[Dec. 02, 1959] The Menace from Earth!

With only four science fiction digests coming out per month (really three if you count Galaxy and IF as one monthly magazine instead of two bi-monthlies), I often fill my reading time with anthologies and novels.  Robert Heinlein has a new anthology of his works out, The Menace from Earth, which largely features stories I hadn’t previously read.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Year of the Jackpot came out in Galaxy nearly eight years ago!  It was rightly anthologized in the 1952 Galaxy Reader as the lead story.  Statistician Potiphar Breen plots a trend to the increased silliness in the world and concludes that the Apocalypse is nigh.  Along with Meade Barstow, whom Potiphar meets while she is stripping bare at a bus stop (one datum of silliness), the unlikely hero manages to escape catastrophe when nuclear war breaks out.  But out of the frying pan…

I found By his Bootstraps, detailing the adventures of a time-looping fellow who crosses his own path several times, to be rather tedious.  There is an art to telling such stories so that one does not repeat the same scene over and over, just from different viewpoints.  This story was written before Mr. Heinlein developed that art. 

I’m sure I’ve read Sky Lift before, I think in Imagination.  A hotshot pilot is tasked with bringing fresh blood to a plague-ridden Pluto base.  He only has about a week, which means he’ll have to pull nearly four gees of acceleration the entire way.  Will he make it?

Goldfish Bowl is a sad tale in which giant pillars of unknown origin appear in the Pacific Ocean, their tops lost in the stratosphere.  Two men explore the pillars only to be abducted and placed in the extraterrestrial (or perhaps hyperterrestrial) equivalent of a fishbowl—with only one way out.  Who are these aliens?  What do they want with us?  And can humanity be warned if and when the prisoners answer these questions?

The worst of the bunch is unquestionably Project Nightmare, a ridiculous tale in which the Soviets plant several dozen bombs in our biggest cities and hold the country hostage.  Only a team of psychics, working ’round-the-clock can save the day.  And then, just for kicks, blow up the Russkies.  Terrible.

Water is for Washing, about an earthquake causing the Imperial Valley to flood, is near and dear to my heart seeing how I grew up in its setting.  The Valley a miserable, desolate place—120 degrees in the summer and 25 degrees in the winter.  Yet it is an agricultural marvel, and there are good people who reside there.  If you’ve ever read The Winning of Barbara Worth, you’ll get a good sense for what it’s like, and you’ll know why the place at which the protagonist stops for a drink early in the story is called the Barbara Worth Hotel!

I’ve saved the best for last.  The eponymous The Menace from Earth is simply a tour de force.  Told convincingly from the viewpoint of a 15-year old girl living on the moon, it is a story of teen love, angst, jealous, and low-gravity aerodynamics.  I gave the book to my 10-year old daughter so she could read this story, and she “loved it.” She asked if Heinlein wrote more stories like it, to which I had to reply in the negative.

I hate to leave things on a down note, however.  Do you know any stories written in a similar style?  Juveniles from the female point of view?  Please share!

All told, Menace is a book worth getting even though many of the stories have melancholy endings.  If you’re still in the mood for Heinlein after this large portion, you can try picking up the other recently released anthology: The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.  But that’s a review for another day…

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