Reviews

The Man Who Sold the Moon, by Robert A. Heinlein

sophiahelix's review against another edition

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Heinlin's ingrained sexism is bearable in some books; this one was not one of them. (2007)

granite's review against another edition

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4.0

Skipped most of the essays (hopelessly outdated) but enjoyed the fiction, though it does suffer from Early Sci Fi Sexism as most early scifi does. Just know what you're getting into and enjoy reading a genre-forming author.

riduidel's review against another edition

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3.0

L’homme qui vendit la Lune est le premier tome de l’histoire du futur d’[author:Heinlein], récement réédité, mais que j’ai récupéré dans une version plus ancienne. Cela dit, ça n’est pas si grave, parce que les différentes nouvelles qu’on y trouve sont pour la plupart exceptionnelles. Et, surtout, elles dressent un portrait sympathique, quoique parfois effrayant, d’une valeur qui est désormais complètement périmée (même si pour ma part j’y crois) : le progrès scientifique.
Ca peut paraître un peu ridicule comme ça, mais qu’il s’agisse de l’homme prédisant le temps qui reste à vivre à chacun, (Ligne de vie), ou même de l’industriel qui donne son titre à ce recueil, la plupart des personnages ont de la science une vision très positive (peut-être même les ingénieurs nucléaires) et, évidement, ce qui ne croient pas à l’intérêt du progrès, et cherchent à le dévoyer pour assouvir leurs désirs sont traités avec le mépris qu’ils méritent. Bien sûr, le texte est daté, et bien sûr, il y a parfois des relents de libéralisme sauvage. Mais j’ai pour ma part réellement apprécié de voir des gens lutter pour que l’avenir soit un peu pllus connu, et pour que la science apporte à chacun des améliorations. Que dire de plus ?
Rien, sauf peut-être qu’il vaut mieux s’amuser du passage sur les grévistes des routes plutôt que de le calquer sur une réalité un peu trop grotesque

gazakas's review against another edition

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3.0

Great science fiction ideas (at their time), genuine love for knowledge and progress, nice writing style, BUT, gosh, the cynical capitalistic point of view is almost unbearable at times.
That said, the short stories of this collection are nevertheless essential to any SF reader.

chan_fry's review against another edition

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4.0

(3.5 of 5 stars) This collection of “Future History” stories was enjoyable to re-read, though my 1951 paperback was falling apart as I went through again. Despite Heinlein getting almost every guess about the future wrong, each of them was reasonable to suppose when he wrote them (three stories in 1940 and the novella in 1950.)

(I’ve published a longer review on my website, complete with mini-reviews for each of the four stories.)

morgandhu's review against another edition

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3.0

The Man Who Sold the Moon is a collection of short stories from Heinlein’s Future History sequence, most of them strongly focused on technological advances that form the background to the later, space-faring novels. Included here is Heinlein’s first published short story, “Life Line,” about Dr. Pinero, a man who develops a scientific method of determining the date of a person’s death. The apparatus is destroyed when Pinero is murdered by the insurance companies,and the only reason it’s part of the Future History sequence is that Lazarus Long will later mention meeting Pinero. What is of interest is Heinlein’s dark perspective on the ethics of corporations, a theme continued in “Let There Be Light,” in which a pair of scientists discover a means of generating cheap energy, heat and light, and encounter interference and threats from representatives of the power industry - a problem they decide to sidestep by giving away their methods for a minimal licensing fee to anyone who wants access. This story also introduces the classic Heinlein woman, beautiful, sexy, intelligent, with multiple degrees in science and engineering, and more than ready to be the male protagonist’s wife.

The theme of emergent technologies continues in “The Roads Must Roll” and “Blowups Happen” - both stories about adapting society to new technology, and adapting the technology to the needs of human society. In “The Roads Must Roll,” reliance on the automobile as the means of transportation has become untenable, due to rationing of oil and massive traffic congestion in cities. The technological fix is to build ‘rolling roads’ - giant conveyer belts large enough to transport not only millions of people, but also service establishments, across the countryside. In response, cities spread out, building both factories, homes and amenities along the roadways. A person can wake up, head to the nearest roadway, have breakfast in a restaurant on the road itself, get off at his place of work, and return home the same way, possibly having that afterwork drink, or picking up some necessities fir the household, while the road carries him along. In the story, the dependance of the new social and economic structure on the roads leads to a revolt among a small group of roadway technicians who believe that those who control the means of transportation should also control the government. At its heart, it’s a critique of the idea that those who can cut off access to a service that society depends on should wield power simply because of that fact.

“Blowups Happen” addresses dual, linked issues - how to balance need against risk in a society, and the shortsightedness of corporations who willingly ignore long-term risk for short-term gain. It also plays on fears of atomic reactions we now know to be overstated, which dates the specifics of the story. In this story, the need for energy has finally exceeded the ability of the process introduced in “Let There Be Light” to provide it, and atomic power has been brought into the energy mix. However, the potential dangers of a nuclear plant exploding are sufficient to slowly drive anyone working on the plants into states of profound anxiety - the stress of knowing one slip could destroy a whole city, or more, becomes unbearable. And then, a close examination of atomic theory reveals that one slip could destroy, not just a city, but half the planet. The ultimate solution - move the plants into space - reduces the risk enough that people can now stand the stress, and everyone is happy. One interesting theme that underlies both stories, and can be found in a number of other instances of Heinlein’s work, is the idea that psychological testing can determine who is stable enough to work in certain professions, and who is not. There’s a naive faith in the ability of psychology to accurately determine who is capable of what.

The last two stories in the collection, “The Man Who Sold the Moon” and “Requiem” tell the life story of a Moses figure, D. D. Harriman, financial genius who all his life wants only to go to the moon, builds a massive corporate empire to get the money and connections to do ir, then risks it all to build a rocketship - only to be shut out of the trip himself, until, in the short story “Requiem” he is dying and all his money can’t legally buy him a waiver to risk his life to do the only thing he’s ever wanted. Frankly, “The Man Who Sold the Moon” has to be the most boring thing Heinlein ever wrote - it’s financial wheeling and dealing from start to finish, with a few engineering hitches thrown in here and there. “Requiem” is by far the better piece, and it really tells you everything you needed to know about Harriman. And it takes the Future History to where it really begins to take off, to the point where man begins to explore space.

laci's review

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4.0

It was good. After Starship Troopers, which didn't live up to the hype, this one has shown me why Heinlein was so popular.

Many of the ideas are outdated and seemed rusty at best, but after enduring them for a while, it got better, and I still enjoyed the stories.

octoberdad's review

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3.0

Ever want to know how to fund an expedition to the moon? Read this!

tachyondecay's review

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3.0

More Heinlein! Not planned. It just so happened that this paperback was on the New Books shelf at the library, so I snatched it up. (In fact, it’s a double feature, with Orphans of the Sky as the second book. This edition has an afterword, two introductions to The Man Who Sold the Moon, as well as a preface from Heinlein. It is saturated. If you like Heinlein, buy this edition.)

The more I read Heinlein, the more the experience becomes a reaction to how his writing is so old, but not quite old enough….

We could get into a rousing late-night discussion about the “first” science fiction stories. I’m all for crediting Mary Shelley with the first SF novel, though I‘m aware there are numerous earlier claimants to the looser “story” title. Few would dispute, however, that Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are two names who loom large when we discuss the earliest science fiction novelists—or is it science fantasy? Hard to say….

Still, no one reading Verne or Wells really expects the books to feel scientifically accurate. They were writing adventure novels with a fantastic science component, inspired by the cutting edge scientific discoveries of their time, but not necessarily bound by any need to be accurate.

Heinlein is closer to us in time, close enough, indeed, that he feels like he should be all properly scientific. So when his works deviate from science or historical fact because science and history have outpaced them … well, that feels weird. Because of his competency with technobabble, I had to keep reminding myself that Heinlein is writing this in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s … well before satellites, let alone the low Earth orbit or moon landings.

What Heinlein has in common with Wells and Verne, however, is definitely his role as a monumental inspiration for future scientists and explorers. This is the paradoxical ourobouros that is science fiction: writers describe these technologies and places that don’t yet or can’t exist … young people read their stories … and then they grow up, inspired to become scientists and explorers and create or find those things. Reading the stories in this anthology in that light, then, I can totally see why so many people cite Heinlein as their favourite science-fiction author. The fervour for technological process displayed by Douglas, or Martin, or Gaines, or Harriman, is infectious. Despite the note of careful cynicism running throughout these stories, Heinlein cannot avoid communicating an boundless enthusiasm for humanity’s apparently limitless ability to surmount obstacles and strive to reach the stars.

Reading Heinlein at this age and in this time also allows me to contrast it with more recent science fiction and see how the genre has changed. In both style and subject, science fiction in Heinlein’s day was markedly different from science fiction now.

In his introduction to The Man Who Sold the Moon, John W. Campbell, Jr. makes much the same point, only contrasting Heinlein’s writing with earlier works. His voice comes across as folksy while he says this, talking about how “Bob Heinlein … sent in a yarn,” and that just sounds cute to me. But he soon gets serious and literary and contrasts Heinlein with, yes, Wells:

But Wells’ method was to spend two chapters or so describing…. In the leisurely [18]’90s and early twentieth century, that was permissible. The reader accepted it. Long descriptive passages were common.… Today, the reader won’t stand for pages of description of what the author thinks the character is like; let the character act, and show his character.


He then goes on to use the word dilly, and I just want to bring him home and show him off to everyone like some kind of cantankerous grandfather figure.

Anyway, Campbell was, of course, right: Heinlein’s prose tends to be lean. It is at its most dense when he gets carried away describing technology—like I said earlier, I think Heinlein is an unapologetic technobabbler, but I’m fine with that. As far as people, though, in his descriptions of them and their actions Heinlein becomes positively stingy. Much of these stories consists of dialogue with very little description. This actually seems to be coming back into vogue … and I’m struck, also, by how much it resembles a lot of young adult novels. Maybe that’s one reason we never had a massive YA presence before World War II: much of “adult” literature was taking on the snappy YA-like pacing such that it could be read by children and adults alike. Certainly, I can see Heinlein’s stories at home in the hands of a fourteen- or a fifty-year-old….

But I digress. Heinlein is the Aaron Sorkin of science fiction here (in more ways than one—see depiction of women, below). He has mastered the literary walk’n’talk.

As far as subject goes, well: atomic power. It is a significant motif in most of the stories in this collection. “Blowups Happen” doubts that we could harness atomic power safely (and while Heinlein was not entirely right on this point, he also wasn’t entirely wrong), whereas “The Man Who Sold the Moon” and “Requiem” allow that maybe we could produce some usable fuel from these unstable monstrosities of reactors. In general, though, the book provides great insight into how an author who lived through World War II and saw humanity enter the Atomic Age (which he dubbed the Power Age) envisioned the rest of the century unfolding.

I had a much longer paragraph about the subject matter of science fiction today, but I realized it was getting untenable. I wanted to talk about it, however, so I spun it off into a separate blog post.

Anyway, unlike some people I can’t really tell a personal story about “my Heinlein.” I read him as something of historical interest: he informs my reading of the rest of science fiction, and provides insight into the zeitgeist of his time. I totally understand why a lot of people were inspired by him if they read his stories growing up, though. I suspect not a lot of those people were women, though.

What strikes me about The Man Who Sold the Moon is that, unlike The Moon is a Harsh Mistress of twenty years later, women aren’t merely objectified in these stories: they are practically erased. There are a few women characters in the stories, but they are secretaries or wives, minimized and put in their place. All the characters of action are men; it is inconceivable, indeed, that there could be a woman person of business—all that stuff is manly! The only notable exception is Dr. Mary Lou Martin from “Let There Be Light.” However, she is a biologist (life sciences being “acceptable” for a woman because it doesn’t require her to do math, since math is hard). And she is objectified to a nauseating degree.

Look, apologists will point out that Heinlein is “of his time,” and harsher critics will then trot out the fact that Heinlein had some ideas about sex and sexuality that were weird for his time … and that’s just not the point here. I’m reading this from a historical perspective, and so what I’m seeing is how important it is to have that diverse representation in a story. Because it’s true that Heinlein’s stories are of a calibre great enough to inspire people to become scientists and engineers … but how well could they motivate women to go into STEM if all these brilliant people are men?

I’m pleased to say we’ve come a long way since Heinlein wrote these stories in that regard—we regularly depict women as scientists, at least. Also, I saw a great discussion on Twitter the other day about how Gillian Anderson inspired a generation of women to enter STEM with her portrayal of Scully. (And I think Amanda Tapping deserves an honourable mention for her stellar portrayal of Captain/Major/Colonel Samantha Carter, the scientist/warrior of Stargate SG-1.)

Also, I am a dude talking about the portrayal of women in SF, so let me just say that I’m aware I’m not saying anything new here. I’m just trying to use my privilege to amplify what I’ve heard many women say. Because while things have improved, there is still a tendency to fridge women and to objectify or marginalize women, even when they are in scientific roles.

But I digress. As I tend to do, and as I’ve done in this review quite a bit, because I don’t actually have much to say about this book. This is a solid collection of stories. I don’t think it’s a matter of recommending or panning Heinlein: I would say that you should read at least one Heinlein story, just because he is unarguably a juggernaut in the field of science fiction. Whether you continue on the journey is entirely up to you. I’ll probably keep reading Heinlein, leisurely over the years, just to continue getting a good perspective on how science fiction has changed over the past century. After all, Campbell was right: these are some good yarns.

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lordofthemoon's review

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3.0

This is a collection of five short stories and the titular novella, all set in Heinlein's own future history. I enjoyed most of the stories, although the behaviour of the union in The Roads Must Roll (about the union that brings the America's trunk moving walkways to a halt) took me out of story completely. Mind you, this may be a trans-Atlantic difference - Americans have had a very different history with unions to Europeans, and may find this more believable.

The title story took a long time to get into. I found the idea of a bunch of very rich men scheming over how to effectively buy the moon to be unpleasant and unattractive, but eventually the sheer energy and enthusiasm of the protagonist got me engaged. It was worth it just for the follow-up, Requiem, which rounds off the collection and which is is wistful, sad yet uplifting as well, following the protagonist of the previous story, now as an old man.

In general, this is pretty classic Heinlein, with lots of rugged hero-engineers and scientists, making vast discoveries as individuals and having no truck with this namby-pamby government malarky.