Monday, September 21, 2009

The Virginia Project

For the better part of the past two years, Pam and I have been involved in The Virginia Project. Our moonlighting efforts were wrapped up a week or two ago, and now the story can be told.

The project involves the work of novelist Robert A. Heinlein, and our small part in it is something of which we are really quite proud.

Robert A. Heinlein, of course, was one of the biggest names in science fiction during the middle years of the 20th century. If he wasn’t the biggest, he was certainly up there in the top 5, or even the top 3…his only real competition came from the likes of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov.

Heinlein (pronounced Hine-line) is probably best known for Stranger in a Strange Land. Originally published in 1961, the novel relates the experiences of Valentine Michael Smith, a human raised on Mars who journeys back to Earth and makes some profound changes in our alleged culture. The book tackles a variety of topics including organized religion, big government, individual responsibility, money, sexual freedom and morality offering (for the time) some rather radical views. It was a certified BIG DEAL during the 60s and wildly popular among the counter-culture of the time.

Since its original publication, it has never been out of print. In 1991 an unexpunged edition was published. Putnam, who first published the book, had demanded some 60,000 words (nearly one quarter of the original manuscript) be deleted because they feared some of the references were just too far over the top. Critics are still quibbling about whether or not it was a good idea to put those 60,000 words back.

It wasn’t his only book, of course. Heinlein’s first professional publication came in Astounding Science Fiction magazine in 1939 with a short story, “Life Line.” He was prolific, turning out short stories, novels and screen plays through the 40s (with time off to serve during World War II), 50s, 60s, 70s and into the 80s. He died in 1988.

Upon his death, Virginia, his wife of 40 years, had the presence of mind to renew his copyrights. She supervised the posthumous publication of a number of his short stores with such works as For Us The Living, Tramp Royale, Grumbles From The Grave and Requiem. She died in 2003.

The work of the Heinlein Trust continues. Called “The Virginia Project” in honor of Mrs. Heinlein, the Trust is reissuing the complete works of Robert A. Heinlein as a set of premium quality (acid-free paper; leather bound) books. There will be 44 volumes when it is complete, and the set carries a rather hefty price tag of $1,500. The press run is limited to 2,000 copies of each volume.

Each volume is going back to the original-original, just the way Robert and God had intended…and before various editors got their hands on it. To do this, scholars are working with the Heinlein archives, sometimes pouring over the typewritten manuscripts, to ensure that everything is, indeed, original.

The heavy-lifting on the project is being undertaken by Windhaven Press of Auburn, NH. Nancy Hanger and Andrew Phillips, owners of Windhaven, are well-qualified for the task. Authors in their own right, they bring years of editing and production experience to the project. Nancy is the person we thank for allowing us to participate.

In preparing the various volumes for the printing press, 1st printings of 1st editions have been secured. The good news is that hardcopies of these books have been found (a number of them, Robert’s personal copies). The bad news is that these are hardcopies, produced long before contemporary electronic print production methods were developed. The hardcopies needed to be converted to digital files before production could proceed.

And that’s where we came in. We did the conversions.

Every couple of months a box would arrive at our doorstep (well, actually to the shop). Contained in each box were 1st-1st’s. We actually had Heinlein’s personal copies of some of his books in our hot little hands. We would clean them, scan them and do first-pass editing (spell-checking, etc.). The completed files would be compiled onto CDs and returned (along with the hardcopies, alas) so Nancy and Andrew could work their additional magic.

We did 32 titles in the series. Our names won’t appear anywhere in the credits; our roles were minor and downstream. Still, they were our roles. We did it. And there is a degree of quiet satisfaction that comes from knowing that we had a part in preserving the work of the Grand Master.

Thank you Robert, for the work you gave us. Thank you Virginia, for preserving it. And thank you Nancy and Andrew, for allowing us to participate.

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