Heinlein’s Juveniles — Silly Book Challenge, #2

The second book in this very occasional series is … well, any of Heinlein’s juveniles. The cover is from the final book in the series, Have Space Suit, Will Travel (1958). It features bug-eyed monsters, space pirates, and a plucky hero who saves the earth from alien invaders over Labor Day weekend and still makes it back in time to get a free-ride scholarship at M.I.T. and throw a milkshake at the antagonist. Plus, we are taught a handy mnemonic for the order of the nine planets (see below) and a parable about frogs that isn’t the one about boiling them slowly. (Sorry for all the spoilers, but you’ve had 62 years.)

For this posting of my #2 fiction book, I could have picked any one of the series. They’re all great (except, I guess, Rocket Ship Galileo, the first). I mean, they were great when I first read them, starting in junior high school, when the science was only a little bit dated. (Venus had turned out not to have swamps, for example, and Mars never had canals. Jupiter’s EM environment would probably make Ganymede a poor place to farm.) Starting in 1953, after a few books set in our solar system, Heinlein got wise and set his stories somewhere more romantic.

But despite that, the juveniles are still great. Honestly, they’re better than most of Heinlein’s non-YA fiction. Practically all of it. Especially if you see Starship Troopers as the YA fiction that it ought to have been.

What are you waiting for? Get started! For a complete list, see the wikipedia article (search “heinlein juvenile”). But you’ll need to get them new. We never put the old ones back into circulation.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress — Silly Book Challenge, Part 1

I’ve been challenged by a friend on one of the walled garden social media sites to list seven (?) books so that identity thieves can get started figuring out the answers to my security questions. Maybe he’s getting a cut of the take. But I’m too loyal a friend to respond with utter fabrications. The books I list here will be 100% truthful. Trust me.

I’m not sure I understand what the rules for this game are, so (for the first seven books at least) I’ll only post works of fiction.

Number one is obvious. Like, nothing-else-comes-close obvious. To wit, Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

Naturally, no sooner did Kevin challenge me to this dumb contest than he stole my thunder, or tried to. Notice, however, that my cover is from a significantly older edition than his. I have an even older one (below), but I don’t read it, to protect the spine. I also have the hardcover, and the Audible book, and Kindle. I even have a PDF of Tim Minear’s script for a movie adaptation.

paperback, harcover, Audible, and Kindle editions.

I first read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in 9th grade. I almost didn’t. At first, I only read a couple of pages, because the protagonist narrates the book in some kind of weird more-or-less Russian. (Imagine if Lt. Chekov were to dictate all the Captain’s Log entries on Star Trek.) Reading that was work, and I’m opposed to doing that, so I nearly gave up. But my friend Daniel Henderson, who’d already read it, convinced me to make the effort, so I #persisted. And it was worth it.

In P.E., we were playing baseball, so Daniel and I would take positions way out in the outfield and talk about the book. Periodically one of the jocks in class would yell at us that a ball was headed toward the outfield and we’d have to stop and deal with the ball before going back to talking. I remember doing a book report on The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in an English class that year. I don’t remember how the teacher responded, but my grades that semester were 4 C’s and 2 D’s, so it must not have impressed my teacher.

By the time I got to college—which I did, eventually, despite a less than stellar 9th grade GPA—I had probably read it 20 times. I could hand the book to someone and ask them to open it at random and read a sentence, and I would respond with the next one. It’s that good. And I’m that much of a geek.

The technological details haven’t aged well, although they did influence my career. Long before I studied computer science, I had become skeptical of monolithic systems design; a natural alternative for me was the Unix philosophy of small sharp tools, and, later, distributed systems. But Heinlein was usually wrong about the science fiction. (To use Peter Thiel’s language, he was usually too bullish about atoms and, if not bearish then insufficiently bullish, about bits.)

What Heinlein got right was the politics. (I don’t want to spoil it, but TMIAHM is not, despite what you may have heard, or read on the cover of the hardcover edition above, the story of people who set up a libertarian paradise on the moon. Quite the contrary, they destroy one. Because it had to be done. Sigh.)

But Heinlein also raises non-political questions. I’ll mention just two. First, what is a marriage? What constitutes one, what is its purpose, and what support ought society give it? Second, what is a soul? Can an artificial intelligence be alive? If it did, would it have rights? Could it be noble?

If you don’t like this book then, sorry, we just can’t be friends. Have a nice life.

Back to the Future Day

Today is November 12. Sixty-seven years ago, at 10:04 pm, Saturday November 12, 1955, lightning struck the Hill Valley town clock tower. Bad for the tower, but good for Marty McFly, who used the 1.21 gigawatt burst to power him back to the 1980s.

Headline Says It All

The UK C|Net brings us this:

Man arrested at Large Hadron Collider
claims he’s from the future

A would-be saboteur arrested today at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland made the bizarre claim that he was from the future. Eloi Cole, a strangely dressed young man, said that he had travelled back in time to prevent the LHC from destroying the world.

Shatner’s “The Captains”

I watched William Shatner‘s documentary The Captains the other night. The concept is simple: Shatner, the actor who played the captain in the original Star Trek series, goes around interviewing the actors who played captains in the later series. Here’s the trailer:

There’s not a whole lot to the movie, but I thought two things were interesting. First, each of the captains agrees that the star of a television series is overworked. Well-compensated, yes, but also subject to 40 weeks of endless 14, 16, or 18-hour days. I did not know that. It was for each of them a source of great difficulty in their family relationships, and several said it was a major contributor to a divorce.

Second, I was interested to see Shatner asking the other captains about life after death. Of course, he is in his 80s now, and he knows he will eventually follow Scotty, Bones, and the Great Bird of the Galaxy to wherever it is people go when they aren’t here any more.

It's not enough to bash in heads…

I finally saw Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. It’s awesomely wonderful and bizarre and funny.

I don’t know what the best line was, but one of my favorites is from “Everyone’s a Hero,” when Captain Hammer sings about how his girlfriend has taught him to care about the homeless:

She showed me there’s so many
Different muscles I can flex
There’s the deltoids of compassion
There’s the abs of being kind
It’s not enough to bash in heads
You’ve got to bash in minds

I appreciated Whedon’s take on Dr. Horrible as a lonely geek with no social skills rather than a demented monster. But even more, I appreciated that his character arc went from sympathetic-and-humorously evil to tragic but no longer funny evil. There’s a lesson in there, something about about getting burned when you play with fire.

My only complaint is the needless sexual innuendo in a few places means it’s not family-friendly. I’d love to show this to my kids, but it will have to wait a few years.

Star Trek (TOS) Plot Generator

This article nails it.

When I was in college, I was in a team of three people that had to write an operating system. (One of us, Dan, who was clearly the most prolific and talented programmer among us, nearly torpedoed the project by doing something incredibly clever that kept everything else from working. Then he bailed out a couple of days after the semester ended, instead of sticking to his post when the cadets ran, leaving Kevin and I to finish the job in the final hours before grades were due.)

Anyway, I mention this because the name of our Operating System was “Enterprise,” and our terminology was adapted from TOS. (Which, in those days, was The Only Show.) For example, instead of having initializing processes, we “beamed aboard” “ambassadors.” Most of our analogies were equally poor. Something like this chart could have really helped us make clever diagnostic output.