Bewildering Stories

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Robert A Heinlein's For Us The Living

Jerry Oltion's The Getaway Special

reviewed by Jerry Wright

Title: "For Us The Living"
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Hard Back 288 pages
ISBN: 074325998X
Price: $25.00

Well, last week we talked about "the Children of Heinlein". This week we talk about Heinlein. How curious. Robert Anson Heinlein's first-to-be-written, last-to-be-published book is now out. Even though it has a 2004 copyright, it was rushed to the stores, probably to be available before Christmas?

If this book hadn't been by Heinlein, would it have ever seen the light of day? Very doubtful, and really, only completists and RAH fans will want this book. But that is a LOT of people. So... Did I enjoy it?


Let me give a qualified yes. For certain, you wouldn't want to give this book to a person unfamiliar with the body of Heinlein's work and say, "Go and enjoy!" Because they wouldn't. The book is preachy, frequently dull, and filled with lectures and even a 2 page footnote that doesn't even have the grace to be funny, ala Terry Pratchett. That having been said: This is a wonderful book for fans of Heinlein.

The book opens with a foreward by Spider Robinson, Heinlein fanboy par excellence, which serves as a warning and an appreciation. This is not a story. Nor really a novel. Spider says it ain't a novel. But what it is, is a book of ideas. Much of this book has been mined by Heinlein in other stories. Rolling Roads, life after death, Nehemiah Scudder, polygamy, polyamory, nudism, the list goes on, and it is obvious that the book was unpublishable in 1939, not only because it was mostly lectures, but because of the various "racy" passages that abound.

The main character, U.S. Navy Officer Perry Nelson, dies in a car crash in 1939, and somehow re-incarnates in the body of a "mental suicide" in 2086. He ends up in the home of a woman named Diana, a professional dancer, and by the time you are page 2, they are lounging around the living room, naked. Ah well. Lectures abound: the stupidity of jealousy, Social Credits, proper treatment of criminals, religion, etc. Heinlein on a soapbox.

Still, as the book progresses, you can see Heinlein the writer come into focus, and the last 50 pages or so become a real story. If you know Heinlein, you'll want this book.

Interesting also, aside from the foreward by Robinson and the Afterword by Robert James (both fascinating) the book also includes a photocopy of the first and last pages of the original manuscript, with handwritten emendations to the text, including a title change and the subtitling "A Comedy of Customs", showing, at least to me, a very early James Branch Cabell influence. For more information, there is an interesting review on CBC.

Title: "The Getaway Special"
Author: Jerry Oltion
Trade Paper 400 pages
ISBN: 0-312-87777-3
Price: $15.95
This book was fun to read. Jerry Oltion is getting better as a writer all the time. While I haven't been impressed with his last few outings in Analog (the Astral Astronaut series), this book, just released in Trade Paper format, is a kick in the head.

Self proclaimed Mad Scientist Allan Meisner (stolen from an earlier Oltion novel in a different universe) made enough money from his plasma batteries (which changed the face of the auto-industry) to fly a shuttle mission to do a special "done-on-the-cheap" "getaway special" experiment. Only his is different. You see, Allan has invented the hyperdrive. In a blink of the eye, the shuttle is beyond the orbit of Mars. He wants to calibrate the drive, but is forced to return to near-earth orbit, where instead of being welcomed with open arms, he is to be arrested and his drive confiscated by the military.

Only... He emailed the plans for the drive to all of his buddies in the group "INSANE", a group of scientists afraid of nuclear destruction. Of course, the government opens the floodgates of spam and virus and tries to bring the Internet to its knees. After obtaining the help of shuttle pilot Judy Gallagher, the two escape in an emergency pod. The other two members of the crew are revealed as a neo-Luddite, and a sleeper spy.

Much hugger-mugger entails, and Meisner, with the help of some good-old-boy types, build a starship out of a big plastic septic tank, and escape to the stars just ahead of the cops. Oltion did some fine research in deciding how to make this whole thing work, after the initial positing of the space-drive specs. I found the details quite believable.

The travails in space are also enjoyable, and the alien butterfly hive-mind is well done, and -- sorry -- cute.

I hope that the governments would not react in the fashion that Oltion describes, but hey, in some ways it wouldn't surprise me. Anyway, this book was, I believe, a Hugo nominee, and deservedly so. It is not deep, philosophical SF. But it moves along at a rapid pace, and at the end, there is room for more adventures of Allan and Judy.

Copyright © 2003 by Jerry Wright