Amazing Heinlein discussion on Electrolite

Respected science fiction critic John Clute reviewed Heinlein's long-lost, unpublished novel, For Us, The Living, for, giving it a rave — saying that this was the kind of science fiction that, if it had been published in its day, might have actually yeilded a generation of futurists who more-or-less accurately described the present-day-future.

The 140-comments-and-still-going discussion of this on Electrolite is just about the most fascinating literary/political/historical discussion I've ever read. You've got heavy-duty writers, ex-space-program people, major editors, Heinlein trufans and assorted others really digging into this idea: how much did Heinlein get right, what did he get wrong, since when are sf writers supposed to predict the future anyway, how did his politics change and how did he change politics? Meaty stuff.

As I said in another thread on another Nielsen Hayden's blog, I recently re-read "Friday," and then immediately picked up "For Us, the Living" and read that next. "Friday" was published in 1982, and FUTL was written in 1937-38. In both novels, Heinlein writes about a world-spanning information network. The 1982 "Friday" version looks a lot like the Internet of today; Heinlein's characters sit at "terminals" and "punch" requests for information — they can get everything from the history of the city of Memphis, Tenn., to musical recordings, to astronomical data. One character removes a "portable terminal" from her purse and punches for her family financial records, which she can examine in depth while sitting out in the garden.

Change some of the buzzwords there and you have an accurate portrayal of the Internet in 2004.

Heinlein's Internet ca. 1938 AD was way cool for fans of retro futures: users called operators on videophones (I forgot what Heinlein called the videophones) and the operators sent documents on their way via pneumatic tube; the tubes could reach from one coast to another. Whoosh! (Why doesn't the world have long-distance pneumatic tubes, dammit?!) At one point, a character in the 2085 wants to look up a newspaper article from 1938; she calls the operator and has a photostat in her hands within a few minutes.