godnix (greyfeld) wrote,

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Utopias past and future

It so happens that yesterday, the second to last in 2003, I read Robert Heinlein's first novel, one that went unpublished until just lately. Appropriate for someone whose relationship between past and future has always been a bit tenuous, the copyright notice for this 1939 work says 2004, which is not bad for a guy that's been dead the best part of fifteen years.

In his introduction, Spider Robinson suggests (but pointedly does not insist) that For Us, the Living is not necessarily a novel at all; that it is not in fact RAH's first novel, but it is all of them. It's not good as fiction, certainly not as science fiction, although the technological speculation shows some promise; what it is, is a vehicle for presentation of a number of opinions that we will find re-presented in numerous times and ways in other works. Robinson doesn't say, but I will, that it is more of a manifesto. A look a hundred and fifty years into the future, at what the world might become if we only do a few things right.

Nehemiah Scudder and the Crazy Years are already there. Same with many themes and ideas we find in other more successful works. I'm not sure that RAH's prophetic powers were all that deficient, although in the actual history Scudder is diffused into a series of like-minded demagogues; anyway the Crazy Years are, even now, methinks, upon us.

So much of Heinlein's technological advances that he foresaw in a hundred fifty years have already been surpassed, much sooner than he could have hoped; but his moral and political utopia, alas, is likely to elude us far longer. He gave us politicians who saw to the welfare of the masses, and still recognized their own limitations. How likely, I ask you, is that?

Watch this space for my own utopian musings, if I can find them. I'll be watching too.
Tags: journal

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