Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Man Who Sold the Moon by Robert A. Heinlein

The Man who Sold the Moon (Complete - all 6 Stories)Wow, I'd forgotten just how many of the books I have by Heinlein are actually collections of his short stories. He had a prolific career in the pulps long before he settled down to writing novels, and this is a heck of a lot easier than trying to locate all his old stories in the magazines. These stories all fit within Heinlein's Future History chart, which is printed right after the introduction - some were written as early as 1939.

In Let There Be Light, a pair of entrepeneurial scientists come up with an idea for a light panel which will light up households for a fraction of the energy costs of an incandescent bulb. Then, they reverse-engineer the light panels and come up with the equivalent of solar energy generators, which they want to market, giving the world cheap power. I'm wondering when the first commercially available solar panels were on the market, as it seems RAH was way ahead of the curve on this idea. Maybe in the late 60s, with the Apollo program in full swing.

Anyway, they run into opposition from the owners of the power companies. The conspiracy theory concept of big corporations stifling any development that could ruin their monopoly has been in vogue for quite some time, hasn't it? In this story, Heinlein writes, "...Industry welcomes invention. Why all the big corporations have their research departments with some of the best minds in the country working in them...and any bright young inventor can get a job with them. And then he's a kept man - the inventions belong to the corporation, and only those that fit into the pattern of the powers-that-be ever see light. The rest are shelved."

In the end, however, they come up with a novel solution to their problems, and the evil businessmen are thwarted.

The Roads Must Roll is a story of the vast rolling roads and the road cities. Heinlein predicted a time when the carbon-based fuels became so scarce (peak oil?) that they could only be used by the military in the U.S., and so private automobiles become useless. Goods still need to move around the country, though, so the massive infrastructure of the rolling roads was built - powered by atomic energy. Heinlein explores the consequences of having fallible human beings in charge of the lifeblood of a country. Makes me think of the air traffic controller strike of the eighties.

The Man Who Sold the Moon is the tale of Delos D. Harriman's quest to get mankind to leave planet Earth. Harriman has wanted to travel to the Moon since he was a boy, and when he couldn't go to college, he ended up in sales for a living, eventually becoming a very successful multimillionaire, owning numerous businesses. When he decides to pledge all of his wealth in a new venture, building a rocket that will make the trip to the lunar surface and back, most of his friends and associates think he's crazy, but some play along with him, just to see what will happen - he's never let them down with his crazy ideas before.

What ensues is a huge convoluted political and social game and fundraising effort, plus a crash engineering program. Heinlein tosses out lots of creative scams in this one, like getting the diamond brokers in Amsterdam to buy the rights to mine diamonds on the moon, and getting stamp collectors to pay for first day covers cancelled at a lunar post office, conning the U.N. into giving Harriman and his dummy corporations control over the Moon after they get there. A fun read of an alternate moon shot - didn't work out that way at all. Government, not private business, made the first flights.

In Requiem, we finally get to know, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story...of Harriman - The Man Who Sold the Moon.

This one is worth your time, just for the last two stories alone.

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