Monday, August 20, 2012

Buying and Selling Planets

The Planet Buyer
The Planet Buyer 

"The story is simple. There was a boy who bought the planet earth. We know that, to our cost. It only happened once, and we have taken pains that it will never happen again. He came to Earth, got what he wanted, in a series of very remarkable adventures. That's the story." - Cordwainer Smith, The Planet Buyer, "Theme and Prologue", p 7.

This opening is one of the greatest understatements that I have encountered in a science fiction novel, or any novel for that matter. This book, the original novel that would later be combined with further material in the now classic Norstrilia, is one of the most unusual examples of speculative fiction that I have encountered. The ideas that drive this story include mutated sheep that are the source of immortality, mental telepathy among the inhabitants of Norstrilia, gigantic attack birds, computers capable of outwitting traders throughout the universe, and more. The story hangs together, just barely, as the weight of various flights of imagination risk overwhelming it. The main thing that I can say for certain is that this book is exciting and once read requires the reader to return to the works of Cordwainer Smith for more.


The Man who Sold the Moon

"The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak."  - Robert Heinlein, The Man Who Sold the Moon

 Heinlein's monumental "Future History" series continues. Two scientists develop cheap solar power-and threaten the industrial status quo. The nation's cities are linked by a system of moving roads-and a strike can bring the entire country to a halt. Workers in an experimental atomic plant crack under the mental strain. And the space frontier is opened by an unlikely hero-D. D. Harriman, a billionaire with a dream: the dream of Space for All Mankind. The method? Anything that works. Maybe, in fact, Harriman goes too far. But he will give us the stars. . .
This compilation of short stories includes the classic "The Roads Must Roll" (Included in the SFWA Hall of Fame collection).  It also includes "The Man Who Sold the Moon".  This is part of  Heinlein's Future History and prequel to "Requiem".  It covers events around a fictional first Moon landing, in 1978, and the schemes of Delos D. Harriman, a businessman who is determined to personally reach and control the Moon.
The story provides interesting contrast in content and style to the work of Smith.  Both of these great SF authors keep me coming back to this genre of literature.

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