“It’s Great to Be Back”, by Robert A. Heinlein

from The Saturday Evening Post (1947)

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Forgive me for reading Heinlein and thinking KSR, but if you were tasked with designing in a lab the hypothetical classic sf foil against which Aurora sits in J’accuse-like witness, you couldn’t do better than this extant story, a dually substantive and thematic inversion of the novel’s guiding ethos. Regarding that substance: here we have a Benjamin Button Aurora, in which two moon colonists pine for life on earth, only to return and realize that earthboundedness ain’t all it’s remembered to be, what with the gravity and the dullards, the grime and the simpletons. As for the latter: ‘the future is out there‘, whether the moon or farther, and the earth but a repository of those human incompetencies (bad plumbing, bad terraforming, bad manners, and bad ideologies) that space travel/colonization, as a matter of course, transcends. There is a way to read this, sure, symbolically, outside its ideological or sfnal implications, ie as a commentary on the complicated relationship between Heimat and belonging. Knowing what we know about context and all and sundry, however, that reading — analogizing, say, some American expats miserable abroad, and soon to be miserable at home too — seems unlikely, or at most a happy ancillary effect of the aforementioned prime concern. Even taking these contextual parameters as given, the story itself little impresses—told with little economy, verve, or style. It does nonetheless excel at forming a perfectly smooth little capsule around a worldview (consciously or not) and delivering it up for audience consumption. So smooth, in fact, that most sf fans, reading critical takes on the form years later (and we hardly need wait 75 years, as Herr Boaz’s on-going appreciation of stories written während des Kalten Krieges critical of the space race amply demonstrate) might not recognize that these are the very set of assumptions that have wormed their way into the genre’s sinews, that the bete noire of KSR and his predecessors is precisely this. And that sorta trick’s gotta count for something, no?

Published by fictionreview


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