I read this story before, but I didn't know exactly when this story was written or or how that compares with the history of the development of solar e...moreI read this story before, but I didn't know exactly when this story was written or or how that compares with the history of the development of solar energy. Heinlein could be relied upon to be fairly accurate if he followed it, but I wondered if this were one of the cases where he anticipated the development, and if so, how close he got to how it turned out.
It turns out in this case he did follow. I had no idea that Einstein had done substantial work with photovoltaics or that it was for such work that he won his Nobel Prize! So rather than one of the several cases in which Heinlein more or less accurately anticipates a development, this is one of the also-common instances of his intimate knowledge of scientific goings-on allowing him to take something actually scientifically accomplished, but still nearly completely unknown to the general public, and to make a good story.
It isn't yet a great story. If you eliminate a clever scientific idea (presented in startling detail for decent fiction) the story boils down to clever young inventors hassled by government and industry people who don't want their apple cart disturbed. I grant that story wasn't as threadbare in 1939 as it is today, but it probably even then couldn't support a four-star story. The depth of detail in the discovery adds a lot, and though this is not yet an instance of Heinlein digging deep on how social structures can be driven by technology or a subtle look at what makes people tick, both of those elements are hinted at, and I've very glad that those glimmers were seen by those positioned to take early stories like this and provide Heinlein with the stage for his later work.
Before the US entered World War II, Heinlein predicts an atomic doomsday weapon, envisions a cold war full of stress following WWII, with both sides h...moreBefore the US entered World War II, Heinlein predicts an atomic doomsday weapon, envisions a cold war full of stress following WWII, with both sides having massively destructive weapons and increasingly itchy trigger fingers. He speculates a future in which the United States gets there first, as it actually did, and suggests a solution, a Solution Unsatisfactory, of the situation.
Though he got the particulars of what the first atomic weapon would look like a bit wrong, he's close enough in his particulars to resonate with actual historical problems. (As an aside, he's closer to a modern fear of dirty bombs used for terror.) What strikes me is that his solution, though terrible in many particulars, would seem an awful lot better at the time than what was actually done. If you could see in advance what was rotten about the Soviets, and he certainly could, and anticipate that they (and everyone else) would have similar nuclear power shortly after the end of the war, how can your plan be to allow the bloodiest dictatorship in history to become a nuclear power? The outcome we actually experienced -- four decades of growth and menace followed by a withering away, is almost certainly the best that could be imagined in the rear-view mirror. The thing is that this outcome was basically unimaginable before it happened. The menace was utterly predictable. How did we let that good outcome occur?
Heinlein has his characters take a route that I have to think would have seemed infinitely better at the time, but almost certainly would have worked out less well. In addition to being a fun and interesting story, it gives a lot to think about. (less)
This is one of my less favorite of Heinlein's work. It is rather fantastic and builds to a surprising conclusion, that doesn't really work as a surpri...moreThis is one of my less favorite of Heinlein's work. It is rather fantastic and builds to a surprising conclusion, that doesn't really work as a surprise. That said, it is a touching love story and full of wonder.(less)
This tear-jerker surrounds the Harriman, the well-known future history character whose company opened up travel to the moon, and his desire to finally...moreThis tear-jerker surrounds the Harriman, the well-known future history character whose company opened up travel to the moon, and his desire to finally, personally visit the moon as an old man. Harriman's single-minded ambition to get to the moon is detailed in other, longer stories. The responsibilities of running the company that makes it possible keep him from traveling there personally. His life's work and ambition can't be complete without a personal visit, which circumstances still make all but impossible. This short story shows him applying the indomitable effort required to open moon travel generally applied to the end of his personal ambition. (less)
Heinlein's rambling stories collected under auspices of memoirs of Lazarus Long remains one of my favorite bits of literary comfort food. Except for o...moreHeinlein's rambling stories collected under auspices of memoirs of Lazarus Long remains one of my favorite bits of literary comfort food. Except for once, all "readings" were listenings to the narration by Lloyd James who does an amazing job personifying these characters. He adds tremendously to the book.(less)
Starship Troopers is Heinlein's projection of a high-tech future military. It draws from his own military experience, his uncanny ability to project a...moreStarship Troopers is Heinlein's projection of a high-tech future military. It draws from his own military experience, his uncanny ability to project advances in technology and contemplate what cultural and interpersonal changes will follow and as always his benevolent optimism about a better world not only from what we have today, but even what he had in his time.
I've read and reread this one. It's a favorite. I love following the life of this future soldier through training and his ultimate battles, both in the field and in finding himself.(less)
This is an extremely pleasant juvenile from Heinlein. Though I like it a lot, I found that it was increasingly poor as a re-read, that is, until this...moreThis is an extremely pleasant juvenile from Heinlein. Though I like it a lot, I found that it was increasingly poor as a re-read, that is, until this time.
This time, I decided to try it with my kids. I had always imagine Red Planet would be the intro to Heinlein for the kids, but we stumbled into this one, and they absolutely fell in love with Lummux. It took a month of car trips with the whole family, but they finally got through it, and loved it. (less)
The Rolling Stones is one of Heinlein's finer juveniles. I'm looking forward in a year or two to introducing my youngest, currently 4 years old, to He...moreThe Rolling Stones is one of Heinlein's finer juveniles. I'm looking forward in a year or two to introducing my youngest, currently 4 years old, to Heinlein through this book.
As always, Heinlein's flare for creating wonderful characters shines through. Typical of the early works, the plot is gripping and set against a backdrop of space travel. It is always a pleasure to encounter Hazel (Mead) Stone who is a recurring character in one of the universes that Heinlein creates, though startling (even after five reads) to find her an old woman. It is such a dramatic contrast to her being a little girl in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress but it unquestionably the same character. (less)
This is one of my favorites among the juveniles. It is often the Heinlein novel that I suggest to someone new to him. One trait I've noticed several t...moreThis is one of my favorites among the juveniles. It is often the Heinlein novel that I suggest to someone new to him. One trait I've noticed several times is that Heinlein will take something that sounds like a parody of bad sci fi and then make it completely and totally possible. Very early in his life in a letter, rather than in fiction, he talked about the implausible mapping of human culture onto aliens as a form of laziness in writing and then parenthetically says, "Some day, I should write a novel about a Martian named 'Smith'." With no hint of irony or self-parody, this of course becomes his most famous and probably most-loved novel.
Similarly, Rocket Ship Galileo has Space Nazis. Space Nazis! Not just in some vague, metaphorical sense. I mean "New Reich" swastika wearers found in space. And it is done completely plausibly and makes for a great yarn.
The novel has all the normal treats of a Heinlein juvenile. We have earnest, young characters committed to take the world by the tail and shake it. They team up with a gruff older guy and take the world, or perhaps I should say moon, and the Space Nazis by storm.
2013: The kids loved this one. Though this ended up being the third Heinlein I read with them, it had been the one I had originally intended to be first, thinking it a perfect introduction. It was a perfect continuation. (less)
In addition to all of the traits I love in so many of Heinlein novels, the avatar, the characters, the active plot, the great characters, etc., there...moreIn addition to all of the traits I love in so many of Heinlein novels, the avatar, the characters, the active plot, the great characters, etc., there is a stand-out feature that impresses me. We have ET parasites who attach themselves to humans and take them over completely, dominating their will biologically. Having read other similar works and seen movies with similar mechanisms you just know that eventually the hero or heroes will be taken over and the plot will be resolved by those heroes having a special, indomitable will that will allow them to resist and save the day. A distant second choice is that the heroes are never grabbed. Heinlein's approach, done honestly, is unique in my experience. The heroes are amazing people who can move mountains, in a fashion typical to him. They get grabbed and they honestly and truly exert their extraordinary talents on the part of the bad guys and he presents himself with the problem of resolving the situation even in the face of the true best efforts of his vaunted heroes.
That makes it special and a whole lot of fun.
It also has the trope of fighting for our basic freedom and human dignity. It's a story of grand scope. I just love the novel.
2013 re-read: I still love every moment in this world.(less)