For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs

For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs

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From Grandmaster Robert A. Heinlein comes a long-lost first novel, written in 1939 and never before published, introducing ideas and themes that would shape his career and define the genre that is synonymous with his name.
July 12, 1939 Perry Nelson is driving along the palisades when suddenly another vehicle swerves into his lane, a tire blows out, and his car careens off the road and over a bluff. The last thing he sees before his head connects with the boulders below is a girl in a green bathing suit, prancing along the shore....
When he wakes, the girl in green is a woman dressed in furs and the sun-drenched shore has transformed into snowcapped mountains. The woman, Diana, rescues Perry from the bitter cold and takes him inside her home to rest and recuperate.
Later they debate the cause of the accident, for Diana is unfamiliar with the concept of a tire blowout and Perry cannot comprehend snowfall in mid-July. Then Diana shares with him a vital piece of information: The date is now January 7. The year...2086.
When his shock subsides, Perry begins an exhaustive study of global evolution over the past 150 years. He learns, among other things, that a United Europe was formed and led by Edward, Duke of Windsor; former New York City mayor LaGuardia served two terms as president of the United States; the military draft was completely reconceived; banks became publicly owned and operated; and in the year 2003, two helicopters destroyed the island of Manhattan in a galvanizing act of war. This education in the ways of the modern world emboldens Perry to assimilate to life in the twenty-first century.
But education brings with it inescapable truths -- the economic and legal systems, the government, and even the dynamic between men and women remain alien to Perry, the customs of the new day continually testing his mental and emotional resolve. Yet it is precisely his knowledge of a bygone era that will serve Perry best, as the man from 1939 seems destined to lead his newfound peers even further into the future than they could have imagined.
A classic example of the future history that Robert Heinlein popularized during his career, For Us, The Living marks both the beginning and the end of an extraordinary arc of political, social, and literary crusading that comprises his legacy. Heinlein could not have known in 1939 how the world would change over the course of one and a half centuries, but we have our own true world history to compare with his brilliant imaginings, rendering For Us, The Living not merely a novel, but a time capsule view into our past, our present, and perhaps our future.
The novel is presented here with an introduction by acclaimed science fiction writer Spider Robinson and an afterword by Professor Robert James of the Heinlein Society.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743261579
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 01/06/2004
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 157,302
File size: 474 KB

About the Author

Robert A. Heinlein, four-time winner of the Hugo Award and recipient of three Retro Hugos, received the first Grand Master Nebula Award for lifetime achievement. His worldwide bestsellers have been translated into 22 languages and include Stranger in a Strange Land, Starship Troopers, Time Enough for Love, and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. His long-lost first novel, For Us, the Living, was recently published by Scribner and Pocket Books.

Date of Birth:

July 7, 1907

Date of Death:

May 8, 1988

Place of Birth:

Butler, Missouri

Place of Death:

Carmel, California


Graduate of U.S. Naval Academy, 1929; attended University of California, Los Angeles, 1934, for graduate study in physic

Read an Excerpt

Chapter I

"Look out!" The cry broke involuntarily from Perry Nelson's lips as he twisted the steering wheel. But the driver of the green sedan either did not hear him or did not act. The next few seconds of action floated through his mind like slow motion. He saw the left front wheel of the green car float past his own, then the right wheel of his car crawled over the guard rail, his car slid after it and hung poised on the edge of the palisade. He stared over the hood and saw facing him the beach a hundred and thirty feet below. A blonde girl in a green bathing suit was catching a beach ball. She had jumped in the air to do it, both arms outstretched, one leg pointed. She was very graceful. Beyond her a wave broke on the sand. The crest hung and dripped whipped cream. He glanced back at the girl. She was still catching the beach ball. As she settled back on her feet, he drifted clear of the car and turned in the air away from her. Facing him were the rocks at the foot of the bluff. They approached as he watched them, separated and became individuals. One rock selected him and came straight toward him. It was a handsome rock, flat on one side and brilliant while in the sunshine. A sharp edge faced him and grew and grew and grew until it encompassed the whole world.

Perry got up, shook his head, and blinked his eyes. Then he recalled the last few seconds with startling clarity and threw up his hands in convulsive reflex. But the rock was not in front of his face. There was nothing in front of his face but whirling snow flakes. The beach was gone and the bluff and the rest of his world. Nothing but snow and wind surrounded him — wind that cut through his light clothing. A gnawing pain in the midriff resolved into acute hunger. "Hell!" said Perry. Hell. Yes, hell it must be, cold instead of hot. He commenced to walk but his legs were weak under him and a giddiness assailed him. He staggered a few steps and fell on his face. He attempted to rise, but was too weak and decided to rest a moment. He lay still, trying not to think, but his confused brain still struggled with the problem. He was beginning to feel warmer when he found a solution. Of course! The girl in the green bathing suit caught him and threw him into the snow bank — soft snow bank — nice warm snow bank — nice — warm —

"Get up" the girl in the green bathing suit was shaking him. "Get up! Hear me? Get up!" What did she want — to hell with games — just because she wanted to play games was no reason to slap a fellow's face. He struggled to his knees, then fell heavily. The figure beside him slapped him again and nagged him until he rose to his knees, then steadied him and helped him to his feet. "Easy now. One arm over my shoulders. It's not far."

"I'm all right."

"Don't be a fool. Lean on me." He looked down at the face of his companion and tried to focus his eyes. It was the girl in the green bathing suit, but what in hell was she doing dressed up like Admiral Byrd? Complete to the parka. But his tired brain refused to worry and he focused all of his attention on putting one icy leaden foot in front of another.

"Mind the steps. Easy. Now hold still." The girl sang one clear note and a door opened in front of them. He stumbled inside and the door closed. She guided him to a couch, made him lie down, and slipped away. Presently she returned with a cup of liquid. "Here. Drink this." He reached for it, but his numbed fingers refused to grasp, and he spilled a little. She took the cup, lifted his head with her free arm, and held it to his lips. He drank slowly. It was warm and spicy. He fell asleep watching her anxious face.

He awoke slowly, becoming aware of a deep sense of comfort and well-being almost before he was aware of his own ego. He lay on his back on a cushion as soft as a feather bed. A light cover was over him and as he stretched he became aware that he was 'sleeping raw'. He opened his eyes. He was alone in a room of ample proportions possibly thirty feet long and oval in shape. Opposite him was a fireplace of quaint but pleasing pattern. It consisted of a vertical hyperboloid, like half a sugar loaf some ten feet high, which sprang out from the wall. In the base a mighty yawning mouth had been carved out, the floor of which was level and perhaps ten inches above the floor of the room. The roof of the mouth was another hyperboloid, hollow and eccentric to the first. On the floor of this gargantuan gape a coal fire crackled cheerfully and threw its reflections around the room. The room appeared almost bare of furniture except for the couch which ran two thirds of the way around the wall.

He turned his head at a slight noise and saw her coming in the door. She smiled and hurried to him. "Oh, so you are awake. How do you feel?" One hand sought his pulse.

"I feel grand."


"I could eat a horse."

She giggled. "Sorry — no horses. I'll soon have something better for you. But you mustn't eat too much at first." She straightened up. "Let me get out of these furs." She walked away while fumbling with a zipper at her throat. The furs were all one garment which slipped off her shoulders and fell to the floor. Perry felt a shock like an icy shower and then a warm tingle. The fur coverall was her only garment and she emerged as naked as a dryad. But she took no note of it, simply picked up the coverall and glided to a cupboard, which opened as she approached, and hung it up. Then she proceeded to a section of the wall covered with a mural of Demeter holding a horn of plenty. It slid up, exposing an incomprehensible aggregation of valves, doors, and shiny gadgets. She kept very busy for some ten minutes, humming as she worked. Perry watched her in fascination. His amazement gave way to hearty appreciation for she was young, nubile, and in every way desirable. Her quick movements were graceful and in some way very cheerful and reassuring. Her humming stopped. "There!" she exclaimed, "All ready, if the invalid is ready to eat." She picked up a laden tray and walked toward the far end of the room. The mural slid back into place and the shiny gadgets were gone. She set the tray on the couch, then pulled a countersunk handle. The handle came out in her hand, dragging with it a shelf perhaps two feet wide and four long. She turned back towards Perry and called, "Come, eat while it's hot."

Perry started to get up, then stopped. She noticed his hesitation and a troubled look clouded her face. "What is the matter? Are you still too weak?"


"Sprain anything?"


"Then come, please. Whatever is the matter?"

"Well, I — uh — you — see I — " How the hell do you tell a pretty girl who is naked as a jaybird that you can't eat with her because you are naked too? Especially when she doesn't seem to know what modesty is?

She bent over him with obvious concern. Oh, the hell with it, said Perry to himself, and climbed out of bed. He swayed a little.

"Shall I help you?"

"No, thanks. I'm OK."

They sat down on opposite sides of the shelf table. She touched a button and a large section of the wall beside them slid up, exposing through glass a magnificent view. Across a canyon tall pines marched up a rugged mountainside. Up the canyon to the right some seven or eight hundred yards a waterfall hung a curtain of gauze in the breeze. Then Perry looked down — down a direct drop from the window. Vertigo shook him and again he hung poised on the palisade and stared over the hood of his car at the beach. He heard himself cry out. In an instant her arms were about him, consoling him. He steadied himself. "I'm all right," he muttered, "But please close the shutters."

She neither argued nor answered, but closed them at once. "Now can you eat?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Then do so and we will talk later."

They ate in silence. He examined his food with interest. A clear soup; some jelly with a meaty flavor; a glass of milk; light rolls spread with sweet butter; and several kinds of fruit, oranges, sugar-sweet and large as grapefruit, with a skin that peeled easily like a tangerine, some yellow fruit that he did not recognize, and black-flecked bananas. The dishes were light as paper but covered with a hard shiny lacquer. The fork and spoon were of the same material. Finally he dropped the last piece of rind and ate the last crumb of roll. She had finished first and had been leaning on her elbows, watching him.

"Feel better?"


She transferred the dishes to the tray, walked over to the fireplace, dumped the load on the fire, and returned the tray to its rack among the shiny gadgets. (Demeter swung obligingly out of the way.)

When she returned, she shoved the shelf-table back in its slot and extended a slender white tube.


"Thanks." It was about four inches long and looked like some Russian atrocity. Probably scented, he thought. He inhaled gingerly, then drew one to the bottom of his lungs. Honest Virginia tobacco. The only thing in the house that seemed absolutely homey and normal. She inhaled deeply and then spoke.

"Now then, who are you and how did you get onto this mountainside? And first, your name?"

"Perry. What's yours?"

"Perry? A nice name. Mine's Diana."

"Diana? I should think so. Perfect."

"I'm a little too cursive for Diana," — she patted her thigh — "but I'm glad you like it. Now how did you get lost out in that storm yesterday without proper clothes and no food?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know?"

"No. You see, it was this way. I was driving down the palisade when a car tried to pass a truck on a hill coming towards me. I swung out to miss it and my right front wheel jumped the curb and over I went, car and all — the last I remember was staring down at the beach as I fell — until I woke up in the snow storm."

"That's all you remember?"

"Yes, and then you helping me, of course. Only I thought it was a girl in a green bathing suit."

"In a what?"

"In a green bathing suit."

"Oh." She thought for a moment. "What did you say made you go over the palisade?"

"I had a blowout, I guess, when my wheel hit the curb."

"What's a blowout?"

He stared at her. "I mean that my tire blew out — when it struck the curb."

"But why would it blow out?"

"Listen — do you drive a car?"

"Well — no."

"Well, if a pneumatic rubber tire strikes a sharp edge when you are going pretty fast, it's likely to explode — blowout. In that case anything can happen. In my case I went over the edge."

She looked frightened, and her eyes grew wide. Perry added, "Don't take it so hard. I'm not hurt."

"Perry, when did this happen?"

"Happen? Why, yester — No, maybe — "

"No, Perry, the date, the date!"

"July twelfth. That reminds me, does it often snow here — "

"What year, Perry?"

"What year? Why, this year!"

"What year, Perry — tell me the number."

"Don't you know? — Nineteen-thirty-nine."

"Nineteen-thirty-nine — " She repeated the words slowly.

"Nineteen-thirty-nine. But what the devil is wrong?"

She stood up and paced nervously back and forth, then stopped and faced him. "Perry, prepare yourself for a shock."

"OK, shoot."

"Perry, you told me that yesterday was July twelfth, nineteen-thirty-nine."


"Well, today is January seventh, twenty-eighty-six."

Copyright © 2004 by The Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Trust

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For Us, the Living 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Perry Nelson takes a trip into the year 2086 from 1939 and is forced to understand and obey social changes in the new society. The book explains the (somewhat socialist) political system and what has happened since 1939 to make the new America into a utopian reality: free of jealousy, poverty, sickness, etc. It's a very heavy book indeed, and you must pay attention and live the society they live in 2086 to fully understand the book's intentions.
Meggo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Advertised as Heinlein's first novel, circa 1939, this was a bit of a disappointment. It had some of the classic Heinlein wit and irreverence, but also a large helping of economic theory and hypothetical politics, which made parts of the book tedious to plow through.
gelee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The manuscript for this novel was apparently found in Heilein's estate. By all appearances, this was the authors first attempt at a novel, though he never seems to have tried to publish. After reading the novel, one can certainly understand why. This would have to be counted as a "concept" story. Heinlein appears to be trying to work out his personal philosophy in this book, which would later be presented much more lucidly in "Stranger in a Strange Land." In fact, "For Us, The Living" could almost be seen as a very early draft of SIASL.As a work of sociology or philosphy, the book stands up well. Heinlein squeezes in fairly comprehensive takes on such things as law, sexual morality, and even economics.
hjjugovic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Yup, the 5 stars is for the politics, not the story, so stop your whining. If you're new to Heinlein, this is not the place to start. Read everything else, then see the "DNA seeds" of it all here. I don't know any other book I've read this year that has compelled me to discuss it with everyone I know, willing or not. Outrageous, brilliant, and, yes, one long lecture. God I wish more lectures were like this one. Two words: War Amendment.
RayChilensky-Author on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was facinated by this book, and was surprised by the harsh reviews others have given it. While the time trevel premise was lame, it was also unimportant to the meaning of the story. Like all of Heileins work, it was a personal view of a normal person in a futureistic society, and that "every day man" point of view is what made all of his work interesting.Clearly, it was a kind of Heinleins political manifesto, but his view of politics, when considered in context of the time it was written in, was rather inciteful and spurd a great deal of thought.
Unreachableshelf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is Heinlein's first novel, never published while he was alive. As Spider Robinson says in the introduction, instead of calling it RAH's first novel, it might be more accurate to say "It is all of them, dormant."In 1939, Perry Nelson is in a car accident from which he awakens in 2086. He spends the rest of the book learning how the world has changed and growing accustomed to living in this new Utopia.The cover blurb which ends with "Yet it is precisely his knowledge of a bygone era that will serve Perry best, as he unexpectedly leads his peers towards a new horizon that they had never imagined..." gives the false impression that something actually happens in this book. It doesn't, really. As the introduction makes quite clear, it is more of a lecture disguised as fiction than anything else.I didn't expect to keep this book after reading it once, yet surprisingly I am. I don't normally like authors to lecture me, but I have repeatedly found Heinlein to be the exception, whether or not I think he's making sense.
boblfixit on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great as usual from "the Master" I hav a copy of everything He wrote.
Nietzschesprboy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is shoddily plotted and nothing really ever happens in it. That doesn't matterThe point of this book is to lecture the reader and it makes it wonderfully enjoyable. Five stars.
Antares1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the worst of Robert Heilein's books. The time travel premise is dismissed early on, and the rest is just boring.
szarka on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's no surprise that this, Heinlein's first novel, wasn't published until after his death. But hardcore Heinlein fans will enjoy this peek at Heinlein's major themes in embryonic form.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
If you have read Heinlein and are interested in how his thought developed over the years, read this book. It isn't great fiction, but the story is OK. Seeing what RAH was thinking about in the late 1930s is fascinating, and his discussion of economic policy has given me cause to reflect on some long held beliefs. I was put off by Spider's one jab at conservatives in the forward, but otherwise he behaved himself and I think his forward is an excellent statement of what to expect. (Don't get me wrong, I like Spider and his work, but that seemed to be a cheap shot).