Another retro review, this one from December 15, 2000.
Review: The Man Who Sold the Moon, Robert A. Heinlein, 1950.
Robert A. Heinlein was in his thirties when he first took up writing. That relatively advanced age for a beginning science fiction writer may account for the power of his work, its feeling of authenticity. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Heinlein wasn’t just interested in science and technology. He also had a knowledge and appreciation of how the worlds of business, law, and politics worked and how they intersected with the world of the lab.
The stories in this collection represent the beginnings of Heinlein’s Future History series. Events since their publication in the 30s and 40s have dated them, but most still entertain.
“Life-Line” and ‘”Let There Be Light”‘ have dated the least, and both concern supression of new technologies. The former concerns a scientist who earns the murderous ire of insurance companies because he can predict the date of a person’s death. The latter concerns development of a very efficient capture method for solar energy.
The extrapolation around the dated, but still enjoyable, “The Roads Must Roll” probably seemed quite reasonable at the time of its writing. America’s increasing use of cars, resultant urban sprawl and expense, coupled with increased fuel cost and “super-highways”, would lead to giant, high-speed conveyor belts carrying people and products between cities. Some of the engineers who tend the road decide to bring it to a stop unless their demands are met. Their political philosophy of “functionalism” sounds modern and plausible though it’s really an old idea found in the Bible and Roman history.
“Blowups Happen” is one of those atomic power stories from the forties. Like “The Roads Must Roll”, Heinlein is as interested in the men maintaining the machines as the machines themselves. Here the technicians who tend a giant nuclear pile in Arizona frequently crack under the stress of knowing what disaster a mistake could bring.
Heinlein the social animal is on full display in “The Man Who Sold the Moon”. Less concerned with scientific and technical details than with political, legal, and business intrigues, it tells the story of how one Delos Harriman gets man to the moon. He’s the first in a new line of robber barons and, perhaps, the founder of a new imperialism that will show up later in the Future History series. Harriman’s real goal, though, is denied him. He isn’t interested in putting just anyone on the moon. He wants to go there.
Heinlein’s famous “Requiem” is both prequel and sequel to “The Man Who Sold the Moon”. In it, we get the details of Harriman’s lunar obsession and the realization of his dream. Unusual for Heinlein, it’s a very emotional story full of poignancy. Anyone interested in classic science fiction, the beginnings of Heinlein’s influential career, or just how the future looked in the forties should enjoy this collection.