
photostat of that article, a factual review of it, and what I think it
shows about him as a "literary critic" -- as that article had much to
do with my decision not to answer his letter (the other major factor
being the tone of his letter -- photostat, Exhibit E), choosing instead
to consult by telephone the editor (Earl Kemp) who, so Mr. Panshin
asserted, commissioned him to write a book about me -- because I knew
Kemp and at that time trusted Kemp, whereas I had never met Mr. Panshin
(and still have not, and do not intend to, nor speak with him by
telephone, nor answer letters from him); all that I knew about Mr.
Panshin up to the time I saw that article HEINLEIN: BY HIS JOCKSTRAP
was that he had been a bumptious and argumentative teen-ager about
seven years earlier, who had written to me many long and tiresome
letters, several of which I answered, several of which Ginny answered
when I was busy writing -- then we both got fed up with his manners and
his illogic, and stopped answering . . and after a while he quit
writing, to our great relief.
able to determine the facts about this alleged assignment to write a
book. Only one thing is clear: Either Earl Kemp
lied to me about Mr. Panshin or Mr. Panshin lied to me about Earl
Kemp. But I changed my mind with cause about Kemp's
reliability; I now judge tentatively that Kemp lied and Mr. Panshin
told the truth or close enough to the truth. I still would be
somewhat interested in proof, either way, if convincing proof exists.
Rita, you can see by now why my first reaction on hearing from you
about Mr. Panshin's first letter and your telling me that you had some
doubts and wanted my advice was, in substance: "Thank
goodness you asked me about it . . as Alexei Panshin is the last person
I would ever willingly let see the Robert A. Heinlein Special
I do not
Panshin. I judge him to be neither a careful scholar nor a
competent literary critic. I think he lacks judicial
temperament and the proper scholarly coolness of approach. I
know that he frequently misunderstands the clearest English I can write
-- then jumps to unfounded conjectures that he then treats as if they
were proved conclusions. I hope that he never writes another
book about me -- I hope he never writes another line about
me. I hope that he will never see any part of the Robert A.
Heinlein Special Collection.
I have thought over his arguments in his second letter to you, and have
reached these conclusions:
has a degree which supports his claim to be considered a serious
scholar. I believe his assertions that he has taught at
college level, as I seem to recall having heard this either from
Professor Jack Williamson or from Professor Philip Klass or
both. He has had two books published that I know of, one
about me, one a novel, and he has sold some short stories that I have
seen but not read. I think he has published another book of
criticism and two or three more novels. He may have published
book reviews other than in fan magazines. At least two years
ago he was a member of SFWA, so I assume that he qualified before then
as a genre professional by their rules.
If I were to see a similar list of credentials for any writer not known
to me, I would assume that he was a scholar who might have acceptable
reason for seeing the Robert A. Heinlein Special Collection.
This does not change my opinion of Mr. Panshin as a man nor my opinion
of his competence as a critic. But in fairness I must treat
him in this professional matter exactly as I would treat a stranger
having equivalent credentials. Therefore I place no obstacle
to his seeing that unsealed portion of the collection now in the
University Library. (But not that portion in my home; I will
not have him in my home. If he wants to see the rest, he must
either wait until I am dead or see installments as I turn them over to
I urge you to ignore my personal
animus and to do exactly that which you judge to be professionally
correct -- as if it had not been possible to consult me. If
your professional judgment under those assumed circumstances (i.e.
unbiased by any word from me) would tell you to let him have access to
the Collection, then that is what I think you must do. If you
do, you will never hear any objection now or later from me or from Mrs.
I replied to this letter on September 13, 1973:
a copy of your
letter of 10 September to Mrs. Rita Bottoms this morning.
Thank you for suggesting that it be sent to me. It was a very
pleasant surprise to hear from you again, even indirectly.
In your letter, you state yourself interested in two matters of
fact. To the best of my knowledge, the facts are these:
1. Earl Kemp of Advent: Publishers suggested to me in August
1964 that I write a critical book on your work. No contract
was signed but it was understood between us that I would write such a
book and Advent would publish it. After you threatened the
possibility of a law-suit in February 1965, Advent returned my
incomplete manuscript and enclosed a check for $50 "in discharge of all
obligation on our part" -- which indicates obligation on their part.
2. As of 31 December 1964, I had sold seven professional
stories. One of these was "Down to the Worlds of Men," a
portion of Rite of
which I sold to Ifin
March 1962, and which
was published in July 1963. I was a charter member of the
Science Fiction Writers of America.
further matter. I did not give the artlcle "Heinlein: By His
Jockstrap" to the editor who published it. I did not know
that it was to be published. I did not know of the title and
was ashamed of it when I saw it. I apologize to you for it,
and had I been older in 1963, I would have apologized to you for it
forward to seeing your
comments on Rite of
of Passage was
influenced by your work, I think you will find that
it is not a book you would have written, and that its materials,
sentiments and conclusion are mine, not yours. Since you did
not choose to give me your suggestions, comments and criticism on
when I asked for them in my letters to you of
December 15, 1964 and February 25, 1965, I am especially looking
forward to your comments now for correction of my errors.
I never received the promised copies of Heinlein's five exhibits,
including his critical commentaries on Heinlein in
Perhaps, he was just never able to bring himself to
deal with them and gave up on the idea.