Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Man Who Sold the Moon

"He said I was his friend,
Which came as some surprise
I spoke into his eyes
'I though you died alone a long, long time ago'"

David Bowie - The Man Who Sold the World

(Yes, I just found out that wasn't originally a Nirvana song. David freaking Bowie. Wild, huh?)

Robert Heinlein had a knack for antiheroic cowboys, for tooth-gritting survivalists and morally compromised misanthropes grudgingly shuffling their feet toward the right course of action, for human weakness strengthened by hard decisions. Usually this tendency birthed lovable, sneering rogues and grinches like Jubal Harshaw. Occasionally it overshot into outrightly unlikeable protagonists. The Man Who Sold the Moon falls somewhere in between.

For most of the story's length, Delos Harriman's stated noble goals are continually undermined by his deceitful, manipulative methods. Hard to believe the obscenely wealthy cut-throat corporate profiteer who won't shy away from bilking boy scouts out of their lunch money has anything but his own interest in mind when he finagles the United Nations into signing Earth's only natural satellite over to his company... purely for humanitarian reasons. Between this and the slightly dragging patter about legal precedents and stock majority, you're likely to ask yourself why you're still reading halfway through the story.

About that same time you begin to discern a paradoxical change by stability in Harriman, not that the character himself is altered but that his obsessive persistence in the objective goal of space travel invalidates the initial impression of shifty avarice. Comparisons with Citizen Kane (which had come out earlier in the same decade) seem warranted, and by the time Harriman reaches his "Rosebud" moment in the brief follow-up Requiem, we're hardly surprised to find the soul-less aged fatcat still clinging desperately to a childhood dream. What The Man Who Sold the Moon lacks in mystery, it gains in the well-executed characterization of the pioneering spirit in the form of a scheming, lying powermonger, idealism buried under a lifetime of make-work social competition.

Not that we should expect the inner workings of the rich in reality to consist of anything other than bloodthirst and the slavemaster's whip, but Heinlein still puts an interesting spin on the question of ambition, both hollow and meaningful.

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