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For Us, the Living
Robert A. Heinlein
Scribner, 263 pages

For Us, the Living
Robert A. Heinlein
Robert Anson Heinlein was born in 1907 in Butler, Missouri, moving shortly thereafter to Kansas City, Missouri. He grew up there and spent summers in Butler. He graduated from Central High School in Kansas City in 1924 and attended a year of college at Kansas City Community College. Heinlein entered the Naval Academy in 1925 and was commissioned in 1929, serving on a variety of ships. He studied advanced engineering and mathematics at UCLA as well as architecture. In April 1939, he wrote "Life-Line" in 4 days and sent it to John W. Campbell at Astounding Science Fiction. In late 1948, he married Virginia Doris Gerstenfeld, who remained his assistant and close companion until his death in 1988 due to a combination of emphysema and related health problems that had plagued him during the last years of his life.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Door Into Summer
SF Site Review: Orphans of the Sky

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

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For Us, the Living has a pretty simple plot. Naval Airman Perry Nelson, trying to avoid an oncoming car, crashes through a guardrail. He hits his head, and when he really wakes up he's no longer laying on the beach, but naked in a soft bed. The young woman who helped him takes off her parka and she is naked, as well. This would probably not be much of a big deal to us -- mostly -- but to Perry, who is used to the morals of 1939, it's a bit disjointing, which is why he doesn't seem too shocked when the closet door opens as she approaches, or when he sees the other minor technological devices. It's only when he explains to her what happened, and her confusion over the idea of a tire blowing out that the two realize the truth. Somehow Perry's be transported to the year 2086. Once they've accepted that, there's some heavy book learning to be done to catch him up. Perhaps there's something the people of this far away time can learn from him, in return.

I'll go with Spider Robinson on this: he says that this book isn't Robert A. Heinlein's first novel, but rather, essays on his theories of Utopia disguised as a novel. He's right. The story of Perry and his relationships with Diana, Catchcart, Olga and others are mostly a framing tale. Something to give us context, something to connect all these essays into a whole. I admit, he has some interesting ideas. Heinlein is striving for utopia. He has some solid ideas about everything from religion, social customs, sexuality and marriage, child raising. Every aspect of life is discussed in these essays, fed to us by recorders as Perry sits down to learn, or via conversation.

Sometimes these essays brim on the prophetic. He mentions helicopters attaching Manhattan in a way that, while not exactly 9-11, evokes it. He also mentions the internet-like Televue. Though I'm thrilled that he wasn't completely accurate in his predictions about that, I'd hate to be using Morse code rather than a keyboard. One alternative I rather liked was that instead of King Edward stepping down from the throne of England so that he could marry Wallace, he's voted the King of a united Europe.

Interesting too is the realization that, when you read contemporary alternate history books, they're written by people who were born later than Heinlein. These alternates often feature things such as Kennedy never getting killed, or even in one, Nixon becoming a hero. This writing came before all that, even before the United States actually joined World War II, and so his perception of the history we've all lived is so different because all the things that would usually be included (in general) are not even things that existed. In his book the United States never joined the war, probably because we hadn't yet.

Many of these ideas show up in Heinlein's later work, but they're not quite so noticeable. The books don't read as engines strictly created to spread these ideas. For Us, the Living is a good book for Heinlein fans because it provides the roots of what is later to come, it gives a context that might increase the reader's understanding of what he's trying to say. It doesn't come across as dated, really, because the technology isn't the point. The point is making a better world socially. Whether you believe in the possibilities of Utopia or not, he leaves you thinking.

Copyright © 2004 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at www.apenandfire.com.


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