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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Entry Point to the Heinlein Corpus, 8 Mar. 2004
This review is from: The Man Who Sold The Moon (Mass Market Paperback)
The stories in this book belong to Heinlein's Future History series, and most editions of this book reproduce the two page chart of that future, detailing the social, scientific, and political changes that would happen in the next seven hundred years or so.

"Life Line" was Heinlein's first published story, and it was immediately evident that he brought a new focus to field of science fiction, for although this story has a neat gadget, a machine that can predict the exact day and hour of a person's death, all the emphasis of the story is on how such a device will impact individuals and society as a whole, rather than on the `golly gee whiz' of the device itself. Certainly not his best story, as it is too short and the characters are not fully fleshed out, but it started a revolution.

"Let There be Light" deals with two scientists who figure out a way to transform sunlight into electricity at near 100% efficiency and extremely cheaply, but who find they can't sell it due to pressure from the existing power generation companies. The two main characters are near stereotypes, and the attitude of the male towards his female counterpart may strike many as extremely chauvinistic, an attitude that was quite prevalent in Heinlein's writing from this period. But it should be kept in mind that this was the general American attitude towards women at this point in our history. Of more interest is the apparent `conspiracy' of the power companies to bury this invention. Heinlein's explanation for their actions brings this into focus as a natural reaction of companies attempting to protect their source of income - and in doing so exposes one of the real problems with unfettered capitalism.

"The Roads Must Roll" gives you get a good sense of just why Heinlein came to dominate the science fiction field so rapidly, as the story rings with real world ambience, even though the envisioned technology is one case where Heinlein got it seriously wrong, seeing giant conveyor belts, or rolling roads, as replacing the car and railroads, thus leading to a strong dependence of the economy on them. Those who keep those roads rolling are in an obvious position of power and the story is all about one such case of the `little guy' attempting to force things to go his way. The story is well told, the characters on both sides of this battle are quite believable, the social organization makes sense. Thematically, the story addresses the sense that many who work in essential industries have that THEY should be the ones who make all the decisions, who cannot see that our civilization is made of many specialties, all of whom are necessary to the continued functioning of the society as a whole. Within the confines of this story there is an encapsulation of many of the larger battles caused by this attitude, from the great owner/union fights of the early portion of twentieth century, to the more generalized battle between the ideas of socialism and capitalism.

"Blowups Happen" deals with the stresses that men come under when trying to monitor and control an atomic power plant, with the knowledge that one small error could make the whole thing blow up and wipe out at least three states, if not the whole planet. Written in 1940, before the exact details of controlled nuclear fission were known, it may seem a little dated today. But as the story is truly about how people react under this kind of extreme pressure, and what, if anything, can be done to help people cope with it, it is still a very relevant story.

"The Man Who Sold the Moon" is the longest piece here. D. D. Harriman is a man who not only has a dream of traveling to the moon, he has (almost) the financial means to do it. Harriman's schemes to not only raise the necessary money but to ensure that he will retain control of the moon once he gets there are convoluted, devious, devastatingly logical - and almost the complete antithesis of the way NASA has actually gone about it. You might think that this story is hopelessly outdated - after all, we've actually been to the moon! But the story has much to say about the world of today. Government financing of space travel will only go so far. Private financing and people figuring out how to make a profit out of this frontier will be the ultimate driver - and a very large amount of the points this story makes are very applicable to such an approach. But perhaps more important than the actual method Harriman uses to achieve his dream is the very fact that he has such a dream. Heinlein invariably presented the point that without dreamers there would be no progress, no hope for an eventual better world. Perhaps this is flaw in his writing, but I, for one, would much rather read about heroes, the dreamers, those who are attempting to change things for the better, than yet another story detailing the tribulations of a semi-neurotic Joe everyman.

"Requiem" continues the story of D. D. Harriman, now very old and in frail health, still trying to get to moon, having been prevented by his financial partners from going as too valuable to risk. This story pulls out all the emotional stops, though it is quite understated in terms of direct exposition. I have read it multiple times, and it still causes me to choke up a bit when I reach the end. It's the best story here.

There are places where the age of these stories is all too evident, a congenital hazard to writing science fiction, and in places Heinlein's writing technique is not as polished as it could have been, being written very early in his career. But these stories still have power, are still engrossing, still have much to say about people and the world of today.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 6 Aug 2014 19:43:59 BDT
Paul Marks says:
The idea that the fettering of capitalism means more competition and innovation than "unfettered capitalism" is the exact reverse of the truth. In reality government regulations (including so called "anti trust" regulations) are used to ATTACK innovators. People who see government as a solution to the difficulties of getting new products on the market (in defiance of existing guilds and so on) ignore both sound economics and the lessons of history (both theory and experience). I doubt the mature Robert Heinlein would make such an error.

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Aug 2014 14:06:40 BDT
I can't quite totally agree with you. Although it's certainly true that most of the restrictions placed by government on business are a) not good for the business and b) Do nothing to promote innovation and competition, the winner in many cases is the consumer, who gets the benefit of outside inspection/oversight of products, a little more protection (it's never complete) from monopolistic practices (which are damned hard on the consumer's wallet), an occasional requirement the business act like a good citizen by keeping the entire welfare of the community in mind. While I agree that government is rarely the solution to the problems of commerce, it is an important component of the economy, and proper balance between regulation and 'anything goes' makes for a healthy economy, and debate about the boundaries between these two actions should always be encouraged.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Aug 2014 10:36:05 BDT
Paul Marks says:
Mr Shepherd I am not at my best at the moment (I have been in pain for some days now - and so on), but I will try and focus and reply to what you have said. I believe that the role of the government "police power" should be restricted to things that can be clearly defined - combating force and fraud. I am very wary of loose definitions of power when it comes to the use of government force (the "Sword of State") and seeking a "proper balance" seems too lose to me (I think the late Mr Heinlein would have agreed). As for consumer welfare against "monopolistic practices" - I believe that "anti trust law" has been an utter mess in the United States (based on hopelessly loose, undefined concepts - not correct for a legal setting) and has greatly HARMED consumers (over all).

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Aug 2014 15:07:15 BDT
As far as the pain level goes, I just came out of the hospital after having triple bypass surgery, so I, like you, may not be having the most cogent and logical arguments here. But as far as your statements go:

1. Anti-trust legislation as it has been implemented in the last 60 years or so in the US is a mess, with the courts straining to make cases for whichever side has the most money to throw around congress (IMO only!). However, this type of action was useful during the late 19th and early 20th century in breaking up some of the worst of the monopolies, the ones that were truly predatory (once you knock out the competition, then jack prices up to ridiculous levels, and what's anyone going to do?).

2. I too am wary of loosely defined limits to government power, and feel that, especially since 9/11, that the government has been handed too much power with far too few checks. But people get the government they want, and right now, the American populace seems to desire 'security' over the ability to live live as they choose (not that they're actually getting better security, but many feel they are, so all these abuses of power are just quietly swept under the rug). I don't think our positions are greatly different, but differ mainly in the degree of allowed actions a government should be allowed to take.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Aug 2014 18:04:10 BDT
Paul Marks says:
I am sorry that you have been so ill - I hope you recover fully.

I do not think that the actions against Standard Oil, and so on, were in the public interest (I am especially dismayed by the threats made against J.J. Hill of the Great Northern Railroad) - you disagree about the early 20th century moves. That is fine - after all far more scholars support your position than support mine.

I agree with you about the reaction to 9/11 - such things as the government take over of airport security (and, even more, the whole Patriot Act mania) also fill me with dismay.
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