This book exists because of me

The cover of Robert A. Heinlein's first, book 'For Us, The Living'Illinois Institute of Technology (which made the mistake of giving me an architorture degree I've been abusing and ignoring ever since) is a Technology School. It has some liberal arts classes, but nowhere near the range a state university or more-normal college would have. Being a Technology School, of course, IIT is chock-a-block full of Geeks. And whaddayaknow, two of those non-technology classes while I studied there were about Science Fiction.

Dr. Leon Stover, who taught both classes, is of some renown in the science fiction academic community. One of the classes was about H. G. Wells and involved reading Wells's works and Stover's analyses of those works. The other class was essentially Science Fiction Authors Stover Likes, and included a lot of Harry Harrison. Naturally, what with IIT being stocked with Geeks, Stover's classes were very popular. (I'm sure that popularity was completely out of Pure Love For Science Fiction and not at all because a class about science fiction would "clearly" be an easy grade. <g/>) And of course, being a Geek myself, I took both classes, wherein I reinforced my belief that Wells is just tedious and I discovered that I don't find Harry Harrison funny at all.

My fifth year (no, I didn't flunk; architorture at IIT is a five year program) I had three more "read allegedly good writing and write theoretically profound papers about them" credits to take, but none of the available courses sounded remotely interesting. Dr. Stover suggested I take independent study with him. Convincing the department head that you really would learn something isn't so hard when you advanced placed out of first year courses and aced all of the other literature-type classes, but now I had to decide what to study. I had a notion to Do A Scholarly Analysis of some series, but Dr. Stover had a different idea.

Dr. Stover and Robert Heinlein had been friends for many years -- so good, in fact, that Heinlein made Stover his official biographer. Because of this deep friendship, Dr. Stover got his hands on a copy of Heinlein's first novel, which manuscript had never been published. Dr. Stover wanted to include an analysis of this novel in his biography of Heinlein (which would actually be his second Heinlein biography), and he wanted me to write it.

Hmmm...a Heinlein-Loving Science Fiction Geek Who Likes To Write given the opportunity to read the heretofore unknown first novel by the aforesaid Heinlein and then to Write A Scholarly Analysis of said novel that would be included in Heinlein's official biography. Not a hard choice, what?

So I spent the semester (or was it a whole year? I don't recall) reading just about anything Heinlein ever wrote -- which body of work now included this first novel. Part One of my assignment was to summarize the novel into a shorter form suitable for inclusion in Stover's biography of Heinlein. Part Two was to compare, contrast, draw parallels to, dig out nuggets of origins, and otherwise fold, spindle, and mutilate the novel in relation to Heinlein's other novels. Having recently taken Stover's class on Wells, and spurred on by Dr. Stover's statements that Wells was Heinlein's greatest influence, I compared, contrasted, etc., etc., Heinlein's novel to Wells's writings as well.

This research of course required intimate study of that first novel, so Dr. Stover entrusted me with his copy after being sure I understood it was very likely the last copy in existence. Being a Heinlein-Loving Science Fiction Geek Who Knows A Good Thing When It Smacks Him In The Face, of course the first thing I did was make my own copy of the manuscript.

And so I wrote and summarized and edited and finished and turned everything in to Dr. Stover. He loved my summary, thought my analysis was spot on, and promised me a signed copy of the biography when it was published. And then I graduated, never talked to Dr. Stover again, and my copy of the novel languished in a back corner of my bookshelf.

Timewarp to nine-plus years later. Out of the blue I get an email from the IIT alumni office with the news that a Dr. Robert James, who was doing research into Heinlein's life, would like to contact me about my analysis of Heinlein's first novel. Dr. James had acquired a copy of Dr. Stover's unfinished manuscript, which talked about the novel and referred to an appendix containing my synopsis and analysis of that novel. Dr. James was hoping that I would be able to put him in touch with Dr. Stover -- and of course if I had a copy of my synopsis or even the novel he wouldn't turn it away!

I had just moved and didn't know which box the novel was in.  (The last one to be unpacked, as it turned out.)  Even after I found the novel, I couldn't find my copy of the synopsis or analysis. My wife found both in a stack of her papers while she was unpacking her art studio. I was very happy.  Dr. James, needless to say, was ecstatic.

One thing led to another, and now Scribner has published the novel. It includes a copy of the copy I sent to Dr. James of the copy I made from Dr. Stover's copy of (possibly a copy) of the original. So a note I handwrote on the title page is now immortalized in bookstores everywhere.

Anyone want their copy autographed? <g/>


*** Comments, questions, feedback?   Or just want a job on a team with cool people like me? </g>  Send two coding samples and an explanation of why you chose them, and of course your resume, to me at michhu at microsoft dot com. I need a tester, and my team needs a data binding developer, program managers, and a product manager. Great coding skills required for all positions.

Comments (3)

  1. Karl says:

    That’s a pretty cool story…I’m sure you must feel pretty good about that! The only Heinlein book I ever read was Stranger in a Strage land (oh ya, and I saw starship trooper 🙂 ). It wasn’t my cup of tea…actually, it started off great and finished off quite weird. Is there another book of his you’d reommend? Its been a while, but my problem was it seemed to turn from a legit piece of sci fi, to some orgy driven socialist-cult and kept on going like that for a while…

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  3. I was attending the GDDC conference at MS and picked up this book at the Border’s bookstore in Redmond, to have something to read in the plane back to NY. If I had known, yes, having it autographed would have been very cool…

    Being a Heinlein fan I found it quite interesting, in particular, trying to imagine how the situation really was when RAH wrote it after the great depression and the "new deal". It was different from what I expected (because of the reviews that I had read that tried to relate it to "We, the living", RAH’s and Ayn Rand’s ideas are VERY different). By the time I arrived at home I had already finished reading it.

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