Robert A. Heinlein's late wife, Virginia, used to tell people that before the science fiction legend died in 1988, the couple decided to burn all the remaining copies of his unpublished first novel, For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs. The book, written during Franklin Roosevelt's second term, had been "deemed unpublishable, mainly for the racy content," according to an article by the Heinlein Society's Deb Houdek Rule. "So racy is/was the content that in the 1930s the book could not even have been legally shipped through the US mail!"
This November, For Us, the Living is being brought back from the dead, thanks to some nifty detective work by Heinlein Society researcher Robert James, who stumbled across a reference to the novel a year ago in the unpublished notes of biographer Leon Stover. Stover's former research assistant had a rare copy of the manuscript, which he sent to James within days of Virginia Heinlein's death in January 2003.
"I really didn't want to be disappointed, but I was terrified that I would be," says Heinlein Society President David Silver, one of just a handful of people to read the book before it was sold at auction by the author's estate to Scribner's and Pocket Books this summer. "I read the first few chapters of it, and I said 'Yep, this is going to have to be published.'"
The story concerns a young naval pilot who dies but then wakes up in a new body in a future where society has changed drastically. "The story is basically a lecture on two ideas," Silver says. "One is the social credit theory of economics, and the other thing—the thing that libertarians are going to love—is that government has no business in any part of the private life of its citizens, so long as they're not harming someone."
Fans of the author's individualistic later work may be surprised to learn that their hero was an enthusiastic supporter of Upton Sinclair and left-wing economic ideas back in the day. "Heinlein was a kind of socialist, no ifs, ands, or buts about it, during the period that he wrote For Us, the Living," Silver says.
He was also recognizably the same man who would later write the free love odysseys Stranger in a Strange Land and Time Enough for Love. "The book reads like late Heinlein in many ways—one of which is his advocacy of sexual openness and freedom, in the context of love," James wrote on the alt.fan.heinlein newsgroup this summer. "There's a scene in the novel that would not have been publishable until a good 20 years later."