“I am submitting the enclosed short story ‘LIFE-LINE’ for either ‘Astounding’ or ‘Unknown,'” Robert A. Heinlein wrote to editor John Campbell in 1939, “because I am not sure which policy it fits the better.” The former magazine published science fiction, the latter fantasy. Heinlein’s short story — the first he had attempted professionally, at age 31 — concerns a machine that can predict when a person will die. That he sold this neophyte production, on first submission, to a top pulp editor (kicking off an intense friendship and correspondence) is exciting in and of itself. Heinlein’s uncertainty about to which slice of genre this story belonged is an ironic and humanizing detail, given what a titan Heinlein would become as the author of everything from juvenile SF in character-building Horatio Alger mode to the counterculture touchstone “Stranger in a Strange Land” (1961).
more from Ed Park at the LA Times here.