The Past Through Tomorrow:
"Future History" Stories

by Robert A. Heinlein

introduction by Damon Knight

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Putnam: New York, 1967
667 pages

January 2004

The future begins here

Robert A. Heinlein's big collection The Past Through Tomorrow: "Future History" Stories is a good book for a reader to begin appreciating the sweep of Heinlein's vision.

The Past Through Tomorrow holds the heart of the Future History series, but is not a definitive compilation: see my review of the series for an annotated list of stories including those not included here. There are twenty-one stories which previously appeared from 1939 through 1958, ranging from quite short up through the novel Methuselah's Children.

If you have the three earlier collections:The Man Who Sold the Moon, The Green Hills of Earth, and Revolt in 2100, plus the novel Methuselah's Children, you have almost everything in the omnibus compilation The Past Through Tomorrow. (Unfortunately omitted are "Let There Be Light" plus various introductions to the earlier books.) Damon Knight, whose In Search of Wonder is a landmark of science-fiction criticism, contributes an excellent Introduction. The final printed version of the Future History chart is here, although not listed among the Contents and for some reason hidden on pages 530-531 near the beginning of Methuselah's Children.

The stories are in chronological order as listed in the Future History. They sketch slice-of-life adventures on Earth, or in the nearer Solar System: near-Earth orbit, on the Moon, or on Venus, with some glimpses beyond our stellar neighborhood.

Stories in The Past Through Tomorrow:

  • "Life-Line"
  • "The Roads Must Roll"
  • "Blowups Happen"
  • "The Man Who Sold the Moon"
  • "Delilah and the Space-Rigger"
  • "Space Jockey"
  • "Requiem"
  • "The Long Watch"
  • "Gentlemen, Be Seated"
  • "The Black Pits of Luna"
  • "It's Great to be Back"
  • "We Also Walk Dogs"
  • "Searchlight"
  • "Ordeal in Space"
  • "The Green Hills of Earth"
  • "Logic of Empire"
  • "The Menace from Earth"
  • "If This Goes On —"
  • "Coventry"
  • "Misfit"
  •  Methuselah's Children
Who writes for the future?

The diversity in the Future History is as impressive as the sweep, for any livable future will be complex and subtle. Damon Knight in his Introduction says:

It is easy to say what the ideal science fiction writer would be like. He would be a talented and imaginative writer, trained in the physical and social sciences and in engineering, with a broad and varied experience of people — not only scientists and engineers, but secretaries, lawyers, labor leaders, admen, newspapermen, politicians, businessmen. The trouble is that no one in his right mind would spend the time to acquire all this training and background merely in order to write science fiction. But Heinlein had it all.

John W. Campbell printed Heinlein's suggestive Future History chart of events and technologies and stories in Astounding Science Fiction in May 1941. Of course the Future History series does not really describe "the history of the future", and Heinlein never pretends that it does. Even fictionally, it's the future starting at that time. There have been omissions and divergences as the years developed, but Heinlein has proved a more useful prophet than almost anyone who's ever claimed that role.

In the here-and-now and forward-looking?

Is it possible to be grounded in the here-and-now and be forward-looking? Is it important? Rather we should say that a realistic and imaginative futurism is essential to our future humanity.

... the strangeness of this opinion will detract much from its credit, but yet we should know that nothing is in itself strange ....

... many more evident truths seem incredible to such who know not the causes of things: you may as soon persuade some Country peasants that the Moone is made of greene Cheese (as we say) as that 'tis bigger than his Cart-wheele, since both seem equally to contradict his sight, and he has not reason enough to lead him farther than his senses.

John Wilkins
The Discovery of a World in the Moone
or, A Discourse Tending to Prove
that 'tis probable there may be another habitable World in that Planet  (1638)

To a significant degree, that we have been prepared for the happy surprises and dreadful pitfalls in our future, starting from then and starting from now, we can thank Robert A. Heinlein.


© 2004 Robert Wilfred Franson

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