The Man Who Sold the Moon

[Amazon Link]

Another book down on the Heinlein to-be-read stack. Which leaves, uh, 34 to go.

This is another collection of short stories, plus the titular novella. They are placed early in Heinlein's "Future History", where he details a number of imagined near-future technological breakthroughs.

Some verge on fantasy. "Life-Line" is the sad story of Dr. Pinero, who invents a gadget that allows people to know their precise date of death. This irritates Big Insurance. Obvious, when you think about it. Does Pinero know the consequences of that? (Answer: yes he does, because he used the machine on himself.)

"Let There Be Light" is the story of two inventors (a guy and a girl) who invent—easily!—a device to efficiently convert sunlight into electricity. Again, Big Business tries to shut 'em down. Solution: release their technology to the world for free!

"The Roads Must Roll" is a tale of a totally impractical transportation technology: people are transported from place to place on gigantic high-speed conveyor belts. (This is all described in detail, except for a realistic estimate of the energy needed to power the contraption.) But an evildoer in thrall to a lunatic economic/political ideology threatens to put a monkey wrench into the whole works! There may have been an actual monkey wrench involved, I may have missed that detail. Fortunately, heroism saves the day.

"Blowups Happen" was originally written in 1940, but the version here has obviously added post-WW2 detail. It's about peaceful nuclear energy, but the implementation is unimaginably dangerous: one little slipup could unleash a nuclear explosion! Yeah, RAH didn't know much about nuclear engineering back then. Anyway, the solution: launch the reactor into space!

Which works fine for a while, but in "The Man Who Sold the Moon", it's resulted in disaster. Oh well. Tycoon Elon Musk D. D. Harriman wants to go there, and the story covers his convoluted efforts, via semi-shady business practices, to build and launch the first manned mission to Luna. Alas (spoiler) he is denied what he really wants, to set foot on the Moon himself.

All the above stories feature the usual Heinleinisms: everyone smokes. (Techies have their cigarettes, businessmen cigars.) The dialogue is snappy and smart-ass, right out of 1940s movies. Technical issues that in the real world take years and decades to iron out are solved in hours and days.

Which brings me to "Requiem". Which is (to my eye, anyhow) a beautiful gem of a short story. It's about the dying Harriman wangling his lifelong dream. I remember it brought tears to my young eyes when I first read it back in the 1960s. Didn't quite do the same fifty years later, but it's still an Astounding Story. (Notably, it was originally published before the story "The Man Who Sold the Moon".

Consumer note: I bought the Kindle version because of its relative cheapatude, plus which it included Orphans of the Sky at no extra charge. But the cheapness shows in the formatting: specifically, the scene-break visual clues in the printed versions are missing, it's just one paragraph after another.

URLs du Jour

2018-06-23

[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:6 has more bad news for the bad guys:

    6 The righteousness of the upright delivers them,
        but the unfaithful are trapped by evil desires.

    I have no idea how the unfaithful even get out of bed in the morning. Shouldn't they just lie there, trapped by their evil desires?

    Still, they do manage to arise and cause mischief. I know the Proverbialist wanted to encourage righteous behavior, but sometimes I think he might have oversimplified things in pursuit of that goal.


  • We previously remarked on the delicious irony of Northeastern Professor Suzanna Danuta Walters writing a WaPo op-ed titled Why Can't We Hate Men?, while being employed at an institution that steadfastly describes itself as a school "in which hate has no place". At NRO, Frederick M. Hess and Grant Addison provide A Half-Hearted Cheer for Northeastern University’s Tepid Defense of ‘Hate’.

    Many have rightly wondered whether someone making the opposite argument would have enjoyed the same staunch support that Walters received. Doubtful. As we have seen time and again, certain “controversial” statements are more equally protected than others. And, of course, there’s also the question of whether a teacher who openly professes her hatred of men can educate her male students in a fair and unbiased manner.

    One can only wonder how long universities can pretend that their preening about "hate" only works in one heavily-politicized direction?


  • Ronald Bailey provides the latest on the Fermi Paradox. Specifically: there's no paradox, We Are Most Likely Alone in the Universe. Bottom line:

    Two takeaways: First, there is no reason for us to keep quiet and cower at home as some timorous souls have counseled. And second, the galaxy is ours for the taking. Let's go.

    Indeed.

    I've noted some people out there are passionate on extraterrestial life, jumping on every bit of evidence involving water or organic chemicals. They very much Want To Believe.


  • The LFOD alert rang as expected in the wake of recent decrees, for example at the Union Leader: Supreme Court lets states force online retailers to collect sales tax. And… yes, here it is:

    Taylor Caswell, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs, said, “Imposing this new requirement on us isn’t just an administrative burden, it goes against what New Hampshire stands for: Live Free or Die.”

    Oh, geez, Taylor, stop whining. LFOD isn't a debating point.

    I'd suggest (at least) massive civil disobedience. Too bad the Tea Party isn't around any more.


  • Megan McArdle, writing at the WaPo, is more despondent: Goodbye, tax-free Internet sales. We sure will miss you. Megan notes that big companies (Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, etc.) are already collecting sales tax from buyers who reside in states where the local government demands it.

    It will, however, affect companies like Wayfair, making it harder for them to compete against bigger retailers. Ultimately, the effect of this ruling will be not to keep tech giants like Amazon from stealing business from mom-and-pop shops, as critics of those firms might hope. Rather, the ruling will make it harder for upstarts to unseat massive incumbent Internet sellers that can afford to have a physical presence in every state, or to collect sales taxes even where they don’t.

    Despite the ruling’s negative impact on small businesses, states will likely move quickly to avail themselves of this newly legal source of tax revenue. So bid a fond farewell to those great deals from Internet upstarts. We sure did enjoy them while they lasted.

    I got a chuckle out of David Brooks' mea culpa, discovered when he was writing a Concord Monitor story about the decision:

    I wrote the story, and encountered a problem that probably didn’t affect reporters in 45 other states: It’s been so long since I’ve paid any sales tax that I sort of forgot how they work. Several times I got all muddled up and had to stop and work my slowly through the process of who pays what, when, to whom.

    So I'm asking: does David Brooks never go out to eat in New Hampshire? Nine percent, baby!


  • And good advice from (of course) the Babylon Bee: Opinion: It’s Important To Hear Blatant Lies From Both Sides Before Forming Your Opinion On Any Political Issue

    It’s time to talk about a troubling trend in how we handle our national discourse: the current political landscape is full of lies, half-truths, and fake news, but the average person only ever consumes half of that. Thanks to people being ever more partisan in their news consumption, most people are only exposed to one distorted version of reality, completely missing out on an equally ludicrous alternative version of events.

    Also good: "Two half-truths added together equals a whole truth. That’s just math."