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Book Note: Robert A. Heinlein, The Menace From Earth

I read this book about 11-Jul-2006. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 1959. This note was last modified Thursday, 13-Jul-2006 06:28:03 PDT.

This note contains spoilers for the book.

 

A collection incorporating stories from 1941 to 1957, including the title story. I'd forgotten that it was a collection, but I do remember the stories now that I see them. I've read the paragraphs off the big-name books, and need to dip into the less-famous stuff now and then.

A number of these stories are quirky enough to seem right at home in The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.

"The Year of the Jackpot" (1947)

This is a lovely story, even if the transition from silly-season news items to "graphs" is made to sound far too simple. And I've heard about "cycles" too often in kookery, I have to step back and remember this story pre-dates much of the kookery.

The main characters make a touching couple.

One could argue that there's no fantastic or stfnal element at all in this; though I tend to regard the statistician's graphing of various events as a bit optimistic.

This is probably one of the older "survivalist" stories I've read, too.

"By His Bootstraps" (1941)

One of the older classic time-travel stories; though not so thoroughly introverted as "All You Zombies".

There's cool stuff buried in the simplest dialog. The second man to come out of the "circle" calmly tells the first that "I know more about it than you do"—because he's an older version of the same character, with more experience. And, of course, the first man refuses to concede it.

And it's amusing that experienced SF readers know what's going on (multiple copies of the same person from different points in their world-lines) much before the protagonist.

By the end of the story, we've completely closed the loop; we know everything about everything that happened in the story, and we've seen the main actions through three cycles.

"Columbus Was A Dope" (1947)

A minor work. Fairly short, simple, and to the point—a barroom discussion in which several people wonder why anybody is even vaguely interested in the first starship, now being built (a generation ship to somewhere nearby). At the end of the story it's revealed that the bar is on the moon.

"The Menace From Earth" (1957)

Probably the clearest statement on relationships between the sexes, at least among the young. The girl, while seeming rather self-aware on that topic, is clearly blind as a bat to her own emotional attachment. The guy is merely awkward, and completely impervious. Luckily the title character isn't staying permanently, and doesn't actually want the guy permanently anyway.

The detailed description of flying in the air-storage tank are wonderful; he uses detailed terminology about lots of details of the wings, without going into much detail on how they really work at all. I haven't checked the calculations, but in 1/6 gee and slightly higher then sea-level pressure, maybe that kind of flight really is possible.

"Sky Lift" (1953)

This one, I don't remember a thing about from the title.

It's a very minor work about sacrificing two lives to save the station out on Pluto. One guy actually dies, the other becomes an old senile man in the course of one trip.

The point, such as it is, seems to be that the guy who became an old man so quickly is the real tragedy.

To a modern reader, the low reliability of the automated ships comes as a bit of a shock; that's something we're much better at than the books ever planned on. Computers were the big surprise, and really pretty much everybody missed it, despite Skylark DuQuesne (#4) and The Shockwave Rider and even "A Logic Named Joe". My goodness; I don't seem to have read the Brunner since I started keeping this booklog, so there aren't any comments on it yet. I must do something about that.

"Goldfish Bowl" (1942)

Another minor work. "Creation took 8 days". The guy was crazy by then, and the people back on the ground never do, apparently, understand that to mean that we're not the last word. There's Something living in the stratosphere, maybe, to which we are as goldfish.

Again, the lack of computers and various remote sensing and communication technologies shows up pretty blatantly today. The idea of the guy going up the waterspout in a barrel is just not the modern way to approach the problem.

"Project Nightmare" (1953)

I don't remember much of anything about this one, either. Ah; well, now that I'm into it, I remember it, but I didn't remember the title.

Psi rears its head; as it did most places throughout the Campbell era. In this case, using telekinetics to influence fission weapons.

Useful story coincidence that they've just completed the first test detonation of a subcritical mass by telekinesis when the Russian ultimatum, saying they're taking over and have hidden bombs in 38 cities and we have until the next afternoon to capitulate.

"Water is for Washing" (1947)

Minor but still memorable. And it expresses a sentiment I'm very much in agreement with (though not entirely for the W.C. Fields reason). And with no fantastic element at all.

A guy who had a near-escape from drowning as a kid just escapes being drowned when a major earthquake lets water into a sunken valley in southern California. He saves two kids, with the help of a thieving tramp who doesn't make it to the end of the story (though he dies nobly).


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David Dyer-Bennet