157. Heinlein and Harriman

As a science fiction writer, I have many debts to Robert Heinlein. One of those is for his character D. D. Harriman, who is both the inspiration and antithesis of my character Saloman Curran.

D. D. Harriman first appeared in a short story Requiem published in 1940 and then in its prequel The Man Who Sold the Moon which was published in 1951and won a retro Hugo in 2001. There are two collections of short stories called The Man Who Sold the Moon, each containing both its title novella and Requiem.

The Man Who Sold the Moon

At a point in future history when government sponsored spaceflight has temporarily failed, D. D. Harriman decides to send a rocket to the moon. His motivation is not profit, but the sheer love of exploration. The technical challenges are immense,  but the political and economic difficulties are worse. He overcomes all obstacles, first by entrepreneurial brilliance, and when the odds become overwhelming, by chicanery. There is a cost, beyond money. D. D. Harriman himself can’t take the flight. There is only room for one jockey-sized pilot.

Having proved his ideas by the successful flight, D. D. Harriman expands his business to send fleets of ships and begin a lunar colony. But now his co-owners of his enterprise deem him too valuable to the company, and again he is cheated out of his chance to go to the moon.

Much later, Heinlein retold the story from another perspective in his 1987 novel To Sail Beyond the Sunset.

Requiem

Decades have passed. Spaceflight is well established when an old man befriends a pair of down-and-out spacemen who are selling rocket rides in a decrepit, surplus spacecraft. He talks them into taking him to the moon, without letting the authorities know, and they agree. The flight ends in a crash, and the old man – who is , of course, D. D. Harriman – dies there, happy to have finally achieved his life’s ambition.

*****

The Man Who Sold the Moon is a romp and Requiem is a tear-jerker. The two halves of the story are stronger read together.  Heinlein had an ability to bring sentimentality into his story that was rarely seen in science fiction. It was either brilliant or sappy, depending on the reader’s individual taste. For my taste, it was brilliant.

*****

As I said at the top, Harriman was both inspiration for and antithesis of Saloman Curran in my novel Cyan. 1978, the year Harriman “sold the moon” is not 2106, the year Curran set the Cyan colonization in motion. Writing in the 1940s, Heinlein had confidence in the future. Writing through the last third of the last century, I was less optimistic.

Heinlein never paid much attention to overpopulation. When he talked about it, he showed that he understood its dangers, but he usually ignored it. To me, overpopulation is the central problem of the next century – which may well be our last century, if we don’t solve it.

So Curran is no Harriman, because 2016/2106 is not 1940-51/1978. Harriman was a lovable scalawag who would lie, cheat, and steal to get to the moon. Curran is capable of mass murder on the road to the stars. No one would write a Requiem for Curran.

But Curran is not without courage, as he will show in tomorrow’s post.

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