The Green Hills of Earth

A retro review from December 16, 2000 …

Review: The Green Hills of Earth, Robert A. Heinlein, 1951

This collection is fifty years old and, yes, the tales, with their atomic rockets and homegrown aliens in our own solar system, have dated. But most of the stories are still worth reading with one genuine classic and a couple of near-classics.

Green Hills of EarthThe stories are built around two general themes: workaday life in a future where space travel is common and genuine heroism.

On the workaday side is “Delilah and the Space Rigger”, a tale about how the only woman on a space construction project affects her hundreds of male co-workers. “Space Jockey” moves a common situation, the strains work can place on a marriage, into the future when a rocket pilot must decide whether to quit his job or possibly leave his wife. In “Gentlemen, Be Seated”, a moonquake puts some lives at risks in the tunnels under Luna City. It’s work of an unusual sort in “‘-We Also Walk Dogs'”. It shows the inner workings of General Services, a company whose boast, that no job is too large or too small, is put to the test when the laws of physics have to be modified for an alien trade conference.

A couple of other stories are not built around work per se but still feature domestic matters. “The Black Pits of Luna” concerns a tourist from Earth, a small boy, getting lost on the moon’s surface. Its juvenile narrator foreshadows the young adult science fiction novels Heinlein later wrote. The ironically titled “It’s Great to Be Back” features a family returning to Earth after three years stay on the moon. The old planet doesn’t live up to their cherished memories.

It’s work of a grim sort in the near-classic “Logic of Empire” about slavery and colonial exploitation on Venus. It doesn’t end happily and, by this point in Heinlein’s Future History, Prophet Nehemiah Scudder looms on the horizon.

Tales of heroism figure in the rest of the collection’s stories. The hero of “Ordeal in Space” has to retire after picking up a debilitating case of acrophobia when he saves a luxury space liner from destruction. He finds a cure in an unlikely place. “The Long Watch” is another almost classic. In it, one man foils a military coup that threatens Earth.

The undisputed classic here is “The Green Hills of Earth”, a biography of the blind poet Rhysling. Part Homer, part Robert Burns, and part Rudyard Kipling, he travels through space and to Venus and Mars and recites some pretty good poetry before meeting a tragic end.

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