the Little Red Reviewer

The Man Who Sold the Moon (collection) by Robert Heinlein.

Posted on: January 6, 2013

Vintage SF badgeOne of the most influential science fiction writers, Robert Heinlein (1907 – 1988) has long been one of my favorite “old time” scifi writers.  The Moon is a Harsh Mistress still brings tears to my eyes every time I finish it, and The Puppermasters has me on the edge of my seat every time, even though by now you’d think I’d know what happens at the end of both books after countless rereads.  I discovered Heinlein in my late teens, his works were a gateway into science fiction for me even though it would be years before I discovered his juvenile fiction.   Last year during Vintage Month I wrote up a little bio of every author I read, and you can read my Heinlein article from last January here. It saddens me a bit to realize it’s been since last January that I read a Heinlein!  I’ve got to make him more than just a January thing!

SAM_2421The Man Who Sold The Moon, by Robert A. Heinlein

copyright 1939, 1940, 1950

where I got it: purchased used

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Containing many of Heinlein’s earliest works,  these stories all take place in his organized future history timeline, which most of his later works took place in. The stories are presented mostly in chronological order, even though they weren’t written in that order. For once, it’s a good idea  to read them in the order presented as it’s fun to see the invented technologies show up later in the time line.   In this future, fossil fuels have nearly run out and Earth is forced to develop other energy sources such as solar and nuclear. With sudden cheap energy at our fingertips, anything and everything becomes possible.  Rockets capable of getting to the moon are researched with some success, and businessmen dream of exploring the stars.  The stories included in The Man Who Sold The Moon aren’t far future adventures or space operas, they are nice light early timeline tales on how the technologies that let us reach the stars came to be.

Let There be Light (1940) – a quick story on the research and development of the Light Panels, which can store and use solar energy in a highly efficient manner.  The story opens with scientist Archibald Douglas learning the famous scientist Dr. Martin will be visiting him to speak with him about his Cold Light technology.  The next day, the only person waiting for Dr. Douglas is a beautiful woman.  It takes a bit, but she finally does convince him that she is indeed the famed Dr. Martin. Douglas quickly comes to respect and appreciate her intelligence and wit, and they work tirelessly to improve his Cold Light technology into a highly efficient power source. Unfortunately, this frustrates the electricity based power companies to no end, and Douglas comes up with the perfect solution.

The Roads Must Roll (1940) – Massive cities and communities have developed thanks to massive moving roads (similar to moving sidewalks found in airports, but much wider and much, much faster) that allow commuters to travel a hundred miles in just over an hour.  The industry that maintains the roads is massive as well, employing thousands of engineers, technicians, and supervisors.  Should anything happen to the roads or suburbs and towns that depend upon them, the entire economy could come screeching to a halt. And that’s exactly what almost happens when the followers of a  radical socio-political movement sabotage a moving road. This is an interesting story when it comes to workers rights, and the labor movement, as employees of the roads aren’t allowed to quit, and the lower echelons believe they are treated badly by management.

The Man Who Sold the Moon (1950) – Heinlein already had 10+ years of “future history” material published when this novella was written. He already had stories that featured rocket fuels, moon landings, orbiting space stations, now it was just a matter of pulling it all together into something amazingly over the top.  Wealthy businessman  D. D. Harriman has one dream – to control the moon.  It sounds like something a James Bond villian would think up, but Harriman has logical reasons for this. Harriman knows humanity needs to get off Earth before we completely destroy the planet, and the Moon is the easiest place to start.  If the Moon was privately owned, Harriman believes, it would allow exploration and exploitation to happen faster, but if world governments controlled the satellite, their bickering would hamper the ability for anyone to get anything done there. Harriman pulls plenty of tricks to gain control of the moon, some funny, and many sneaky.  He starts rumors to pit investments groups against each other, his charm and confidence  makes people want to invest their life savings; he manipulates land rights; he offeres exclusing broadcasting from the Moon rights to a TV station; he tricks the UN into getting involved with his private company, he starts a rumor that diamonds are a dime a dozen on the Moon. Harriman will do anything, absolutely anything to see his dream happen, and at times he’s quite the single-minded sociopath about the whole thing. Harriman is so in love with the sound of his own voice that he came off as completely obnoxious.  The longest story in the volume, and unfortunately this was the weakest for me.  I didn’t find Harriman a very compelling character, and much of the story focuses around his financial activities which weren’t that interesting for me. A story worth reading because of its importance in the timeline, but I didn’t mind when it was over.

Requeim (1940) – probably my favorite story in the collection, D.D. Harriman finally sees his dream to go to the Moon realized.  Harriman is an old man at this point, and his heirs are trying to have him declared incompetent so they can gain control of his fortune. He is perfectly sane and there’s just one thing he needs to do before he dies. Even though this was written 10 years before The Man Who Sold the Moon, you should read the later story first. Most of the stories in this collection focus more on the development of technology and socio-economic changes due to the new technologies, so it was nice to have a story that had some emotion to it.

Life-Line (1939) – Another one of my favorites in the collection. Dr. Pinero has discovered a way to determine the exact moment of a person’s death.  He offers to examine anyone with his machine, and promises to share the results with only that person.  The scientific community refuses to listen to Pinero’s thesis, and laughs at him when he accuses them of closemindedness. Life insurance companies threaten Pinero with bodily harm when their profits plummet due to Pinero’s clients waiting until a week before their deaths to buy insurance. Pinero is one of those scientists interested in only the truth, and in helping his fellow man. But against the scientific community and the mafia-ish insurance companies, Pinero knows he can’t win.  In one scene, a young couple comes to Pinero’s office, and he can’t quite get the machine to work on them. He requests they return the next day after he’s had time to recalibrate the machine.  In a much later story, it’s implied that the young man is Lazarus Long. One of Heinlein’s earliest sales, to me this story doesn’t read like a Heinlein at all, which makes me wonder what kind of feedback he received on it after publication.

Blowups Happen (1940) – Using publicly available knowledge of nuclear fission, Heinlein was able to successfully show how the technology could actually work. In this story  nuclear power plants use controlled explosions to create massive quantities of power, however if anything were to happen to allow the explosions to get out of control, the world would be over before anyone knew what had happened.  The technicians who work in the plant are under massive amounts of stress, knowing one little slip up could kill everyone, thus everyone is watched by company psychiatrists, who take the techs and engineers off their watches should anyone be acting strangely.  It’s the constant watching that makes the engineers and techs so damn nervous, they can’t scratch themselves or pick a pen up off the floor without a shrink worried they are one step away from pushing the big red button next.  The country depends on the energy, so no one can afford to stop the power plants, but can we afford to keep them going like this?

I’ve enjoyed so many Heinlein novels that it’s a shame most of the stories in this volume didn’t do much for me.  Requiem and Life-Line were winners, I generally struggled with the rest, and just didn’t find them that satisfying or interesting. Except for The Man Who Sold the Moon, all of these were written at the very beginning of Heinlein’s career, before he had solidified the direction his fiction would go in.  That said, if you’re already a Heinlein fan, you should give these stories a try, as many of the characters and created technologies are mentioned in later stories and novels.  They can’t all be winners, and I’m okay with that.

 

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6 Responses to "The Man Who Sold the Moon (collection) by Robert Heinlein."

I know I’ve read The Roads Must Roll and I have this vague memory of liking it but I don’t remember it at all. The Man Who Sold the Moon also sounds like one I might have read. Still, it is apparent from reading your review that I just need to track down a copy of this at some point even though as a whole the stories didn’t do much for you. Heinlein is one that I would eventually like to have read all of his work.

Overall I like Heinlein’s Future History and I do like how characters and ideas that are introduced here are show again over there, the Lazarus Long idea you referenced being and example.

I didn’t discover Heinlein…or I should say I didn’t sample Heinlein and discover I loved his work…until I was in my late 20’s or early 30’s. But once I got that taste I was hooked. I think I’ve read at least one Heinlein every year for several years now and it is always a special treat. And thankfully I have much more remaining that I haven’t read. Given the controversy that his work stirs up I am always gratified to see readers today who also connect with him, especially female readers. There is a lot that has to be overlooked with his work, offenses that have to be laid aside or at least acknowledged and moved on from to enjoy some of his fiction. But there is so much to like there too.

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Well, this is all very well, sitting here, reading reviews!!! I have a Heinlein to finish don’t you know. Lol!!
Lynn :D

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I’ve had multiple people recommend Heinlein’s juvenile or YA works to me. I think the library has them as audiobooks, which always makes it easier for me to squeeze in yet one more author.

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his juvenile stuff is old fashioned, but wonderful fun. See if they have Red Planet or Have Spacesuit Will Travel, those two are adorable!

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Some of Heinlein’s older works are a little dated in their technology, but that doesn’t stop him from being one of my three favorite authors of all time. I’m pretty sure I have a copy of every one of his books, but they’re so dog-eared and worn-out from re-reading that they are never removed from the shelf any more–I’m afraid they’ll just simply fall apart. Fortunately, I’ve also managed to collect digital versions of everything, so any time I feel the need to indulge in a little Heinlein, I just pick up my smartphone and have at it.

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There are still some titles I’m missing, mostly the juveniles – Have Spacesuit Will Travel, Starman Jones, like those. I should really start investing in e-book versions of these, for the same reasons you mentioned. I *do* pull them down from the shelf, and some of them have fallen apart in my hands while I’m reading them. E-book would lengthen the life of the paperback a little longer!

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