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For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs [Audiobook] [Audio CD]

Robert A. Heinlein , Malcolm Hillgartner
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb 2011

From Grandmaster Robert A. Heinlein comes a long-lost first novel, written in 1939 and never before published, introducing ideas and themes that would shape his career and define the genre that is synonymous with his name.

July 12, 1939 Perry Nelson is driving along the palisades when suddenly another vehicle swerves into his lane, a tire blows out, and his car careens off the road and over a bluff. The last thing he sees before his head connects with the boulders below is a girl in a green bathing suit, prancing along the shore....

When he wakes, the girl in green is a woman dressed in furs and the sun-drenched shore has transformed into snowcapped mountains. The woman, Diana, rescues Perry from the bitter cold and takes him inside her home to rest and recuperate.

Later they debate the cause of the accident, for Diana is unfamiliar with the concept of a tire blowout and Perry cannot comprehend snowfall in mid-July. Then Diana shares with him a vital piece of information: The date is now January 7. The year...2086.

When his shock subsides, Perry begins an exhaustive study of global evolution over the past 150 years. He learns, among other things, that a United Europe was formed and led by Edward, Duke of Windsor; former New York City mayor LaGuardia served two terms as president of the United States; the military draft was completely reconceived; banks became publicly owned and operated; and in the year 2003, two helicopters destroyed the island of Manhattan in a galvanizing act of war. This education in the ways of the modern world emboldens Perry to assimilate to life in the twenty-first century.

But education brings with it inescapable truths -- the economic and legal systems, the government, and even the dynamic between men and women remain alien to Perry, the customs of the new day continually testing his mental and emotional resolve. Yet it is precisely his knowledge of a bygone era that will serve Perry best, as the man from 1939 seems destined to lead his newfound peers even further into the future than they could have imagined.

A classic example of the future history that Robert Heinlein popularized during his career, For Us, The Living marks both the beginning and the end of an extraordinary arc of political, social, and literary crusading that comprises his legacy. Heinlein could not have known in 1939 how the world would change over the course of one and a half centuries, but we have our own true world history to compare with his brilliant imaginings, rendering For Us, The Living not merely a novel, but a time capsule view into our past, our present, and perhaps our future.

The novel is presented here with an introduction by acclaimed science fiction writer Spider Robinson and an afterword by Professor Robert James of the Heinlein Society.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Audio CD: 6 pages
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks; Unabridged edition (Feb 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1441743391
  • ISBN-13: 978-1441743398
  • Product Dimensions: 14.5 x 13.2 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,769,509 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Look out!" The cry broke involuntarily from Perry Nelson's lips as he twisted the steering wheel. Read the first page
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars …and the First Shall Be Last 7 Dec 2003
Format:Hardcover
When I first heard the news that this, Heinlein’s first and thought to be lost novel, had been discovered and would soon be published, I was ecstatic. Having read everything ever published by him, the thought of having new words from the master of science fiction was a great lift to my spirits. Now having this work in my hands, my happiness has not diminished, even though this ‘novel’ is fraught with flaws. This work is not the place to start reading Heinlein; its place in his pantheon can only really be appreciated after having read many of his other works.
In some ways, this work is something like H.G. Wells When the Sleeper Wakes, with its major plot line of Perry, a normal 1939 engineer, reviving after a car accident in the year 2086. With this as a starting point, much of the book focuses on the changes and events that have occurred during the intervening years. Presented here is a fascinating set of prognostications, from a united Europe (quite different from today’s attempt at unification), to an America that took a brief fling with a religious autocracy. Hitler’s final fate, and the duration of WWII, is eerily foretold. Some of the foreseen advances in technology are startling – advanced cooking methods, personal air-cars, rolling roads, even a primitive form of the internet – some of which have actually come to pass, others seem just as far away as when this was written. A significant (and highly atypical) failure in prediction, though, is that by 2086, man had still not traveled to the moon.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Basis of Genius 28 Dec 2007
Format:Hardcover
'For Us, The Living' is not among the best works of Robert A. Heinlein, in fact it is not a very good example of the science fiction novel as written by even the most journeyman writer.

The premise, that a man awakes in the body of another, not only one hundred and fifty years in the future but probably in a subtly different reality, offers real potential. The protagonists; a Naval Aviator from the past, a beautiful dancer from the (future) present, offer the opportunity for great plot development.

Sadly, Heinlein does very little with his raw material, in this his first, lost, and unedited novel. I would not recommend this a a light, holiday read.

However, for the serious student of science fiction, (or for any aspiring author), this is an astonishing work. Here Heinlein lays out in excruciating detail the entire basis of his future lexicon. Wanted to know where the social mores set out in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress come from? How about the whole basis of A Stranger in a Strange Land? In fact almost all of the Great Man's future worlds can be glimpsed in this one boring novel. Read this one, then go back to any other of his books, (even say Starship Troopers or Glory Road), and you will understand Heinlein's work all the better. If you are serious about science fiction this is required reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Unmissable - for a Heinlein Fan 16 Jan 2011
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
I read this book and did not stop smiling all the way through - it is an absolute pleasure to read if you've been reading Heinlein since you were 12, like me.

This is the book to read when you've read everything else by and about Heinlein that you can find. For instance: In "Grumbles From the Grave" Heinlein tells the very nicely rounded story of writing and selling his first short story and how he's (understandably) proud of having sold everything he's ever written. However... It turns out that whilst this story is composed of mostly true elements that "For Us, the Living" was actually the first thing he wrote and he wasn't able to get it published - oh and that he did his level best to make sure it never came to light, even to the extent of burning his own copy of the manuscript.

Priceless stuff basically, inept, fascinating and a bit short on actual story... Don't miss out the introduction etc. with all the bits about how the book was finally published. Most importantly though it's stuffed full of the ideas a master novelist will return to over and over throughout his writing career. As you read it you'll be simultaneously smiling at the ideas and cringing at the mistakes, rolling roads is the idea and the two page footnote telling the backstory of a major character is the mistake that springs to mind. No, you didn't misread that, a two page footnote describing a character.

In-between the smiles and winces you will catch glimpes of why we've all read this author's work for so long.

You HAVE to read this book if you love Heinlein.
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Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  89 reviews
82 of 85 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ...and the First Shall Be Last 7 Dec 2003
By Patrick Shepherd - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
When I first heard the news that this, Heinlein's first and thought to be lost novel, had been discovered and would soon be published, I was ecstatic. Having read everything ever published by him, the thought of having new words from the master of science fiction was a great lift to my spirits. Now having this work in my hands, my happiness has not diminished, even though this 'novel' is fraught with flaws. This work is not the place to start reading Heinlein; its place in his pantheon can only really be appreciated after having read many of his other works.

In some ways, this work is something like H.G. Wells When the Sleeper Wakes, with its major plot line of Perry, a normal 1939 engineer, reviving after a car accident in the year 2086. With this as a starting point, much of the book focuses on the changes and events that have occurred during the intervening years. Presented here is a fascinating set of prognostications, from a united Europe (quite different from today's attempt at unification), to an America that took a brief fling with a religious autocracy. Hitler's final fate, and the duration of WWII, is eerily foretold. Some of the foreseen advances in technology are startling: advanced cooking methods, personal air-cars, rolling roads, even a primitive form of the internet - some of which have actually come to pass, others seem just as far away as when this was written. A significant (and highly atypical) failure in prediction, though, is that by 2086, man had still not traveled to the moon.

It is very clear that this was some of Heinlein's earliest attempts at writing, as just about all the above is presented as expository blocks of dialog by one or another of those people who have undertaken the task of bringing Perry up to date, rather than being material presented as part of the story, a trick he later mastered possibly better than any other science fiction writer. For those who have read some of Heinlein's other works, though, this material, even though it interrupts the story and is presented in large, nearly indigestible blocks, is fascinating. Here we see that Heinlein, in 1938, had already laid out most of the significant events of what would become his 'Future History', and several stories he would later write were directly mined from this material, including Beyond this Horizon, "If This Goes On", "Coventry", and "The Roads Must Roll".

The story itself, which really only comprises about fifty pages of this work, deals with several items that would become the major subject material for many of his late-life works: the proper role of government versus private actions, economics, religion, what is love and jealousy, and alternative marriage forms. Perry falls in love with Diana, the person who first aided him, and runs afoul of the customs of the day when he takes a swing at one of Diane's former partners. His treatment for this infraction allows Heinlein to present many of his views on society and personal interactions. From this it can be seen that his focus on such material in books like Stranger in a Strange Land, Friday, and I Will Fear No Evil was not an aberration, but rather a continuation of thoughts and feelings he had always had, but couldn't publish during the forties and fifties due to various taboos. This was also probably at least one reason (besides its clumsy technique) why this book could not find a publisher in 1939, as its advocacy of free love and casual nudity would have certainly raised some hackles.

As would always be typical of Heinlein's work, he presents some ideas that will challenge your own assumptions of how things should and do work, most especially in this work with his presentation on economics, banking, and taxation. Some additional reading from other sources about these economic ideas is recommended, as I think such reading in conjunction with what is presented here will provide a clearer picture of just how the world works today and how things might be modified for the better.

As a novel, this book doesn't work very well, as it is essentially a short story bulked up with all of Heinlein's ideas about the future world. But those ideas scintillate and provide a great perspective from which to view all of his other work. Perhaps it is an irony that his first book should end up being his last published, but I for one am glad that I have had this opportunity to read this and see the genesis of so much that I greatly enjoyed.

--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
80 of 89 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For Heinlein's Children 21 Mar 2004
By John S. Ryan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
That's what the book's dedication says, and it's accurate. You won't agree with my five-star rating unless you're in the publisher's target audience, so be warned: my rating is _not_ based on 'literary quality' and your mileage will _definitely_ vary.

Strictly, I have to count myself one of those 'Children'. I was born in 1963, learned to read very young, and cut my literary-intellectual teeth on _Stranger_ and _Mistress_; moreover, this fact is so significant in my personal development that it's something you _must_ know if you want to grok the way my mind works even today, some forty years later. (Spider Robinson remarks somewhere that RAH was the one who took his 'literary virginity'. Same here.)

So whatever issues I may happen to have with the Old Man -- and believe me, I do have some -- I'm most definitely one of the readers at whom this book is aimed. And I highly recommend it to any of Heinlein's _other_ Children out there. To the rest of you, it will be at most of historical interest, so wait for the paperback.

If you're reading this page, you already know what the book is: it's Heinlein's first novel-length writing (though Robinson's introduction suggests that it may not be a 'novel' proper). You've probably already read the comparisons with Edward Bellamy's _Looking Backward_ and H.G. Wells's _When the Sleeper Wakes_.

Here I'll simply confirm that those comparisons are apt; Heinlein's unpublished 1939 work, a look at the 'past' from an imagined future, is essentially a sociopolitical tract wrapped up in a bit of story to make the medicine go down a little more easily. The protagonist, Perry Nelson (whose double-admiral name is presumably a two-gun salute to a couple of Heinlein's naval forebears, though neither the MS nor the commentary explicitly makes this connection), is basically a cardboard figure, and so is his companion-of-the-future Diana.

_As_ a tract, it's pretty interesting. As a story, it's not very, and although there are occasional hints of the writer Heinlein was to become, you wouldn't notice them if you weren't familiar with his later work. What's _really_ interesting is something that will appeal only to those 'Children' of his. I've thought through my entire shelf of Heinlein novels and I can't think of a _single one_ that doesn't have _some_ roots in the ideas set forth in this manuscript. Why, there are a few elements here that don't resurface until _Stranger_.

Most of us have long suspected (hell, known) that the Old Man was deliberately lecturing us in those books of his, no matter how many times he swore up and down that his sole purpose was to entertain. (And no matter how many times his most zealous defenders insisted we couldn't infer anything about Heinlein's own opinions from those of his characters.) But until this MS was published, we didn't have much direct evidence that Heinlein himself accepted and wanted to propagate the ideas set forth by, say, Col. Baslim, Col. DuBois, Jubal Harshaw, Professor de la Paz, and Lazarus Long.

You may not buy all of those ideas yourself; I don't either. But anybody who grew up reading Heinlein's stuff has to credit him for stretching our minds so far out of shape that we will never, as long as we live, lapse into simple-minded moralistic conventionality. About anything.

(The 1960s owe much of their experimentation with convention to a handful of famous and not-so-famous minds from the previous generation or two; Lord Bertrand Russell was one of the famous ones and Paul Blanshard -- twin brother of philosopher Brand Blanshard -- was one of the not-so-famous. Heinlein is on that shortlist; without _Stranger_, much of the ensuing decade wouldn't have unfolded quite as it did.)

I also don't mean to suggest that Heinlein's ideas didn't change _at all_ over the next fifty years. Certainly they did; at the very least, as he himself remarked in the late 1950s (and as Robert James reminds us in his afterword), he turned from a 'soft-headed radical' into a 'hard-headed radical, a pragmatic libertarian'. But those radical (and libertarian) themes had been present in Heinlein's writing from the very beginning; in Spider's apt analogy, this MS contains their DNA. In his life as a fiction writer, Heinlein had to wait another twenty years before his ideas even became publishable -- and even then it was largely because he had personally laid the groundwork for them.

His predictions herein are in some cases uncannily accurate, but he flops in one surprising and deeply ironic respect: as of 2086 there _hasn't yet been a moon landing_. Hee hee. (But in 1939 Heinlein successfully predicted both Hitler's suicide and the development of a united Europe with its own currency. The details are wrong, but still . . .)

Don't skip the 'Social Credit' economic arguments either. If you disagree with them, see if you can spot where they go wrong (if they do).

I'm generally not a huge fan of Heinlein's nonfiction writings and I'm very, very glad he turned to fiction. (Even on strictly scientific matters, Asimov's reputation as the Great Explainer was never in much danger from RAH.) Nevertheless I think that in its treatiselike aspects, this 'novel' is one of his best _nonfiction_ works. At the least, the underlying theories are better thought out than in any of his later nonfiction.

But overall, what will be of interest to the 'Children' is that in this MS, we can see Heinlein (in the language that Robinson borrows from Zelazny's _Lord of Light_, as he does whenever he wants to talk about something like this) put on his Aspect and raise up his Attribute. This MS dates from the time that Heinlein _became_ the writer of speculative fiction that drove us to the Moon. Reading it is like stepping into a time machine and going back to meet a young John Lennon picking up his first guitar.

If you're one of Heinlein's Children, don't miss this MS. Everybody else can afford to wait a while. But don't wait _too_ long -- or you'll be left behind when the rest of us escape to the stars.
37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good book, if not a conventional novel 6 Dec 2003
By Peter Glaskowsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As Spider Robinson says in his introduction, this book is basically a collection of lectures about utopian political and economic theories, joined in a narrative framework. Heinlein's utopia is not merely libertarian, it's specifically Libertarian. (He wasn't referring to the political party, which is 40 years younger than this book, but he might as well have been.)
It's a good book. I wouldn't say it's a good novel, in the normal sense, but I've certainly read many worse examples of this type of story. Where the typical first libertarian novel is based on an unsophisticated understanding of political theory and even weaker writing skills, _For Us, The Living_ presents mature and well-considered theory and top-notch writing.
What it lacks is a compelling story-- another point made well by Robinson. The book is 283 pages, of which 235 are the novel. About 41 pages of this comprise a single expository scene, a conversation among three characters in which Heinlein gives a history of the US from 1939 to 2085. Most of this history is only weakly relevant to the themes of the novel, though it's interesting in itself. There are numerous other lectures that also do little to advance the plot.
Now, Atlas Shrugged has far longer expository scenes, but then, my hardcover edition has 1,168 pages, each of which has about 2.25 times as many words on average as the pages of _For Us, The Living_. Rand's exposition is not out of place in its context, but Heinlein's is.
Of the actual story itself-- well, there isn't much. I count about 100 pages of text that directly or indirectly support the plot, but if the indirect support was boiled down, all of this would add up to only maybe 30 pages out of 235. Like I said, it isn't much.
Though there isn't a lot of plot, there's a good deal of specific political and economic advice in this book. Heinlein trots out an authority figure to speak approvingly of a law that requires a public referendum on declarations of war in the absence of foreign aggression, for example. Voting would be open only to those eligible for military service, and those who vote for war would be immediately inducted. An interesting idea, anyway. :-)
Heinlein even refers to a whole new Constitution for the United States of 2085, summarized by this passage:
"Every citizen is free to perform any act which does not hamper the equal freedom of another. No law shall forbid the performance of any act, which does not damage the physical or economic welfare of any other person. No act shall constitute a violation of a law valid under this provision unless there is such damage, or immediate present danger of such damage resulting from that act."
Though I think this proposal is not particularly well expressed, the notion behind it is good orthodox Libertarianism. There are some economic prescriptions that are neither Libertarian nor practical, but Heinlein obviously believed them necessary. Heinlein never did figure out the missing element of political theory needed to make Libertarianism practical, but then, the Libertarians never did either. (I have, but this is not that essay. :-)
It doesn't bother me that the economic conclusions in this book are wrong. Heinlein's economic theory appears to be based on an honest study of the conditions of 1939, it was intelligently and independently developed, and it is well presented here. It contains many elements of truth that are not typically presented even in economics classes. They probably shouldn't be presented in a novel, either, but we've already established that this isn't your usual novel. It stimulates thought, which is a good enough reason for me to enjoy it.
I doubt _For Us, The Living_ would have had a favorable effect on 1939 society if it had been published then. For one thing, society would have reacted badly to Heinlein's description of it:
"But most of all he came to despise the almost universal deceit, half lies and downright falsehood that had vitiated the life of 1939. He realized that it had been a land of hokum and cheat. The political speeches, the advertising slogans, the spitlicking, prostituted preachers, the billboards, the ballyhoo, the kept press, the pussy-footing professors, the incredible papier-mache idol of 'society', the yawping Neanderthal 100% Americanism, paving contracts, special concessions and other grafts, the purchased Senators and hired attorneys, the corrupt judges and cynical politicians, and over and through it all the poor desiccated spirit of the American peasant, the 'wise guy' whose motto was 'Cheat first, lest ye be cheated' and 'Never give a sucker a break.' ...The whole tribe, lying, lied to and lied about, who had been taught to admire success, even in a scoundrel, and despite failure, even in a hero."
I suppose Heinlein learned the Swiftian lesson one book too late-- it's much better to be critical of an obviously fictional population, far separated in time and space from his audience. On the other hand, I found it interesting to see Heinlein writing about his own people and not the Brobdingnagians; there was no need to try to figure out how much of the message was aimed specifically at the reader. (Of course, I don't face the worry that Heinlein might be talking about ME. :-)
Overall, I like this book. It may not have the usual virtues of a novel, but if you like Heinlein, future histories, or theories of politics, economics, or semantics, you might like it too. I'm happy it was found and published.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Only for rabid fans -- but instructive for writers/artists 29 Dec 2003
By Esther Schindler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If you're so much of a Heinlein fan that you've read every word he wrote, then skip this review; you're going to read the book anyway, simply because you want to see the well of backstory that Heinlein had developed even in 1939.
If you're a general fan of Heinlein, I gently submit that you should probably read everything else he wrote first. By any standard of fiction, this is not a great novel, and it may sour you on Heinlein's later work. Reading _For Us, The Living_ will be like looking at your favorite beautiful actress before she's put on makeup, possibly after a very bad night of drinking. (Yours *or* hers.)
However, for one group of people this book is a no-brainer: anyone who's a budding author. Or creative artist of any nature, I suspect. The lack of "makeup" is itself instructive, because you see how he put it on; the book shows the artist's work before he honed and finished it.
This was the novel Heinlein wrote before he submitted "Lifeline" (his first short story), two years later; two years after that (according to Spider Robinson's introduction), Heinlein was guest of honor at the Denver SF WorldCon. FUTL demonstrates how much even a master has to learn -- and what's really astonishing is how fast Heinlein learned it. (Four years from this to the WorldCon?!)
If you're a writer, FUTL will reassure you that it's possible for a bad writer to get better. You'll also cheer at the points where the "real" Heinlein comes through (amusingly enough, the brightest moments of his voice show up in describing what a cat does - go figure). Think of this book as the "before" in a before-and-after exercise, and you'll enjoy it immensely.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Heinlein Outline 17 Sep 2006
By Lonnie E. Holder - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I miss Robert Anson Heinlein. The first science fiction book I ever read was "Time for the Stars." From that point forward I was hooked on science fiction and my favorite author became and remains Robert A. Heinlein. I purchased this book shortly after it came out, with more than a little trepidation. For better or worse, I agree with the majority of the reviews.

This book is not a book as such. It is more an outline of grander stories that required much more development. In this book you can see many of the seminal ideas that Heinlein used in his later books. In a few cases this story could easily have served as an introduction or part of a collection of Heinlein's works, especially for his future history series. Thus, for Heinlein fans, and perhaps, more appropriately, to use the original source of the term "fan," Heinlein fanatics, this book is a treasure of thoughts and concepts.

From a writing viewpoint the book is quite dated, and well away from the polish that Heinlein would apply to his later books. The lead character, Perry Nelson, is gawky and uncomfortable, and it is difficult for us to relate to him. Perry lived too far in our past, and even too far in Heinlein's past. Technology has provided us with a perspective that makes this book a story of another era. And yet, it has charm for those of us who grew up with Heinlein and bought every new book as it was published.

Heinlein was always an interesting writer, even if you disagreed with his philosophy or with his predictions. Heinlein has said himself that the views of his characters are not always his views, which leads me to believe that often his lead characters were philosophical foils, promulgating an idea just to see how it would play out. Though the results were sometimes uneven, and many stories come across as preachy, once upon a time many of the stories he told could only be told and sold as a science fiction story.

Heinlein was a great fan of the future. He believed in traveling to the moon and beyond. He believed that ultimately mankind will raise itself out of the muck to create something greater and grander. He frequently pointed out and predicted that we have and would stumble along the way, but he was perpetually optimistic that we have a great and glorious future, if we will only reach out and touch it. This book is the fuse that started it all; a beginning, and it contains no ends. For the ends you have to read the rest of his books.

For those of you who do not know Heinlein, I beg you not to buy this book. You will not understand it, you will not like it. You will wonder why you didn't spend your money on something more valuable, like mulch for your garden. If you loved Heinlein's books, and you have read all or most of those 40+ books, then I recommend this book to you. You will grok it in fullness. I miss Robert Anson Heinlein.
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