36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on 7 December 2003
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)
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 28 December 2007
'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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 January 2011
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.