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Book Note: Robert A. Heinlein, The Menace From Earth (#2)

I read this book about 6-Jun-2017. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 1959. This note was last modified Friday, 09-Jun-2017 16:42:33 PDT.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


A collection incorporating stories from 1941 to 1957, including the title story. I remembered the title story, but didn't remember it was long enough to fill a (skinny) volume, and I was right; this has several other stories.

"The Year of the Jackpot" (1952)

Is there any other Heinlein story where the protagonist dies, for real, on stage? I'm not remembering one, and this one ends—well, shortly before that, actually, but if he's wrong about the sun going nova it kind of ruins the rest of the story.

Actuaries aren't as perfect as he says; circumstances keep changing, and that changes the statistical predictions. The good ones know this.

And cycles were crackpot material for years and now we've mostly moved on past them so far as I can tell. But this was from 1952, so.

Heinlein keeps doing this to me: in this one it's the zombie-like models taking over the industry. It's been a new thing several times during my life, "heroin chic" and such; it's weird to see it described as an established fact in a story from 1952 (set in perhaps then, I don't think it's clear, though maybe it can be inferred from some of the cycles he discusses).

"By His Bootstraps" (1941)

Another solipsistic time-travel story (compare to "All You Zombies"—by 1959 he also had sex change operations available so he had to revisit the idea).

The time gate was apparently deployed by the alien invaders. We also have no idea where they came from, or why they left. The made huge changes to humanity while here.

"Columbus Was A Dope" (1947)

Very short, simple, and rather effetive story. People talking in a bar, after a business deal is done, and the steel salesman is wondering why anybody would build a starship. It makes no sense, he says.

After a while, they reveal that the bar is on the moon, without the people who don't appreciate exploration and migration seeing that this makes their objections ludicrous.

"The Menace From Earth" (1957)

One of the rare Heinlein's with a female protagonist. I read it as saying that women could be smarter than men and more focused than men, and certainly could be engineers and mathematicians and so forth. And that adolescents are often emotionally not too bright. And that the early stages of learning about romance were hard.

It says those things from a context of right around when I was born, though, so some of them will look very weird, and some of the bits sticking out will bother readers from 60 years later. Still, this holds up better than many, because those tentative first steps remain hard.

Also, the business of flying in the huge air tank is totally brilliant.

"Sky Lift" (1953)

Emergency torch-ship run to Pluto. But the flight surgeon is right, and the pilot's decision to run at 3.5G is a mistake, which kills him and ages the co-pilot to the point of senility. They do get the delivery made, saving 300 people.

The robot freighter is tried (at 16G), but doesn't make it. That's a typical thing for a story this old (or not having robot ships at all). Our success with robotic exploration of the Solar System is one of the biggest things SF missed. Part of it is computers (which were thoroughly missed), I think the other part is high-frequency radio.

Why high-frequency radio? Because you can get a much more directional antenna of any given size at a higher frequency. That matters at both ends, but it matters especially much on the small robot space probe. As a result of which, the nuclear-powered Rolling Stone couldn't punch a radio signal from half-way to Mars back to Earth, but the Voyager probe is still sending back data from far beyond Pluto, and the Mars rovers are sending high volumes of data back constantly. This allows human oversight on the robotics.

"Goldfish Bowl" (1942)

Strange events happening on Earth may be signs of an alien invasion. Or not invasion exactly; visit? The story ends with the protagonists in the same position as one of their goldfish, left in his cabin on the ship that brought them to the water-spouts.

"Project Nightmare" (1953)

An ESP story; John W. Campbell kind of imposed them on the field, but then there was cutting-edge scientific work investigating if some of the things really happened, and seeming to get positive results. I did a science fair project on it later, in the very late 60s maybe, and didn't find anybody who could read Rhine cards (or the mind of the person handling them).

Heinlein being Heinlein, he thought about whether ESP could affect random quantum events like nuclear decay, and decided that a positive answer made for a more interesting story. So the telekineticists in the study group can either speed up or slow down nuclear decay.

Then he raised the stakes by having the Russians hide 38 bombs in the US and demand our surrender. (Delivering the bombs by ship or semi-trailer was also not what people were worried about at the time.) More cities than people, so that gives him a human story of people struggling to stretch their limits, too.

The man chosen to do the initial radium-watch demo (this isn't the original research runs, this is demonstrations to military officers) was a sullen black man, too. This wouldn't be a coincidence, any more than Richard Seaton's black lab assistant in The Skylark of Space; it's a small but deliberate anti-racist statement—and only small from our current point of view; in the time each of these was made, a large one would have to take over the whole work, become the central point, and it probably couldn't have been published for a mainstream audience then.

Personal heroism wins, except of course for Cleveland, where the greatest effort and valor isn't quite enough.

The strongest performers, both keeping the bombs from exploding and also the clairvoyants finding them, are women, often older women.

The final turnaround is perhaps excessive (only Cleveland was nuked), but poetically just at least. They task the clairvoyants with finding and the telekinetics with exploding the Russian bombs. It's not explicit, but it kind of looks like all of them are to be exploded.

"Water is for Washing" (1947)

Man faces his fears, and saves others. No SF content at all, but that's fair enough (I enjoy Doc Smith's detective novel , too).

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David Dyer-Bennet