"You must keep it on the market until sold."
That's Heinlein's Fifth Law of commercial writing.
Robert James wrapped his afterword to Robert A Heinlein's first -- and last -- novel with it, and I cannot do any better to open my review.
I'm widely known to be a rabid fan of both the Admiral and his unofficial protege, Spider Robinson, who wrote the foreword, and even as a fan, I can understand entirely those who assert that For Us, The Living (the title taken from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address) is not by any means the Master's best work.
But you wouldn't *expect* it to be. Most writers don't come out of the gate with their best work. Even Tom Clancy's The Hunt For Red October, while an excellent novel, even these 20 years later, does not quite measure up to some of his followups (like my favorite, Without Remorse).
It's been widely reported that many of the recurring themes to be seen in later Heinleiniana will be found in their nascent form in this book, and indeed, you can see the seeds of Coventry, Revolt in 2100, "If This Goes On--", Methuselah's Children, and most of the rest of the future history in this tale of 1930's Navy pilot Perry Nelson who (though an amazingly lame deus ex machina :-) ends up in 2086, adopted by beautiful professional dancer Diana No_Last_Name_but_lots_of_numbers.
But for me, there were three aspects of this book that stood out head and shoulders and which seem not to be being mentioned by anyone else I've read on the issue.
1) It's surprising how many of the nails Spider likes to hammer on in his writing, which Robert typically did *not* explicitly mention (but more let you figure out for yourself, as Spider did), he *does* hammer on in this book, often in almost *exactly* the words that Spider later used. Spider? Are you *sure* you only got to see this book last August? :-)
2) If you ever read Coventry, and wondered what would have *happened* to David MacKinnon had he *not* chosen to be sent to Coventry, this book will tell you. In fairly great detail. It's sort of comforting, actually; it's a world I think I could live in... except that it doesn't address, as Utopian novels usually don't, that annoying thing where we don't seem to *get as much done* when we don't have an enemy. Enemies are fairly scarce in Utopia stories.
3) It's amazing how much of the 'history' of the interregnum *seems to be written about right now*. I haven't decided who's Scudder: Spider (and my boss) think it's Cheney; I'm voting for Ashcroft, myself. Frighteningly prescient. We *are* living in the crazy years. Anyone wanna float a constitutional amendment?
In any event, required reading for any "true" Heinlein fan; for everyone else, don't start here. Try The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, Friday, or The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.
Or, heck, any of the juve's; Have Space Suit, Will Travel still holds up marvellously for me, 32 years (and 8 or 10 readings) after I first picked it up.
If you do buy it, buy it now, at full hardcover price, in a small bookstore: earnings from the sale of the novel will go, through the estate, to fund The Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Prize for Accomplishments in Commercial Space Activities. See http://www.heinleinprize.com for more.
[ This was the text of my review to e-Pinions for this book. I hit "Continue" and it barfed; we'll see if it's allowed to post; if not, you heard it here first. Idiots. ]