For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
As a novel, this book is pretty weak. But as a literary oddity (Heinlein’s never-before-published first work) and as a font of ideas, it’s incredible.
First, why it’s a crummy novel: there’s not much of a story; many of the characters are sketches; there are long stretches without any action; and characters are unrealistically accepting of bizarre things. I mean surely you’d ask some questions if the man you just met claimed he was from 150 years ago?
But if characters did bother with such fundamental questions, we would miss out on Heinlein’s Tour of the Future Wonders. Which is what most of the book feels like–a showcase of an ideal future, minus robot dogs but with large doses of nudity and acceptance of casual sex.
Heinlein had some really interesting, refreshing ideas for science fiction, particularly when you remember the book was written in 1938. In many ways, he was rather clear-sighted. In others, he would be terribly disappointed in our cultural failure to progress. I for one am looking forward to having my own personal helicopter/jet.
Perhaps the funniest thing Is what Heinlein thought we wouldn’t have accomplished by 2086–landing on the moon, a feat Heinlein would see managed a mere 30 years later. (How awesome it must have been for him to watch the moon landing!)
However, if Heinlein were to pop back in, Wayne’s World-style, I think he’d be disturbed by the fetishization of the Kardashian family’s goings-on; he’d be quite disappointed with our economics; and disgruntled by the populaces’ ongoing appreciation for clothing. Ah well.
“For Us, The Living” is a lovely jaunt down what-if road, but only if you’re up for contemplation. Seek compelling storylines elsewhere.