Alexei Panshin's The
Abyss of Wonder
Correspondence between Alexei
Panshin and Virginia Smith about Robert Heinlein's letters to "Sarge"
In researching my book Heinlein
in Dimension, one of the people I wrote to seeking
information was "Sarge" Smith, a friend of Heinlein's who was the
dedicatee of Starship
Troopers. The answer I got back came from his
wife Virginia. Here is our complete correspondence.
2515 Arrowhead Rd.
I'm a young professional writer
currently engaged in writing a
book on Robert Heinlein for Advent:Publishers of Chicago, a small house
that specializes in science fiction critical material. Among other
things, they have published a talk that Heinlein gave at the University
of Chicago a few years ago. The book will be in small part
biographical (one chapter out of about thirty), but mainly
critical. A book of this sort hasn't been done before on any
modern science fiction writer, and considering Heinlein's influence
with the field, I thought the project seemed worth doing when it was
proposed to me.
I want to be as careful,
thoughtful and accurate as possible. I did an article a year
so back on Heinlein (in fact, it was what led to my being asked to do
this book) that was thoughtful, but over-abrupt and too hastily
written. I want to do better in this book, partly because I
the subject deserves better and partly for the sake of my own
pride. I want to be both honest and complete. I
think as honestly as I can and to say what I honestly think.
means both praise and criticism -- no pedestals, no mud. I
by the way, informed Heinlein as to what I am doing.
I was given your name and address by
Avram Davidson as being a
good friend of Heinlein's (though, of course, I recognized your name
from the dedication of STARSHIP TROOPERS). In the interests
completeness, I'm seeking information, advice and quotable
opinion. If you have any comment on, or criticism of what I'm
doing, I'd like to hear. I am particularly interested in
you might have to say on Heinlein as an individual, and any information
about him that has not had wide circulation and that I might not have
seen. I am interested in anything that seems relevant to you.
I do feel somewhat hesitant about
asking you to give time and
thought to my problem, but to be honest I am somewhat lost with a
project like this -- fiction is what I usually write and am used to
writing -- and I'm fumbling around trying my best to get a handle on
it. I want to write the best book that I possibly can, and if
can help me at all, it would mean a great deal to me.
Jan. 6, 1965
reply to your recent letter, I wish to inform you that Mr.
Smith died at Crile Veteran's Hospital in Cleveland, the 23rd of Sept.
after a long illness. They found he had lung cancer and had
it progress past help. It is with regret that he cannot be of
help to you in this project, as he was most helpful to many young and
eager students in many fields. I see where you are acquainted
with Avram Davidson, who was also one of his many devoted
friends. I also received a card from Mr. Davidson the same
your letter was received, so if it isn't asking too much, would you
kindly inform him also of his death.
Smith was very well acquainted with Robert Heinlein and also helped him
in rearranging one of his recent books. I have a complete
collection of Mr. Heinlein's books and are all personally autographed
by him. "Star Ship Troopers" was dedicated to him.
regret and also wish that I might be of help to you as I am more or
less interested in your type of project.
can be of any assistance to you, please let me know and I sincerely
wish you all the luck in your ventures.
65 N. Foster St.
Mrs. Virginia K. Smith
I also have a complete file of personal correspondence of Mr. Heinlein
to Mr. Smith expressing many of his views and personal opinions on many
subjects and this may be of interest to you.
I was most sorry to learn of the death
of Mr. Smith. I
never had the pleasure of knowing him, but I had heard his name raised
many times in very favorable terms, which is why I felt I could write
to him when Avram Davidson gave me his address. And I am sure
that it was because of his knowledge of Mr. Smith and his respect for
him that Avram felt it was possible to recommend him as a possible
source of information to me.
As soon as your
letter arrived, I wrote to Avram as you requested. I think
will hear from him most shortly.
very much for your offer of assistance. If you feel that Mr.
Heinlein's correspondence might add light to my book, I would be most
grateful the chance to look at it. I do want to be as
I possibly can and I welcome any help that I can get.
My very best wishes to you.
Jan. 11, 1965
January 15, 1965
reply to your last letter, I wish to ask if you wish me to
mail you the correspondence of Robert Heinlein's or if by any chance
you might be able to come to Norwalk, and have perhaps a better chance
to discuss this information more thorough. Which ever might
more convenient for you. In the past through correspondence
by Mr. Smith's discussions, I have gained quite a bit of Mr. Heinlein's
personal viewpoints on a great many subjects.
Heinlein is without a doubt, very well versed on most every
subject, rangeing from political to individual persons, and although he
has confined his talents towards the Science Fiction field, he could
most easily qualify for most any field which he might enter.
is unmoved by unjust criticism, and he expresses his own personal
viewpoints regardless to individuals. He is also a great cat
cier, and will cancel an engagement when the emergency arises, to tend
a sick cat.
where you wish an unbiased
opinion, also an accurate description of his and his work. At
convenience, Mr. Heinlein would write a twelve to twenty page letter
giving detailed facts on whatever subject he was persuing. He
last, but not least, most gererous with financial aid to his friends
whenever the need arises. He is, in my own personal opinion,
most sincere kind and understanding person, and as an author, critical
to a fault, leaving nothing to chance.
any chance, you are not able to make the trip to Norwalk, I will be
more than pleased to mail you the letters, and may be of some help to
you for your book, and may enlighten you as to how he thinks as he
does. I am most hopeful they will be of help to you, and if I
offer any further suggestions, I will be very pleased to give them to
2515 Arrowhead Rd.
Thank you very much for your
letter. I was very pleased to
receive your personal impression of Mr. Heinlein. I want to
you, too, for your invitation to come to Norwalk. I only wish
that I could, but that is clearly impossible. Right now I am
working, attending college and writing two books, one of which, the
Heinlein book, for a variety of reasons has to be completed in just
under two months. I'm somewhat older than most college
having spent several years in the army and another year in travel, and
now I am doing my best to finish my education and be done.
in the work I do for the money I need and the time I spend in writing,
I am right in the center of what is so far the busiest time of my life.
Perhaps if there were more time
available before my book is due I
could afford to come to Norwalk. As it is, I am right now in
middle of writing the book itself. So far, I have finished
chapters out of thirty-one proposed and expect to have two more done by
the end of this week. I am still missing some of my material
two speeches, two never reprinted stories from 1942, two Boy's Life
serials that have never been re-published -- but it should be arriving
within the next week or ten days from various sources. What I
chiefly missing now are a few details of Mr. Heinlein's career, and
these I hope Mr. Heinlein himself will be able to supply -- in any
case, the biographical chapter will be the last written. I am
interested in Mr. Heinlein's correspondence with Mr. Smith for whatever
insight it can give me into his writing and thinking -- as a source of
general background thinking for me.
I want to
be honest with you. I've enjoyed Heinlein's writing for a
time, and when I was sixteen I even wrote him one of the most
worshipful fan letters you can imagaine. However, in my book
trying to be as critical as I can. That is, I am trying to
about everything that I write and also to state my conclusions, even
when they are not favorable. For instance, I was thoroughly
unhappy with Mr. Heinlein's recent novel, PODKAYNE OF MARS. I
not think it was up to the standard of his previous juveniles (partly,
I suspect, because Heinlein, as a very strongly masculine person does
not have real insight into the teen-age female mind). I am
interested in Mr. Heinlein's correspondence for the insights it will
give me into his writing, but these insights may well be negative as
well as positive. I can see that you have a great deal of
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. If
however, you do feel that you can send me the correspondence, I would
be most grateful to see it. I will reimburse you, too, for
postage involved when I return the letters to you.
In any case, I do thank you for your
continuing interest and for
your most helpful letter. You have been very kind and I do
appreciate your kindness.
January 18, 1965
January 29, 1965
Would you kindly return the correspondence which I sent you
Robert Heinlein's, also I would advise that you not use any of the
material they would furnish you. I wouldn't want any misuse
this correspondence, unless it met with Mr. Heinlein's approval, and
would prefer it isn't used.
I aso received a
very nice letter from Avram Davidson, and he expressed his sympathy at
the news of Mr. Smith's passing. Wishing to thank you for
message to him.
2515 Arrowhead Rd.
Your letter came this morning just as I
was packaging your
letters to return them to you. I found them very interesting,
more for Mr. Heinlein's attitudes than for any specific information
within them. Since you show concern on the point, may I
you -- I will not quote from these letters.
I am enclosing stamps with this letter
the postage you spent in sending the letters to me.
Last week I got a hurried note from
Avram Davidson mentioning that
he had written to you. He is a very fine person.
I do wish this could be longer, but I
am terribly rushed.
Tomorrow I am to start on a two-day project involving some eleven hours
of tests of various sorts and I am doing my best to do too many
different things today to clear my desk.
have been very good to me, and I do want to thank you. I hope
will find the book worthwhile when it is published.
February 1, 1965
These letters can be
found in The Heinlein Archives, the Alexei Panshin File 1964-1974,
which may be downloaded for $3.00.