Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Green Hills of Earth by Robert A. Heinlein

The Green Hills of EarthThis book is a collection of science fiction short stories written by Heinlein in the late forties and early fifties, and is perhaps a bit dated, but still fun. It fits loosely into the framework of his Future History, and has a few references to events in some of the other FH stories. One thing that's been interesting as I've gone back through a lot of the old RAH stories is how Heinlein changes his descriptions of Martians and Venusians, as well as a few other aliens, depending on the needs of the story. Venusians might be dragon-like, or otter-like, and Martians may be tentacled, or spindly; no hobgoblins of consistency here.

One of the things that keeps Heinlein fresh, even when the science behind the stories may have grown stale, is that his stories are usually about the human beings and their relationship with the technology, or the environment, rather than just about ray guns and spaceships. In Delilah and the Space Rigger, Heinlein explores the effect of sending a female worker into the middle of an all-male space station construction project. The same situation could have arisen on the Hoover Dam project, it just would have been a little easier to send the gal home.

Space Jockey explores the old theme of how relationships are affected when the husband must be away for long periods of time from his beloved. Coulda been a long-haul trucker, a traveling salesman, or a wet navy captain. It goes to show you that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

The Long Watch explores the question of what to do, as a military man, when those who are duly constituted to give you orders issue orders that you know are morally wrong. Are you willing to pledge your life, your fortune and your sacred honor in defense of the undefended? You'll either be a hero or a villain at the end.

Gentlemen, Be Seated shows an inventive solution to a Lunar tunnel blowout. The Black Pits of Luna is about a family touring on the moon who lose their youngest in the equivalent of a national park. If you've ever been around when folks don't keep their kids harnessed properly - I remember one time when we were at the edge of a 500 foot cliff, and these people's kids were just horsing around right by the edge - you'll relate to the tour guides' reactions.

It's Great to Be Back is a story about a couple of moon dwellers who miss life back home so badly that they decide to return to Earth, only to find that you can never really go back. "_We Also Walk Dogs" anticipates the U.S. service economy and massive outsourcing that came long after Heinlein passed. In the charming Ordeal in Space, a saved kitten saves a spaceman's career.

The Green Hills of Earth, the title piece of this collection, introduces us to "Noisy" Rhysling, Blind Singer of the Spaceways. His doggerel pops up in quite a few of Heinlein's later stories. Rhysling worked in the engine rooms of space vessels until an accident took his sight, then lived a hobo's life, "riding the rails" of the Solar System and singing for his supper.

In Logic of Empire, a cocky young lawyer is shanghaied into the labor force on Venus. He is rapidly disabused of the notion that slavery has long been outgrown by humanity. A great quote, that I must have internalized long ago:

"I would say that you have fallen into the commonest fallacy of all in dealing with social and economic subjects - the 'devil theory.'"
"You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity."

Ain't it the truth? This collection is great, classic Heinlein.

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