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Heinlein, Scientology, and Star Trek

23 Oct 2014
Recently I wrote two pieces about what interested me most in William Patterson's two-volume biography of Robert Heinlein: his connection to L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, and his connection to Star Trek. Here they are together - not exactly a book review, but I rarely find another writer's life interesting enough to merit a biography: Heinlein's Trouble with Tribbles, and Heinlein, Hubbard, and Scientology.

Heinlein's Trouble with Tribbles

Websters II Dictionary defines 'trek' as "a slow, arduous journey", which aptly describes the task of reading fan boy William Patterson's detailed two-volume biography of Robert Anson Heinlein, the 'Dean of Science Fiction'. Like most biographies of writers but especially those that go multi-volume, a good part of the trek was indeed uphill.

In case you've forgotten, Heinlein's best-received novels were Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, although two of his books made it to the big screen: Puppet Master and Starship Troopers. Until I finished volume two I had no suspicion that Heinlein also made it to the small screen, in the form of Star Trek.

It turns out the famous episode, "The Trouble with Tribbles", wsa a direct steal from Heinlein's YA novel The Rolling Stones, wherein the eponymouse alien pets were call 'flat cats' but were otherwise similar enough to be called plagiarism. Star Trek coproducer Gene Coon knew it and actually asked Heinlein for to "waive the similarity" without having to pay a licensing fee or worse, a lawsuit. Heinlein, who didn't own a TV, had no idea what he was giving away, but he soon regretted it, because the young writer thereafter advertised that he had Heinlein's permission! For a young man on the way up, it was all good. But when Heinlein discovered there was a merchandising tie-in that he did not benefit from, he was nearly apoplectic.

I did not read enough of the bio to justify a full review, but Heinlein's close friendship with L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, bears discussion in the near future.

Heinlein, Hubbard and Scientology

When I was a college student a wild melange of rumors floated around concerning Robert Heinlein and his relationship to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Turns out a lot of the broad strokes were essentially correct, though details were lacking. In essence Heinlein and Hubbard were friends before World War II, and after World War II were close until a personal crisis drove them apart. Two years later, when Heinlein was barely paying attention, Hubbard published Dianetics and eventually kicked off the Scientology 'revolution' after finding a soon to be jettisoned financial backer to fund the expansion. Hubbard was nothing if not manipulative.

William Patterson's two-volume biography of science fiction great Robert Heinlein yields a lot of insight into this relationship. Heinlein and Hubbard met at a dinner party in 1939 when both were in their early 30s; they became close friends during the war, and in mid-1945 Heinlein provided Hubbard a place to live and write, sharing a workspace, after Hubbard received a medical discharge from the Navy. Soon Hubbard's friends noticed him acting erratically, unbearably, in behavior that would probably be called post-traumatic stress syndrome today; he had been in a lot of tight spots in the Pacific naval war. During that time he probably had an affair with Heinlein's wife, but the Heinleins had an open marriage and practiced wife-swapping, so it was not a factor.

In any event Heinlein cut him more slack than their other writing friends were willing to do. Heinlein told others he thought Hubbard's "moral decline" was due to the war, but in a letter to Isaac Asimov, L. Sprague de Camp, who introduced Heinlein and Hubbard, called that "hogwash". He said Hubbard had been that way his entire life.

Soon Hubbard moved out to live with Jack Parsons, a notorious practitioner of "sex magick" arts that sound like Satanism or dark paganism to an outsider; and after that he began his activities that led to Dianetics and Scientology. Science fiction writers and fans were among Hubbard's early supporters, but Heinlein did not go along; he said Hubbard "was doing himself no favor" with the direction he was taking. He read an early draft of the paper that lead to the Dianetics book, but refused to comment until he read the entire book. When the book arrived some months later, Heinlein's wife Ginny read it first. Ginny was so disturbed that she made Heinlein promise to wait at least five years to read it; as far as I can tell he never got around to it. Heinlein and Hubbard remained in touch but were never close after 1950.

My takeaway from all of this, along with a biography by Hubbard's son, was that Hubbard was probably a borderline psychotic whose hatred for psychiatry, vividly manifested in Scientology today, stemmed from his inability to accept or cope with his own mental problems. Could a healthy man created a psychotic organization like Scientology? I don't think so. He certainly lived, as the Chinese curse goes, in interesting times.

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