Young People Read Old SFF

The Menace from Earth

Robert A. Heinlein

“The Menace from Earth” was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 1957 . It is part of Heinlein’s Future History, a fictional future in which many of Heinlein’s stories were set. It’s a comparatively late entry in the Future History; aside from Time Enough for Love, most of the Future History stories were written from 1939–1941 and from 1945–1950. The story is set on the Moon, just before a rather implausible-sounding religious dictatorship takes power in the United States and space travel ends for several decades. What wild imaginations SF writers have!

Of all the authors name-checked in the post that inspired this project, the one I figured would be least appealing to younger readers would be Robert A. Heinlein. He’s one of the grand old men of the field: winner of multiple Hugos, architect of the Future History, over-user of the word “spung.” He may have been a giant in his day, long long ago, but time has not been kind to his books . In fact, for a long time I intended to skip him entirely or offer my readers that least Heinlein-like of Heinlein stories, “The Man Who Travelled in Elephants.” In the end I was convinced that perhaps “The Menace from Earth” might not have aged quite badly enough to irritate modern sensibilities. I am skeptical... but skipping Heinlein feels like cheating.

The upside of such low expectations is that my readers’ actual reactions, no matter how negative, will be more enthusiastic than I expect. Right?

If you would like to read this story, your best bet is to look for a copy of The Past Through Tomorrow, which contains most of the important works in Heinlein’s Future History. Certainly most of the readable works.

I'm not sure what I expected of "The Menace From Earth". I expected something pulpy and maybe preachy and talking about how the most terrifying creature in the universe is actually the human. What I didn't expect is what I got—young adult romance on the moon.

I've been listening to a lot of young adult audiobooks recently. If I hadn't been, I wouldn't have identified this story for what it was, probably. I do enjoy young adult novels. I often am embarrassed about enjoying them, though.

So, how did this story stack up? Good. It shows that women are capable of balancing their career ambitions with their romantic relationships, and that there is often a conflict between the two... especially for women. So that's pretty cool.

The narration was kind of annoying (but I feel like this is a hallmark of the young adult genre, especially in first person stories) but it was nice to get to know the main characters. The world was fun and easy to imagine, and the flying sounds like something I'd like to try sometime (as long as I could safely avoid death). I am interested to know what other sorts of things Heinlein wrote about.


—Lisa

In high school I read a lot of Heinlein. I started with Starship Troopers because of the film and because of the TV show Roughnecks. I had never read this particular story, though I can place it fairly early into a continuum of increasing weirdness. No time travel, pretty mundane romantic plot, this must be early on.

The nationalism/racism/whatever-you-call-it that Holly exhibits toward Earthborn annoyed me. I'm trying to figure out if that is because I identify as Earthborn or because pretend-prejudice is still prejudice and I don't find it funny any more.

The amount of time spent explaining why they can't map 3D spaces is especially funny as I type this out on a device with 3D maps of almost every building I'm likely to be lost in.

This story was nothing to write home about, but its notable among these reviews as passing the Bechdel test at least.



—Jamie

Another in the “x genre disguised as y genre” – in this case, romance disguised as sci-fi. I expect the title was meant to mislead the reader into thinking the “menace” would be an alien when it’s just old-fashioned romantic jealousy.

In some ways, this story almost feels modern. It’s an alternate universe with teenage protagonist YA with SF elements, which is very similar to popular books like Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, etc.

Holly thinks about being a “career woman” versus having romance in her life, which seems a bit dated. On the other hand, women in today’s working world incur a career penalty from having children. So that’s pretty accurate.

The narrator has a well-written voice. So far in the stories that we’ve read, SF writers like to write either in a curiously unemotional 3rd-person, or a confused can’t-understand-anything-that’s-going-on 1st-person. I appreciate reading a story narrated from the point of view of someone speaking to a neighbour or visitor with a familiar, every day tone.

The one thing that was curiously old-fashioned was Holly assuming that hay fever isn’t common knowledge. Only the nerdiest of nerds had allergies back in the day, I guess. Now it’s unusual in a world of antibiotics and anti-bacterials to come across someone without an allergy of some kind.

The beginning of the story is a little peculiar because interstellar travel seems to be coming soon, but there aren’t digital maps, but maybe it’s just not a priority.

I liked the description of the flying chamber: it was very much like alpine skiing. The tourist rental equipment is rudimentary whereas only real fliers/skiers own their own equipment.

Overall, this story was enjoyable enough to make me curious about other Robert Heinlein fiction.

—Mel

I read this story well ahead of the review deadline, and was hoping I’d be able to come up with a more nuanced view than just inarticulate rage. Apparently that’s not happening.

I am extremely frustrated by the entire concept of this story. The idea that everyone but Holly gets to decide that she’s in love with Jeff, and that she’s going to have to marry him either way to progress professionally is enraging.

I have no idea if Holly is supposed to be actually in love with Jeff, and I have no idea if it’s realistic that she could be and not realize it. I do know how it feels to have everyone around you tell you that you must be in love with someone, or that you can’t possibly work with someone of a different gender without attraction being involved. I got progressively angrier throughout the story, as person after person decided that they knew how Holly felt more than she did. It might have managed to redeem itself if Holly hadn’t decided to capitulate to society’s expectations of her, but instead the takeaway is that of course she should marry Jeff to make him happy. *explodes in rage*

There were glimpses of where the story could have been better. But it was all so overshadowed by the awful romance plot that I can’t give it credit. This entire story is focused entirely on making sure Holly realizes she needs to give into Jeff’s feelings to the point where she is giving up her own identity in the company name so that she can have her dream of designing spaceships. This is so many levels of not ok, I don’t care if the rest of the story had promise.


—Mikayla

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