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For Us, The Living, by Robert A. Heinlein 348

Posted by timothy
from the not-to-be-confused-with-we-the-living dept.
Sethb writes "For Us, The Living, Robert A. Heinlein's first novel, written in 1938, is not a lost masterpiece. It is, however, a fascinating piece of writing for the Heinlein fan to ingest. It's not a book you should give to a friend to introduce them to Heinlein, in fact, it works best as what it is, the last piece of Heinlein's work to be published, and it should almost certainly be one of the last pieces someone starting to read Heinlein should attempt." Read on for Sethb's review. M : CBC also has a feature about the book.
For Us, The LIving
author Robert A. Heinlein
pages 288 pages
publisher Scribner
rating 3
reviewer Seth Bokelman
ISBN 074325998X
summary Great piece for die-hard Heinlein fans, not for newbies.

The book starts with an excellent foreword from Spider Robinson, a friend of Heinlein's as well as a fan, and an excellent Sci-Fi writer in his own right. Spider lays it all out for you in the foreword: this book isn't strong on stories, it's strong on ideas. People who found Heinlein's later works too preachy should steer clear, as this book is probably his preachiest. Robinson speculates that Heinlein really wanted to convey his radical ideas, having just lost a political race, and spent too much of the book standing on the proverbial soapbox, and not enough telling a good story. He says that Heinlein learned from this, and went on to become a master storyteller, learning that people are much more likely to sit still for the lecture if it's embedded in a gripping story.

And that leads me to exactly what's wrong with For Us, The Living. There's very little story in it. There is a plot, and it goes like this. Perry, our hero, (n reality a thinly veiled version of Heinlein himself), is involved in a car accident in 1939, and wakes up in the year 2086 in the body of someone who looks very much like himself, but the original inhabitant of the body chose to end his life (shades of Stranger in a Strange Land here). Our Hero was discovered in the snowy Nevada mountains by a woman named Diana, who is a professional dancer and lives in the mountains. She takes him back to her place to recover, and they're lounging around her house naked by the second page of the book.

From then on, the rest of the book is primarily spent following our hero as he is lectured (literally at times) on the ways of the future, covering topics such as polygamy/polyamory, nudism, the stupidity of jealousy, economics, religion, and the treatment of criminals as patients who need to be cured, rather than miscreants who need to be punished. Many of the ideas that turn up later in Heinlein's books, especially his later books, appear here for the first time. The book is very much, as Spider calls it in the foreword, Heinlein's literary DNA. This is the primordial ooze from which the later books, (Time Enough For Love, Stranger in a Strange Land, Starship Troopers, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and dozens more) are formed.

I found Heinlein's predictions of the future very interesting. Since the book was written in 1938-1939, the world hadn't witnessed World War II yet, though Heinlein predicts it. In his version, the U.S. stays out of the War, and Europe eventually self-destructs. Heinlein gets quite a bit of the future right, and quite a bit of it wrong. For instance, in 2086, they still haven't landed a man on the moon, though they're working on it. And, while in the future everyone has terminals (seen in later Heinlein novels) from which they can access live video and audio, information is still printed on paper and transported physically via pneumatic (and magnetic) tubes. But, given that it was written before the atomic age, those things are forgiven, and they're part of what makes the book interesting to read.

It's very obvious why this book wasn't published in 1939 -- it's not very good. Also, much of the subject matter is so controversial and sexual to this day that no major publisher would have dared print it then. The book is a bit rough, and a bit "off" in places. For instance, Heinlein uses a two-page footnote(!) to give us Diana's life story, rather than weave it into the story or the dialogue, something he'd never do in his later work, and the story only starts to get compelling in the last 50 pages or so, once the bulk of the lectures are past us.

So do I recommend this book? Yes and no. If you're a Heinlein fan, and you've read most, if not all, of his other work, then you'll love this book, and you should get a copy right now. It's a great snapshot of Heinlein's writing while he was still struggling to define it himself. If you've never read a Heinlein book, don't start here, pick up Starship Troopers, or Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. If you've read a few Heinlein books, read a few more before you try this one, especially Time Enough For Love, and his later works. I've read everything he ever published, and was sad when I finished off The Menace From Earth, as I'd run out of Heinlein to read. This book provided me with one more thrill, and it made me appreciate how strongly Heinlein held his convictions, and how far he came as a writer, from this, his first attempt.

Now that Bob & Ginny Heinlein have passed on, however, this is almost certainly the last significant piece of Heinlein's writing left unpublished, and for us, the living, it's fun to have something new from the Grand Master to curl up with on a cold winter night.


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For Us, The Living, by Robert A. Heinlein

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  • by AltGrendel (175092) <ag-slashdot@ex[ ].us ['it0' in gap]> on Friday December 12, 2003 @01:07PM (#7702252) Homepage
    I've always liked his style. I admit that his main caracters were all essentally the same core personality, but I can truly say that I seriously enjoyed most all of his writing. This will be something I will get no matter what.
  • Ouch (Score:5, Funny)

    by gowen (141411) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Friday December 12, 2003 @01:09PM (#7702286) Homepage Journal
    Heinlein's *preachiest* book?

    Thats right there on my TODO list with:
    i) Jim Carrey's wackiest movie,
    ii) Todd Rundgren's most experimental synthesiser sounds,
    iii) Elvis Presley's most sugary ballads
    and
    iV) JRR Tolkein's most esoteric back-of-an-envelope scribbling, lovingly -- and profitably -- edited by his hack son.
    • Re:Ouch (Score:5, Funny)

      by Valdrax (32670) on Friday December 12, 2003 @01:39PM (#7702675)
      iV) JRR Tolkein's most esoteric back-of-an-envelope scribbling, lovingly -- and profitably -- edited by his hack son.

      Ooo! Ooo! How about Frank Herbert's most esoteric back-of-an-envelope scribbling, lovingly -- and profitably -- edited by his hack son? [penny-arcade.com]
    • V) Darl McBride's most meritless lawsuits
      VI) Stupidest ???->Profit! jokes
      VII) Most obnoxious slashdot sigs
  • The lesson here (Score:4, Insightful)

    by b-baggins (610215) on Friday December 12, 2003 @01:10PM (#7702299) Journal
    Is to make totally sure you've destroyed EVERY copy of a manuscript you never want to see the light of day, because after you're dead, some self-serving snot will publish it for the world to see and who cares about your wishes in the matter.
    • by Dogtanian (588974) on Friday December 12, 2003 @01:22PM (#7702459) Homepage
      Is to make totally sure you've destroyed EVERY copy of a manuscript you never want to see the light of day, because after you're dead, some self-serving snot will publish it for the world to see and who cares about your wishes in the matter.

      Hey, we're already at the stage where Douglas Adams had an unfinished book recovered from his hard drive and published.

      If you want to be safe, use a word processor on a computer that never connects to a network (could recover data on the network), restrict your copies to removable disk to those you would be happy being published or are able to destroy, and at some stage physically destroy the hard drive beyond any possible recovery.

      In fact, do the same to *any* part of the computer that might (even temporarily) have held your data, including the monitor.

      Paranoid? Well, I'm trying to second-guess information recovery in 20-30 years time, and I defy anyone to say that this will never happen.

      Of course, the radiation from your monitor probably induced microscopic interference in the TV signal your VCR is recording nearby, and with advanced signal-processing and pattern-recognition, your great lost tome is recovered from an episode of Dawson's Creek you taped back in 2003.

      Yuk.
    • Re:The lesson here (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PinkStainlessTail (469560) on Friday December 12, 2003 @01:27PM (#7702529) Homepage
      If not for one of those snots [pitt.edu] we wouldn't have much Kafka to read. Sometimes going against an author's wishes is the right thing to do. Sometimes.
    • The lesson here is, if you want your manuscript never to see the light of day, don't become a really good author.

      Tens of thousands are already using this method, with great success!
    • I believe that it is Harlan Ellison that wrote into his will that all unfinished manuscripts be destroyed upon his death.
    • Wrong lesson (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fm6 (162816) on Friday December 12, 2003 @04:27PM (#7704815) Homepage Journal
      That lesson only applies if the author is willing to admit that anything he's written doesn't deserve to be read. A lot of Heinlein's less readable work might have been salvaged with a little rewriting, but he tended to fall in love with his first version, and resisted any changes to it. In 1973, he gave a speech at the U.S. Naval Academy (his alma mater), in which he totally denounced rewriting. If I recall correctly, he asked something like, "Would you throw out a chair, just because it didn't come out perfect?" Of course, most writers would answer, "Well, yeah, if it's ugly, splintery, and tends to fall over."

      It's interesting to note how the quality of Heinlein's work declined starting in the late 60s. First his plots started to get a little disorganized, then a lot disorganized, until finally most of his books were little more than meandering rants. He was still basically a good writer, but he slipped into a lot of bad habits. I think he always basically an undisciplined writer, but when he was a struggling pulp writer, he had to accept correction from his editors. Once he became The Grand Old Man, he could escape that, and the result was often horrendous. Like early editions of Time Enough for Love, which weren't even checked for proper punctuation!

      The Annapolis speech also mentions the only class he considered to have taught him anything about writing. It wasn't an English or Lit class. It was a command in giving orders, the motto of which was "Any order that can be misunderstood, will be misunderstood." Student of the origins of Murphy's Law take note!

    • Re:The lesson here (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dvdeug (5033)
      You're dead. Furthermore, you died a great author author that someone actually published the book you had sitting in your closet half done. If you want to spin in your grave over it, that's fine, but you'll really be remembered for two or three works, and that won't be one of them.

      In any case, again, you're dead. Really, who cares about your wishes in the matter? Why should they?
  • by jIyajbe (662197) on Friday December 12, 2003 @01:10PM (#7702309)
    The first novel of Heinlein's I read was "Time Enough for Love", and it made a huge impression on the teenager I was. I loved it.

    Then I read "Stranger in A Strange Land", and I thought it was very similar in important respects, but I still liked it.

    I went on to read several more of his books and short stories, and eventually I came to feel that he simply took the same central ideas, wrapped them in a thin veneer of different characters, and re-published them as a "new" book.

    MAN, did I quickly grow tired of him!

    (It did NOT help that I think his politics suck.)

    Asimov is the Grand Master, not Heinlein. (In my opinion.)

    • I read my first Heinlein book (Red Planet) when I was 8, and I've read and re-read most if not all of his writing a LOT since then (I'm 34 now and still grab a bit of Heinlein now and then.)

      IMHO, everything he wrote before Stranger in a Strange Land is awesome science fiction... And everything there and since is pretty Frakking awful. Except Friday. And now, not only do we have the Friday exception, we have the For Us, The Living exception.

      From what I can tell from reading, For Us, The Living as a titl

    • by sTalking_Goat (670565) on Friday December 12, 2003 @02:01PM (#7702989) Homepage
      In my experience this seems to happen a lot, especially with teenage boys. My first Heinlein was Starship Troopers and I still thinks its was of the best books ever written. But the more you read of Heinlein, especially his later stuff like I will Fear no Evil the more you begin to either really hate or really love him, becuase he really does go all Ayn Rand at the end there.

      But in a way thats good I suppose. If people either love you or hate you then you must really be saying something.

      • On the rec.art.sf.written discussion group, some claimed, and was pretty univerally agreeed with (a true rarity), that every RAH novel was on some huge fan's favorite list AND on some huge fan's most-hated list. My fav - _Friday_, unless it's _Harsh Mistress_, my least favorite - _Number of the Beast_. Spung indeed.
    • Asimov is the Grand Master, not Heinlein. (In my opinion.)

      Really? I never could stand Asimov's fiction. He's just about the best *science* writer our species has ever produced, but his fiction bored me to tears. Matter of taste...

      I went on to read several more of his books and short stories, and eventually I came to feel that he simply took the same central ideas, wrapped them in a thin veneer of different characters, and re-published them as a "new" book.

      MAN, did I quickly grow tired of him!

      (It did N

      • <i>Probably the single stupidist vision of how things should work ever proposed.</i>

        It's the do-nothing vision of how things should work. No planning, not even any recognition of a problem. In other words, pretty much the perfect human solution to such a problem.

        I strongly suspect that's about how it's going to work out, too.
      • by j_w_d (114171) on Friday December 12, 2003 @09:38PM (#7707808)
        Personally, I prefer Heinlein's work. For Asimov his mystery I Robot is a great story. Personally the Foundation series bored me neyond tears. Heinlein in contrast always told craftsman like stories, though you might like or dislike his take on things. The problem of course was assuming you knew what that might be. The best test of understanding is to try and imagine the mind that could write BOTH Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers simultaneously, which HeinLein did. I have always thought his best story was The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. Job is also a pretty sharp commentary, though you may begin to think it repeats views of earlier books.

        Now, considering Starship Troopers, you really, really need a better pair of reading glasses, since you seem to have confused it with some other work. The "problem" in Starship Troopers is political. How does a society decide who is sufficiently responsible to particpate in the political process. The answer Heinlein offered was not one he necessarily advocated. Heinlein appears to say that only those willing to serve society in some capacity, e.g. soldier, mailman, government scientist, experiment-test subject should be allowed to vote. Corporate big-wigs like Rico's father sneer at wasting time in politics and prefer to ignore the process until the bombs start falling.

        When I say "appears" that is precisely the slight of hand Heinlein uses. He is not exposing you to his own opinion. During one of the courses Rico has to take, the question is raised as to how the characters in the story know this "present" state is politically right. The answer Heinlein's instructor advances is that they don't know it's right, just that it works well enough for society to function. The implication is that societies work as long as a majority of its citizens are satisfied with the status quo, and if the individual members find it intolerable then they need to work change it. It is actually a fair insight into how any society works and why it's members are often reluctant to change. About the only unequivocal assertion Heinlein makes in the book is that war is always founded in economics, even putative religious wars. Job or Stranger may have been closer to Heinlein's ideals than Starship Troopers was.

        The sciences that Heinlein really tackles in his fiction are anthropology and sociology and [grimace] political "science." A good and explicit example of this is his novel "Citizen of the Galaxy," which has been trivialized by critics fairly often. Heinlein uses technological fiction as a backbone to expose the central character to different societies and values. Among other things one of the central character's discoveries is that you shouldn't mistake the fact that any society can contain worthwhile people with the idea that the society itself is worthwhile. This is both implicit and explicitly dealt with in the book through the experience and characters the central character is exposed to.

        Probably one of his most chilling and creepily accurate predictions is in the novel Between Planets. If you doubt that he predicted someting like this, reread it and then consider the course the present administration is taking regarding Homeland "Security" and particularly the so-called Patriot Act. The weakening of civil and individual rights is there. The excuse of security is there. The implication that the "need" for stronger security may be due to the arrogance and intolerance of the "Federal" government is lurking there as well. Even the suggestion that far from learning from our own history, we are engaged in repeating it is there. These ideas also lurk in Stranger in a Strange Land as well.

        Heinlein is writer on a par with Kipling. Both have been accused of an enormous amount of political incorrectness. Yet their work contradicts every attempt at some simple minded generalization about them, and even contains examples where they examine issues and even show clear sympathy for views and ideas their critics accuse t
    • I got familiar with Asimov first, and I still love to read his robot stories. I read all of the foundation series, but didn't enjoy them as much until many years later (guess age makes a difference).

      Heinlein wasn't introduced to me until I was in my mid-20's, and I think the first book of his that I read was Stranger in a Strange Land...after which, I read every one of his books I could lay my hands on.

      Harry Harrison, Piers Anthony (Bio of a Space Tyrant was a pretty decent sci-fi series), and others gav

  • Realism (Score:5, Funny)

    by sssmashy (612587) on Friday December 12, 2003 @01:11PM (#7702311)

    Perry, our hero, (in reality a thinly veiled version of Heinlein himself), is involved in a car accident in 1939, and wakes up in the year 2086 in the body of someone who looks very much like himself, but the original inhabitant of the body chose to end his life (shades of Stranger in a Strange Land here). Our Hero was discovered in the snowy Nevada mountains by a woman named Diana, who is a professional dancer and lives in the mountains. She takes him back to her place to recover, and they're lounging around her house naked by the second page of the book.

    Well, come on. The poor guy hasn't had an erection in 147 years. I'm surprised he waited until the second page to start getting it on.

  • Thanks, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by meta-monkey (321000) * on Friday December 12, 2003 @01:13PM (#7702344) Journal
    Thanks for the review...I'll probably check it out, as I've read about 85% of Heinlein's work. However, you recommend people start with "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel?" I'm sorry, that was not one of his better works. It was actually rather...lame. The characters were weak, the story was extremely thin. Invaders from space? You don't say. Try "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress." That was far and away one of the finest books I have ever read.
    • Re:Thanks, but... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by RealProgrammer (723725) on Friday December 12, 2003 @03:07PM (#7703814) Homepage Journal
      First book for new Heinlein reader? I read most, or all, of Heinlein's books and short stories by my early twenties. Yeah, I read other stuff, too. Here's my list of Heinlein's novels to read:
      1. Methuselah's Children

        I think this is the prototypical Heinlein book. It starts with a basic premise about something that's different from reality, and explores the consequences of it.

      2. Starship Troopers

        Not as juvenile as the movie, this book will challenge a young adult and their beliefs about citizenship, the military, and life. I think it had a profound influence on my decision to join the Marine Corps and to stick it out.

      3. Stranger in s Strange Land

        The word "grok". 'Nuff said. (This was my first Heinlein book)

      4. The Door Into Summmer

        This book is premised on an inventor who creates the first domestic robot, something like a Roomba but a little smarter. The times we're living in now remind me of this book.

      5. Any other Heinlein book

      6. The Number of the Beast

        It was the work in progress when he died, and it's not what his other work was. It did give me the line, "Did the universe just shift again?"

      • Re:Thanks, but... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DaveAtFraud (460127)

        6. The Number of the Beast

        It was the work in progress when he died, and it's not what his other work was. It did give me the line, "Did the universe just shift again?"

        Err, ummm, no. The Number of the Beast was published quite a few years before RAH died. I read it in the mid-80s and it wasn't new then. The last two books by Heinlein were Job: A Comedy of Justice and The Cat Who walked Through Walls (in that order IIRC). You're probably thinking of "Job" since it involved the universe shifting with

  • by Unknown Kadath (685094) on Friday December 12, 2003 @01:22PM (#7702465)
    I was thinking this would either be a cruder version of his earlier work, or a polemic. The fact that he hung on to it suggests it was important to him, so I'd suspected it involved his prevailing themes (sexual freedom, personal responsibility, etc.)

    Heinlein hated the direction he foresaw the world taking, and it came out more and more in his later works, when he could write pretty much anything and his publisher would print it. I confess to liking Number of the Beast, but lord Bob almighty, it certainly can't compare to Stranger or The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I'm glad Heinlein took the time to refine his craft.

    That said, I'm kinda looking forward to reading what sounds like a Mary Sue story that neither he nor Ginny would ever have let see the light of day during their lives.

    -Carolyn
  • by IWantMoreSpamPlease (571972) on Friday December 12, 2003 @01:36PM (#7702643) Homepage Journal
    Goddamn Heinlein,

    Give it up! Yer supposed to be dead for chrissakes! STOP WRITING!!!

    Give us unknown nobodies a chance huh?

    Thanks.
  • by CommieLib (468883) on Friday December 12, 2003 @01:38PM (#7702672) Homepage
    The second, following We, the Living [amazon.com]. It will be followed by Stephen King's We, the Dead. Then the series continues with Jerry Garcia's unpublished autobiography, For Us, the Dead. Finally it will be concluded with a Michael Crichton book, We, the terminally ill, but feeling better today. Perhaps there's still hope for a transplant.
    • "The second, following We, the Living. It will be followed by Stephen King's We, the Dead. Then the series continues with Jerry Garcia's unpublished autobiography, For Us, the Dead. Finally it will be concluded with a Michael Crichton book, We, the terminally ill, but feeling better today. Perhaps there's still hope for a transplant."

      You forgot to conclude it with the Monty Python book, We, the Not Quite Dead Yet.

  • Belay that (Score:3, Informative)

    by pvera (250260) <pedro.vera@gmail.com> on Friday December 12, 2003 @01:49PM (#7702789) Homepage Journal
    I believe the last Heinlein you should read is "I will fear no evil." I almost did not read "Stranger in a Strange Land" because I had the misfortune to read "I will fear no evil" first.
    • I love Heinlein, but when I picked up "I will fear no evil" last year.

      I'd rather read the Number of the Beast 6 times back-to-back! Or maybe 6x6x6 times ;) At least Beast one has the root of some of the ideas in Time Enough For Love and Friday in it.
    • Personally, I'm of the opinion that you shouldn't subject yourself to that book at all.
    • I think you should start with Heinlein's best works, and if you keep reading, finish with his worst ones. So the last ones you read, in order, are I Will Fear No Evil, then To Sail Beyond the Sunset, then "The Number of the Beast". No doubt For Us, the Living goes in there somewhere.

      I would recommend starting with Citizen of the Galaxy, Double Star, or The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I loved all those.

      steveha
  • Remember those L. Ron Hubbard billboards? "Ten Bestsellers - and More to Come!" that appeared after he was dead? Scientology put those up during that weird period when it wasn't clear whether Hubbard was dead or not.
  • Decent Review (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jack9 (11421)
    This sounds exactly like the kind of book I would like to buy.
  • Short stories, too! (Score:3, Informative)

    by vcohen (588583) <[val] [at] [valcohen.com]> on Friday December 12, 2003 @01:55PM (#7702878)
    In addition to the geat novels others have mentioned here, be sure to check out All You Zombies, a (short!) short story that's one of the tightest time-travel tales you'll ever read. Originally published in 1959, you can find it in The Fantasies of Robert A Heinlein, a short-story collection. There's also a full copy online somewhere, posted by an English prof. for his class but accessible to anyone.
    • It's also in the same collection as "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag", and "And He Built a Crooked House". I believe the collection shares a title with the Hoag story.
      • by Gryftir (161058)
        The book, The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag has "They" which is probably my favorite Heinlein short. It's incredibly tight, almost Lovecraftian, work that seems to be based around the idea that you are not really paranoid if they really are coming to get you. Probably the best exploration of paranoia in Sci Fi ever. Gryftir "Slashdot? is that some sort of internet thing?"
  • i don't see it (Score:4, Informative)

    by mboedick (543717) on Friday December 12, 2003 @02:06PM (#7703054)

    I really don't understand why so many people are crazy about Heinlein.

    I have read Heinlein and found his work embarrassingly corny and dated. Contrast with Philip K. Dick, whose ideas seem uncannily (and frighteningly) relevant to our own time.

    • Dude, if Philip K. Dick is relevant to your own time you need to stop dropping Acid. I love his work, but there is more to life than Paranoia.

      And yes, I have read his stuff. I love his stuff. But I don't sit up at night wondering if I'm real or the world around me is.

      I know that I'm a process running in a giant multiuser system with multiple layers of virtualization. Where I draw the line is in believing that knowing this somehow causes $#%@#$^@!%!#$%!@^H%BV No Carrier

    • They're all corny and dated. Arguably Asimov or Bradbury kindof stand the test of time without become quite as dated.

      Gibson seems to understand that about his own work. Each book is a time capsule not from the future, but for the future. If you want to remember what our collective unconscious was like in 1988, read Mona Lisa Overdrive.

      Pattern Recognition is very dated - it is set around the first half of 2002, and reflects a sentiment that is gone from our world already.

      I think Heinlein's stuff should ha
  • His widow published the original SISL manuscript which was about 30% longer than the 1960s version. There is a section at the beginning about MArtian society which is interesting. Unfortantely the blowhard character Jubal has longer speeches too.
  • This is my favorite Heinlein book... and talk about imitated!

    How many times did Star Trek have an episode about a culture who forgot its ancestors, or its raison d'etre? This is one of the most common story lines today in SF.

    • The Most Common Story Lines in Science Fiction:
      1. Boy meets girl, boy looses girl, boy makes new girl.
      2. Man builds artificial creature, creature wants man's job.
      3. Man discovers kink in reality, Godhood ensues.
      4. Culture becomes so advanced it forgets how to move forward.
      5. Man creates life form, life form does all the work. Bored man wants job back.
      6. Detective has strange case that is solved when by uncovering a new technology.
      7. Some guy on SlashDot blurts out the meaning of life the Universe and Everything. Is mod
  • I just finished For Us, The Living last night, and I agreed with most of what this reviewer said.

    He did miss one glaringly obvious fact about this book, though, to anyone familiar with Utopian literature -- it's essentially a retelling of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward [gutenberg.net] . Bellamy was looking backward from 2000 to 1887, and Heinlein from 2086 to 1939, of course. In addition, Heinlein's idea of how a perfect world would look differs considerably from Bellamy's. But the similarities between the two are

  • Perry, our hero, (n reality a thinly veiled version of Heinlein himself)

    I'm wondering why book reviewers feel confident in statements like this. How can you be so sure that Perry is a "thinly veiled version of Heinlein himself"? And even if it's true, what makes it such a crime? Are you implying that Heinlein was being lazy or something?

    steveha
  • by doom (14564) <doom@kzsu.stanford.edu> on Friday December 12, 2003 @06:44PM (#7706498) Homepage Journal
    If you haven't read any Heinlein, try reading the quote juevnilles unquote that he wrote for Scribners. Red Planet, The Rolling Stones (no relation), Space Cadet, and so on are all great books. Most of the excesses (political and stylistic) that Heinlein-haters like to complain about are soft-peddled on these.

    A personal favorite of mine is Have Spacesuit Will Travel, which is a mix of some gritty hard SF (e.g. survival situation on the moon involving solving problems with incompatible valve fittings) and crazed space opera (an amorphous alien blob named "The Mother Thing", representing the authority of the unified Three Galaxes).

    The three books by Heinlein that may ultimately be the most interesting (and also the most controversial) are:

    • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - Lunar colonists rebel against an oppressive earth government, in alliance with an accidentally developed AI.
    • Stranger in a Strange Land - A boy raised by Martians is brought back to earth, where he displays some tremendous parapsychological powers, and more importantly an odd philosphical outlook.
    • Starship Troopers - Space wars of the future (some interesting speculative hardware is featured) fought by an earth government ruled by a strange form of democracy where only military veterans [1] are allowed to vote. Some grim philosphy is presented about the inevitability of war.
    Note: Mistress is beloved by libertarians; Stranger was worshipped by sixties hippies (it's literally a cult novel) and Troopers is beloved by conservatives. Be careful about making rash generalizations about what Heinlien was "really" about.

    [1] Yes, I said "*military* veterans". Yes, I know what Heinlein said in "Expanded Universe". Try reading this (warning PDF): The Nature of "Federal Service" in Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers [nitrosyncretic.com]

2.4 statute miles of surgical tubing at Yale U. = 1 I.V.League

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