The Man Who Sold the Moon

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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.