Life-Line

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"Life-Line" is a short story by American author Robert A. Heinlein. Published in 1939, it was Heinlein's first published short story.

The protagonist, Professor Pinero, builds a machine that will predict how long a person will live. It does this by sending a signal along the world line of a person and detecting the echo from the far end. Professor Pinero's invention has a powerful impact on the life insurance industry, as well as on his own life.

Pinero is mentioned in passing in the novels Time Enough for Love and Methuselah's Children when the practically immortal Lazarus Long mentions having been examined and being sent away because the machine is "broken".

Heinlein was motivated to write the story by a contest in Thrilling Wonder Stories magazine promising $50 US to the winner, but ended up submitting it to a rival magazine, Astounding, and was paid $70 (approximately $1085 in 2008). It made a later appearance in The Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein, a collection of short stories published in 1966, in Expanded Universe in 1980, and in a Baen edition of "The Man Who Sold The Moon", ISBN 0671656236, 1987.

In Grumbles from the Grave, on receiving the check for the story Heinlein is reported to have said, "How long has this racket been going on?" The amount was the equivalent of about $500 in 1984, or approximately one month's rent on a nice apartment.

Excerpt

An often quoted passage from this story is relevant to modern discussions of intellectual monopoly, and businesses "Too big to fail" (e.g. Bush administration buy-in of General Motors, and Wall Street bail-outs):

There has grown in the minds of certain groups in this country the idea that just because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with guaranteeing such a profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is supported by neither statute or common law. Neither corporations or individuals have the right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.

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