My reading has again outpaced my reviewing, so you get another retro review while I work on new stuff.
This retro review is from Dec. 18, 2000.
Review: The Menace From Earth, Robert A. Heinlein, 1959.
There are no truly bad stories in this collection though the title story features annoying teenagers in an annoying romantic plot. The teenagers annoy with their brilliance, and the plot annoys with its story of the girl narrator discovering, after the introduction of a beautiful Earth woman, that her boy friend is really her boyfriend. Still, you get a travelogue of Luna City, possibly the first example in science fiction of the sport of human-powered flight in low gravity, and another of Heinlein’s Future History tales.
Not at all annoying, in fact a downright classic, “By His Bootstraps” is the grandfather of all those time travel stories where the protagonist crosses his own lifepath at different points to make a plot so confusing you need a diagram to sum it up. This one also features alien ruins and a changed humanity 30,000 years in the future.
“The Year of the Jackpot” is a tale about the cyclical nature of all sorts of natural and social phenomena from earthquakes to public nudity to ufo sightings to religious fervor and a whole lot more. Its mathematician hero notes that all the cycles will bottom out at the same time, and he decides to take his girlfriend and head for the hills to await the collapse of civilization. It’s a fun story and distinguished by a shortage of the can-do spirit of much of Heinlein’s work.
On the minor side are three stories. “Columbus Was a Dope” is a short, ironic tale about the sorts who are driven to explore and those that mock that drive. “Sky Lift” is about a space mission at very high gs to take emergency vaccine to an outpost on Pluto. “Project Nightmare” follows the efforts of a team of American psychics to stop a Soviet blackmail attempt that has concealed nukes in US cities.
The Gulf of California flooding the Imperial Valley after an earthquake is the engaging premise of “Water Is for Washing”.
Stylistically, “Goldfish Bowl”, one of the strongest and oddest stories in the collection, is typical Heinlein, but the plot and ideas reminded me of H.P. Lovecraft. Investigating the appearance of two permanent waterspouts, two scientists are captured by mysterious entities whose relation to us is not at all comforting.