Robert A. Heinlein, |
The Man Who Sold the Moon
(Shasta, 1950; Baen, 2000)
The Man Who Sold the Moon, the first entry in Heinlein's Future History, assembles six of Heinlein's earliest short stories from the late 1930s and '40s. All but one of these stories deal either directly or indirectly with the moon and the means of getting there.
Certainly, most of the scientific ideas Heinlein espouses here are obviously dated and untenable, but that really doesn't matter to me. The excitement over the idea of leaving the confines of Earth and traveling to the moon and planets is downright infectious and stimulating. Mankind set foot on the moon a year before I was born, but Heinlein's stories really convey the passion and desire that yesterday's dreamers must have felt about an idea that was patently absurd to many people in 1950.
This amazing spirit, willful determination and lifelong obsession to reach the moon are revealed most powerfully in the person of D.D. Harriman. Harriman is the proverbial man who sold the moon, a man whose presence and influence is felt throughout the entire book. The title story, almost the size of a novella, is an account of Harriman's bold plans and even bolder strategies for getting to the moon. His wheelings and dealings for funds make for an enjoyable read; he has endless ideas for promoting the project and securing funds from any number of sources. Here he is the embodiment of commercialism and steadfastness, but then, in "Requiem," we see the human side of his character. This story is a touching tribute of sorts to Harriman -- stripped of all business guises, we see Harriman the dreamer, the little boy who looked up at the moon at night and swore that some day he would set foot on its surface. "Requiem" is a more than appropriate title for this tribute to Harriman and his vision.
One thing you are going to need in order to reach the moon is fuel. "Let There Be Light" describes the development of an unlimited power source. "The Roads Must Roll" warns of the new kinds of dangers to be expected in a world of rapidly advancing technology; abundant energy does not eliminate the sometimes negative effects of human nature. "Blowups Happen" is centered around the preeminent nuclear power plant in the world. Any slip-up here would lead to incomprehensible disaster, and workers there, especially the engineers who single-handedly keep the atomic reaction red-hot yet under control, are subject to total breakdowns caused by stress. Each worker is supervised by a psychiatrist who has the authority to yank the guy from the job at the slightest hint of a mental hiccough. It is here, though, that the rocket fuel needed for space travel is discovered, tying the story in nicely with the rest of those assembled here.
"Life-Line" is notable for being Heinlein's first published story; published in Astounding in 1939, the author received the rather impressive figure of $70 for it. Its protagonist claims that he can scientifically foretell the time of any person's death, an idea that does not go over well with either academics or insurance agents. The contempt expressed toward professional sciences is rather curious here.
With the exception of "Life-Line," these stories are all interrelated. Harriman is one of Heinlein's most memorable characters; I believe there is a lot of Heinlein in Harriman, and that is one reason these stories are as enjoyable now as they must have been upon publication. As I said, the fact that man has already reached the moon by different means than Heinlein suggested here takes nothing away from the joy, wonder and hopeful optimism that pervade all of these pages. In fact, Heinlein rekindles the love of learning and dreaming that led to the types of scientific advancements we take for granted today and will lead to the astounding advances of tomorrow.