Well, you all seemed to like the wasp story, so we asked Tim Olsen to write us another; this time, he's sent us a little bit of fan history.
Back in the early seventies, when I was fourteen years old, I discovered science fiction and it changed my life. Dramatic but true. My love for the genre eventually decided my career but I'm getting ahead of myself here. Working in the school library (a prerequisite for beginner Nerds, or so I'm told, along with working as an assistant projectionist in the audio-visual department, which I also did, and wearing clothes slightly outside the norm. My favourite orange corduroy trousers... well, let's not mention them, okay?), I came across the juvenile novels of Robert A. Heinlein and I was hooked.
My family lived in West Berlin at the time, with the Wall still cutting its disturbing path across the city, and I hadn't yet learned the language so books were my escape. I read a lot. In a matter of months, I devoured all that Heinlein had written up to that point and, like most serious fans, I started to re-read my favourites. Then, I decided that it was time to write the obligatory fan letter but I wanted more than a letter in return. I wanted to get his autograph on my two favourite books, Red Planet and The Door Into Summer, so I wrote to his agent, a man with the almost unbelievable name of Lurton Blassingame. Months passed and I had stopped watching the mail box for a reply when my Dad came home one night with a small blue postcard addressed to me. As I turned the card over, I was stunned to see the name Robert A. Heinlein printed at the top along with his home address. Not a P.O. Box, not care of his agent, but his real address! The message was short and to the point -- if I sent him the books and included return postage and packing, he would be happy to inscribe them for me.
So, off went the books and a few weeks later, a package arrived from California. Within, two books... Red Planet, autographed to me on behalf of Willis, and The Door into Summer, autographed on behalf of Petronius the Arbiter! I wrote back to say thanks, included a few Berlin souvenirs, and for a few months we exchanged letters. I told him about Berlin and he told me, usually on small postcards, about the books he was working on or the renovations he was doing on his unique little house on Bonny Doon Road. Months passed and the Christmas season slowly descended upon the divided city, definitely my favourite time of year both then and now. I came home from school one afternoon, close to St. Nicholas Day when the German Christmas celebrations really begin, and there, on the mantelpiece, a card was waiting for me. It was a Christmas card from Robert and Virginia Heinlein, a multi-use greeting card he had created himself. With every possible holiday printed on it, the instructions enclosed told me to return the card each year for re-validation. If those around me thought I was pleased with the books, they knew that I was overwhelmed by the Christmas card.
Now, I didn't return it the next year as I didn't want to take the chance of losing it. Expecting no card, I was quite pleased to receive one from him but that year's card was different. Rather than the light-hearted greeting he had sent out the year before, this one was a simple, printed card with a message both short and to the point. He felt that the year that had just passed had been too dismal to send out cards but he expressed hope that the next year would be better. It showed to me the complexity of the man and the depth of his feelings. I wrote to thank him for the card but I never heard from him again.
I continued to read his books as they appeared, and although in my
opinion they were never the same after his illness, I still bought them and
read them cover to cover. The fact that these books were not the classics I had
grown up with didn't bother me. For years he had entertained me and countless
others and for several months he had made me feel important, as if I was more
than just a fan. He made me feel as if I were his friend and I've never
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