The Heinlein-Konkin Birthday Party
For many years my friend Samuel Edward Konkin III –SEK3, for brevity — always celebrated his July 8th birthday in conjunction with Robert A. Heinlein’s July 7th birthday. When both were alive, it was not uncommon for me to put in a phone call to Mr. Heinlein so I could put Sam on the phone with him, and they could wish each other Happy Birthday.
Sam was a nocturnal creature at best, and an alien at worst. I don’t mean in this case a Canadian living in the United States; I mean someone whose home planet had a different circadian than Earth’s 24-hour cycle. Sam’s natural circadian was for a day somewhere between 26 and 27 hours, and there is no planet in our solar system with that circadian. So if Sam’s internal circadian matched some other humanoid species, it was from another star system; or maybe we need to look more closely at some brane in the 11th Dimension.
The point is, I’m writing this at about 11:00 PM on July 7th — and often enough, that’s about when Sam would be downing his first beer for the Heinlein-Konkin Birthday Party, which would be the official start of the party.
Aside from family members, Robert A. Heinlein and Samuel Edward Konkin III were the two most influential men in my life. Heinlein shaped my childhood through his novels and short stories; and he gets this place above other authors who were influential — such as C.S. Lewis — because I eventually met and became friends with Heinlein. C.S. Lewis had passed before I’d read him.
I wrote about Heinlein when he passed:
Sooner or later we all imagine there’s a set of technical manuals our parents were supposed to give us at birth with instructions on How Life Works.
Not that thick book called The Purpose of Your Life. You get that one later. These are “How To” manuals. Each is called Getting By When You’re Up The Creek Without a Paddle, Fighting Back When You’re Sick of Getting Pushed Around, Love — What It is and How to Survive It, or How to Keep From Going Crazy When Everyone Around You Already Is.
Obviously, sometime before you were born, your parents pawned the manuals for a down payment on a Chevy. Or maybe the tomes went overboard when their parents emigrated to America. Or were they incinerated during the big library fire in Alexandria?
Anyway, people keep fudging up replacements. You’ll find them in the Philosophy section, the Psychology section, the Science section, and (Someone help you) the UFO Abduction/Tarot/Astrology/Numerology section.
Look no further: you’ll find the closest thing to the Lost Manuals in the science fiction section: the author was Robert A. Heinlein.
An engineer by trade, Heinlein knew that while machines can be duplicated, people can’t be: no set of engineering instructions could apply to several billion individuals. He gave basic working diagrams; folks would have to jury-rig things from there.
Heinlein wrote fiction because that’s what non-engineers could understand best — and he set his stories in strange lands because things were changing so fast that any land we encounter was bound to be.
Take the Lost Manual titled Getting By When You’re Up the Creek Without a Paddle. Heinlein wrote several versions, each with a different slant. In Tunnel in the Sky teenagers on a two-week survival test find themselves stranded on a virgin planet, probably for good. In Job: A Comedy of Justice a preacher on vacation finds that while God might not play dice with the universe, it’s only because He prefers other games.
In Citizen of the Galaxy a boy is sold into slavery to a crippled beggar … and eventually concludes this was the best thing that ever happened to him. And in Have Space Suit — Will Travel a high school senior is abducted by a UFO, and ultimately finds himself in a distant courtroom appointed Clarence Darrow for the entire human race; this novel comes close to combining all the Lost Manuals into one.
Love — What It Is and How to Survive It: Heinlein wrote this several times, also. In The Door Into Summer a poor inventor lives through his fiancee turning into as much fun after work as Lucrezia Borgia; cryonics and a time machine give him a second shot at love. Time travel also helps Lazarus Long in Time Enough For Love find love a second time. It takes him 23 centuries to find the woman of his dreams but it turns out to be his own mother. (See previous Manual.)
As for How to Keep from Going Crazy When Everyone Around You Already Is — Heinlein considered most people “candidates for protective restraint.” Stranger in a Strange Land is Heinlein’s best attempt here. But try figuring out which characters aren’t already crazy.
Fighting Back When You’re Sick of Getting Pushed Around was Heinlein’s favorite topic. His early novel If This Goes On –, included in The Past Through Tomorrow, has a preacher combining the worst of Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart, and Orel Roberts elected president; a century later a Masonic Cabal is taking on the American theocracy run by the Prophet Incarnate. Methuselah’s Children (also in TPTT) has Lazarus Long’s tribe fleeing Earth to escape genocide.
Heinlein wrote four other novels of revolution. In Sixth Column super-science drives out the Pan-Asian conquerors of America. In Red Planet colonial rebels on Mars seek Martian help against absentee rulers on Earth. In Between Planets the rebellion stretches from Venus to Mars: this is my nomination for Robert A. Heinlein’s best-written novel.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is Heinlein’s libertarian classic — the Atlas Shrugged of science fiction. The revolution is on the moon; its leaders have read Ayn Rand; and one of them, Professor Bernardo de la Paz, is based on Heinlein’s old buddy, Robert LeFevre of Rampart College.
Robert A. Heinlein, in his half-century career, wrote over 45 books selling forty million copies worldwide. A mindful history will place him alongside Dickens and Twain.
We must cry that his pen has been set down for the last time: we can rejoice at the immense lost legacy he has regained for us.
When SEK3 passed I wrote the following:
I first met Sam in 1971 in New York City, at the first libertarian meeting I ever attended, the New York Libertarian Association, in libertarian attorney Gary Greenberg’s living room. I’d already started a campus libertarian group at the branch of City University of New York I was attending. Sam, a believer in the “libertarian alliance” concept of stringing together libertarian groups, immediately found this naive 18-year-old worth talking to.
We found out almost immediately that we shared an interest in science fiction (particularly Robert A. Heinlein) and the works of C.S. Lewis, whose Narnian chronicles I’d read as a child. Sam was only the second other person in my life I’d met who had read Heinlein, and the first other person I’d met who’d read Lewis. It was Sam who told me that Lewis had written more than the Narnian children’s books, introduced me to Lewis’s nonfiction and adult fiction, and took me to my first meeting of the C.S. Lewis Society of New York, which we attended together regularly. Sam also took me to my first science-fiction convention, 1971′s Lunacon, in New York City, to my first world science-fiction convention, Torcon, in Toronto, ON, in 1973, and to my first meeting of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS). We joined the just-formed Southern California C.S. Lewis Society together in 1975, and Sam and I each served on its governing council for a number of terms.
In New York, Sam took me to lectures where I met Murray Rothbard, introduced me to the writings of Ludwig von Mises, took me to my first libertarian conference at Hunter College in New York City, where I first met Robert LeFevre, and we audited recorded playings of the Brandens’ Basic Principles of Objectivism lectures together, also at Hunter College.
And, Sam and I tooled around New York City, searching out “underground gourmet” restaurants, and always (on the first day when possible) catching the latest Woody Allen movie or the latest James Bond movie.
Sam was a speaker at both of the libertarian CounterCon conferences on countereconomics I organized in 1974 and 1975.
We left New York together to come out to the promised land, Southern California, where he lived the rest of his life, except for two years in Las Vegas. Our automobile journey west with two other libertarians (Bob “Kedar” Cohen and Andy Thornton), in July and August 1975, took us to the Rivercon science fiction convention in Louisville,KY, and to the home of science-fiction magazine publisher Richard E. Geis in Portland, before we arrived in Los Angeles on August 10, 1975, where we spent our first night sleeping on the apartment floor of Dana Rohrabacher, Sam’s libertarian mentor, and now U.S. Congressman from Orange County, CA. Even today Congressman Rohrabacher still speaks fondly of Sam’s genius and imagination.
Dana introduced us to independent filmmaker Chris Schaefer, who managed an apartment complex in Long Beach. This became the AnarchoVillage (named after Sam’s recent six-floor walk-up apartment on East 11th Street in NYC which he’d dubbed the AnarchoSlum) and we lived two apartments away from each other until 1984. Many, many days were spent collating, folding, stapling, and mailing out magazines (many with articles of mine) with eating and drinking afterwards. When I was broke in those days, Sam was always happy to pick up the check and lay a “meal ob” on me, a concept we got from Eric Frank Russell’s libertarian SF novel, The Great Explosion.
A few years later I returned the favor when I set Sam up in an apartment he dubbed the AnarchoVilla, on Overland Avenue in Culver City. That apartment was production central for my book publishing. Sam was the production backbone and book designer for every book that came out from Pulpless.Com, and a talented graphic artist for many of the covers.
So, continue the tradition. Heinlein probably wouldn’t care what’s in your glass if you’re making a toast to them; but Sam had a firm belief that any beer you could see through wasn’t worth drinking.
Unless, of course that’s all that’s left in the bathtub.
My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon.com Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!