The Sun was just barely below the horizon; north of me I could see its first rays touching the topmost antenna of the power station, miles away on Pride Peak. It was very still and very beautiful. Overhead old Jupiter was in half phase, bulging and orange and grand. To the west of it Io was just coming out of shadow; it passed from black to cherry red to orange as I watched.
I bet this is very like what Bill saw when he went outside on Ganymede and looked up.
I am of course quoting from Farmer in the Sky, one of the novels Robert Heinlein wrote for serialization in Boy’s Life magazine (which was why there were always Boy Scouts in them). Sometime in an overpopulated Earth future, Bill and his father, George, emigrate to one of Jupiter’s moons, there to build themselves a farm.
It’s a story in three, possibly four parts, beginning on earth with George springing a surprise wife and step-sister on Bill, continuing with their Earth-to-Ganymede transit on the good space ship Mayflower where Bill saves everyone from a hit from a micrometeor and gets beat up for his pains, their first years on Ganymede pulverizing rock into loam and breeding it into life, and Bill’s tagalong on an exploratory trip around Ganymede.
This is one of the ne plus ultra how-to books — how to be a son, how to be a father, how to build a family, how to emigrate, how to leave behind the known for a journey into the unknown. Sixty years later any immigrant could learn from this book. First among rules is no whining:
Of course we should not have complained. After all, as George pointed out, the first California settlers starved, nobody knows what happened to the Roanoke Colony, and the first two expeditions to Venus died to the last man. We were safe.
We learn how to travel in space — very slowly and very, very carefully, and always be aware of the price of ignorance:
“Madam,” [the Captain] said, with icy dignity, ‘by your bull-headed stupidity you have endangered the lives of all of us. Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
She started a tirade…The Captain cut her short. “Have you ever washed dishes? he asked.
“Well, you are going to wash dishes — for the next four hundred million miles.”
We learn how to build a farm from the bare rock up, without benefit of four and a half billion years of geological and meteorological wear and tear:
…that meant taking whatever you came to — granite boulders melted out of the ice, frozen lava flows, pumice, sand, ancient hardrock — and busting it up into little pieces, grinding the top layers to sand, pulverizing the top few inches to flour, and finally infecting the topmost part with a bit of Mother Earth herself — then nursing what you had to keep it alive and make it spread. It wasn’t easy.
It sure wasn’t, but with hard work and perseverance and a sense of humor they will succeed. By the time you’re at the end of this book, you’re kinda ready to board the Mayflower II and follow them out there.
Or maybe Europa, or Alpha Centauri or Epsilon Eridani, or…well, the only way I’ll get there is to write my way there, and I already did that. Back to work for me. It ain’t farming, but it’ll do.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.