Rudy Rucker is certainly entitled to his opinion about the values to be found in Robert Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land" (Dec.23), though the science-fiction fans who voted it a Hugo Award, and its several million readers, obviously disagree. But Rucker's opinion that Charles Manson was influenced by a reading of "Stranger in a Strange Land," which Rucker bases on a reading of "The Family," should be treated as opinion--more likely speculation--rather than as established fact.
On March 18, 1981, sick of hearing Heinlein's name linked to Manson by rumors, I wrote to Manson at Vacaville State Medical Facility, where he was incarcerated at the time. I asked him "whether you have ever read 'Stranger in a Strange Land,' whether you read it before or after your current incarceration, and whether this novel has influenced your thinking or actions in any way."
I received back a letter dated April 4, 1981, from Robert Altstadt, a fellow prisoner at Vacaville who described himself in his letter as "sort of Charles' personal secretary."
Altstadt wrote that Manson did not want to see his reply in print, and since copyright laws apply even to the letters of prisoners, I am unable to violate the rights ownership of that letter by offering it for publication. But since secrecy was not requested, I can paraphrase the reply.
Altstadt, writing for Manson, said that no, Manson has never read "Stranger." It was Manson's view that this came from the district attorney in his trial, Vincent Bugliosi, who argued that Manson claimed he felt like the "Stranger." But, according to Manson, he never mentioned the book himself.
Altstadt went on to state that Manson wanted me to know that he very seldom reads any books, because they don't entertain him. Manson said the best entertainment he has found is himself.
Regardless of what one thinks of the veracity of my source, it's clear that the influence of "Stranger" on Manson is at best an open question. At worst, it's another tired attempt to discredit Heinlein, whose writings have been ideologically influential on libertarians such as myself, by the sort of guilt-by-association used effectively by such honest politicians as Richard Nixon and Joseph Stalin . . .
J. NEIL SCHULMAN, LONG BEACH