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For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2005

    Seeds Of The Future

    There is a reason why this book was never published during its author's lifetime: the story is static after some initial scenes with some momentum to them, the 'story' bogs down in lengthy informational and philosophical discussions between the protagonist--who Heinlein modeled on himself--and every other character in the novel. They discuss morality, politics, economics, law enforcement, and every other subject under the sun the result gives the reader a clear picture of this (Heinlein's) version of a near-utopian future Earth. Interesting? Yes. Exciting? No way. If that description of the form of the novel sounds familiar, it's because most of what he wrote in the last twenty years of his life took on this form. He isn't telling you a story--he's preaching his ideology (very thinly disguised in the form of a story.) Heinlein isn't presenting a possible future, based on extrapolations from then-current data he's presenting his case for why this specific future is the one we should all work toward building. SF naturally attracts persons with radical political viewpoints. After all, what better forum could there be for saying: 'Look how great the future will be, if we change now and start doing things my way'? Heinlein was a staunch libertarian, and his willingness to jump on his soapbox, early in the novel, and stay there is what ultimately dooms this book to 'also-ran' status. I'm confident that this is why it was roundly rejected for publication in 1939 not the specific political view espoused (although that may have been a contributing factor), but because of the simple fact that for most of the story he is telling, not showing. Having your characters sit around and talk about why this world of the future is so great (at length, including direct intrusions by the author in the form of footnotes) is far less preferable than having your main character move through this future land, learning as he goes along. Heinlein must have sensed this, for he handcuffs the protagonist's movements: first, by having him rescued and taken to an isolated mountain chalet secondly, by having him detained by authorities and placed in a rehabilitation facility. He is a captive audience for every theory thrown his way, as are the readers who stick with this tedious exercise in speech making. Now I grew up reading Heinlein and consider myself to be a fan. I think it's important to note that for most of the 1940's and 50's he curbed his tongue, telling stories that were about the characters, set in various possible futures. Nearly everything he wrote during this period was published. When, coincidental to his star status (after twenty years of success), the censorship restrictions were lifted, in 1959, he immediately reverted to this type of didactic writing--inserting himself as the character doing most of the speechifying. At first, this was merely a distraction, as the action and character development in these books (Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, ...Mistress) would still carry you along. But, starting with I Will Fear No Evil, he locked into the 'my story is a mask for me telling you the right way to think about everything' mode. This is why some of his fiercest critics label him a 'fascist'--not because of his specific beliefs (well, maybe his belief in corporal punishment), but because his goal isn't to spark free-thinking debate it's to convince you that his view is the only correct view. The seeds of much that he later wrote (ideas, plots, characters) are here. For Heinlein fans and scholars this book is a must read but, for a fan of quality SF this book is severely lacking in action, excitement, and plot development.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2009

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