Abraham's Reviews > For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs

For Us, the Living by Robert A. Heinlein
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May 05, 09

bookshelves: sci-fi
Read in May, 2008

This was Heinlein’s first novel, but it was rejected and went unpublished until 2003, many years after his death. I understand completely why the publishers rejected it. For one, it isn’t really a novel at all, but a collection of lectures jammed together and covered with a thin plot. I would explain the plot but I believe Wikipedia does a better job: “Perry Nelson, a normal 1939 engineer, is driving his automobile when he has a blowout, skids over a cliff, and wakes up after the car accident in the year 2086.” This world of 2086 is a pseudo-Utopia, far different from the world Perry knew in 1939. So he spends most of the book trying to incorporate into this new society by talking to experts in various fields. These talks can go on for dozens of pages apiece and are not exactly enjoyable reading. I was amazed at how Heinlein gave no explanation as to how and why Perry ended up in the year 2086. The characters just seem to accept it as fact, and yet they are fascinated by the finer points of economics and history.

These talks certainly made me think, although just about every prediction has been wrong thus far. It opens a window into an aging ideology that still holds much truth today, but misses the whole point of a novel: entertainment. Even though Heinlein was American, this book bares surprising similarities to my (stereotypical) concept of nineteenth and early twentieth century English literature. The characters always eat, smoke, or have a glass of wine before setting down to a nice scholarly chat. I am always surprised at how these English authors managed to make such amazing and wondrous tales so damn dry. I suppose now I should have a morbid fascination for Henlein too, as the only major differences are the sci-fi theme and a distinct lack of tea. The main selling point of “For Us, the Living” these days is its function as a key for many of Heinlein’s later books and ideas. Rabid Heinlein fans may enjoy it, but the casual reader searching for a weekend thrill should avoid this one.
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