This is a collection of science fiction by Robert Heinlein, including five short stories - "Let There Be Light", "The Roads Must Roll", Requiem", "Life-Line" and "Blowups Happen" - and a novella, which is the title work. I enjoyed reading these very much. Heinlein's prose is like a blunt axe, which matches his political and social views. It's not to everybody's taste, but I like it.
Heinlein uses his fiction to tell the reader things, not just a story, but to communicate political, social and technical ideas and to share his technological prognostications. The perspective is complex. All of these stories have as their underlying themes the conflict between profit and social and technological progress and how morally-neutral or amoral economic interests can come into conflict with human-scale interests and a common understanding of right and wrong.
The title novella, "The Man Who Sold The Moon", is about a rich industrialist called D. D. Harriman. Harriman has a dream, which is to go to the Moon and found a colony there. To achieve this dream, he adopts a single-mindedness that leads him to compromise business ethics and even break the law. Heinlein captures well here several themes about modern business, including its complexity: Harriman, as a successful industrialist of international note, must have a very expert grasp of law and corporate structures, finance and accounting, politics and international relations, and a degree of technical literacy in the enterprise itself. Heinlein also shows how there is often a thin line between a successful business and fraud, and the qualities required are virtually the same. Harriman represents perfectly the morally-neutral capitalist who puts up or finds the money for a project and dominates and motivates those around him, even though he lacks detailed technical know-how himself. Harriman as a businessman is happy to abide by the letter of an agreement when this works in his favour, but not when it does not. The price of success, therefore, can often be lapses of integrity and incidences of personal moral abasement. Eventually Harriman is outmanoeuvred by one of his investors, who makes clear he cannot go to the Moon until the venture is in profit and could be managed by somebody else in the event of his demise.
"Requiem" is the sequel to the novella, and is my favourite story. At the end of "The Man Who Sold The Moon", Harriman had finished up like Zebulon Pike who doesn't quite reach the summit of Pike's Peak (referred to in the story) or Moses looking out over a Promised Land he will never walk. In "Requiem" he attempts to finally achieve his real dream, the thing that motivated him above money, and actually set foot on the Moon. I must admit, I was very moved by this story.
"Let There Be Light" is a critique of corporate capitalism and how within such a system, vested interests and political influence can hamper technological progress and encourage planned obsolescence whereby inventions and innovations that threaten major companies are deliberately stifled and suppressed. Reference is made in the story to the fictional corporation, Breakages, Ltd., first mentioned in a play by George Bernard Shaw called 'The Apple Cart'. The characters in Heinlein's story have invented a disruptive solar energy technology and debate between themselves whether they can take on the major power companies in the marketplace.
"Life-Line" has a similar theme. A doctor has invented a machine that can predict a person's life-span and time of death with chilling accuracy. The inventor is attacked and sued by the insurance industry, who believe they will put out of business by this machine. "Life-Line" is a very intriguing story, as it's never explained how the pioneering doctor came about the machine or the expertise to invent it and use it, nor is it explained what technology is involved. The story asks the reader to consider whether all technological advances represent progress.
"The Roads Must Roll" and "Blowups Happen" both address what can happen when economic interests clash with the human desire for a safe and pleasant environment, which are threatened by dangerous man-made technologies - in the first story, a conveyor belt-type road system; in the second, an atomic energy station. In "The Roads Must Roll", the technicians in the road system take industrial action and shut down an entire section in the belief that their work is not fairly rewarded and they, as the men who 'keep the roads rolling', are the most important workers in the entire economy and should receive "the same pay as the engineers". In "Blowups Happen", Heinlein is not attacking atomic power in concept, but the story is a cautionary about the potential hazards and also the dangers of over-reliance on technology, especially among people who are ignorant of science and engineering. One man in the story who has been cured of cancer using "radiants" refers to atomic energy in terms of explicit religious allusion, "I am not afraid of the pile; it is my good friend." and of the risks, '"When the Lord needs me, he will take me." He crossed himself quickly.' [p.252] In response, Harper, a nuclear engineer, speaks of the need for "imagination and knowledge" [p.252] to minimise the risks while taking advantage of the technology.
Some reviewers think that Heinlein's early science fiction now looks dated. I disagree. The 200 mph. conveyor-strip roads in "The Roads Must Roll" seem to anticipate the automated cars we might see in the near future. "Blowups Happen" refers to atomic-powered space rockets, which have been technologically-feasible for decades but are nowhere in sight in the real world. It seems that, if anything, Heinlein was ahead of us.
- Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Baen (1 March 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0671578634
- ISBN-13: 978-0671578633
- Product Dimensions: 10.6 x 2.3 x 17.1 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 159 g
- Customer Reviews: 24 customer ratings
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 401,823 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)