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Literature / The Green Hills of Earth

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"The Green Hills Of Earth" is a Short Story by Robert A. Heinlein first published in 1947. It tells the "unofficial", warts-and-all, story of Rhysling, the blind singer of the spaceways, an engineer blinded in a shipboard incident who then wrote the songs which became an integral part of the future culture of humanity.

"The Green Hills Of Earth" provides examples of:

  • Audio Adaptation: William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy Read Four Science Fiction Classics: William Shatner reads abridged versions of "The Psychohistorians" and "Mimsy Were the Borogoves", and Leonard Nimoy reads abridged versions of The Martian Chronicles and "The Green Hills of Earth". It was also adapted into an episode of X Minus One.
  • Bawdy Song: Rhysling's unpublished works are alluded to, occasionally by title, and described as being "unfit for publication in a family magazine".
  • Blind Musician: In "The Green Hills of Earth", the jetman and accordion-player Rhysling is blinded during an accident in the power room of his ship. His optic nerve is burned out by radiation from the jets. Over the next 30 years, he becomes known as the Blind Singer of the Spaceways.
  • Colonized Solar System: The entire Solar System has been colonized with major settlements on the Moon, Mars and Venus.
  • Common Meter: Several of Rhysling's songs can be sung to this rhythm.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Rhysling's last song. After the spaceship he's hitching on suffers a core blowout, killing its engineer, the blind old hobo who happened to hitch a ride calls in to the control room...
    "Control aye aye."
    "Spilling jet three. Emergency."
    "Is this Macdougal?"
    "Macdougal is dead. This is Rhysling, on watch. Stand by to record.
  • Fast-Killing Radiation: When jet three blows out, the engineer on watch is killed instantly by the blast of radioactivity. Rhysling himself takes over and "spills" the damaged jet, exposing himself to the same radiation, and dies minutes later.
  • Heroic RRoD: The poet Rhysling makes critical repairs to a nuclear core, but sustains fatal radiation poisoning. He composes the eponymous song as he dies.
  • Hobos: Old blind Rhysling, the Singer of the Spaceways, is a kind of hobo. He's an unusual example, as he's built up something of a reputation as a wandering poet and is well-regarded by pretty much everyone.
  • Homesickness Hymn: Oh, take a guess.
  • Indentured Servitude: Rhysling first performs the titular song for indentured men in a Venusian labor camp.
  • New Neo City: The city of New Shanghai is located somewhere in the Solar System.
  • Nuclear Torch Rocket: Ships use nuclear-thermal rockets. Going by the lyrics to "The Skipper is a Father to his Crew," which states that the captain will drink the rocket fuel if he can get away with it, they run on alcohol propellant. This wouldn't really work in reality.
  • Perilous Power Source: Rhysling loses his sight this way - he peers past the baffles of a rocket's reactor and is then blinded by Cherenkov radiation. Ouch.
  • Rules Lawyer: Technically, as a "Distressed Spaceman", Rhysling is entitled to a flight back to Earth. The fact that he didn't bother to take up that flight immediately but instead spent years wandering the solar system, drinking, whoring, and singing, does not technically invalidate that rule. It's implied that the captain has discretion to make a ruling in such a case, but Rhysling is so beloved, in addition to being old and blind, that forcing the issue would look terrible. If nothing else, this interpretation of the rule gave the captain an excuse to avoid the issue.
  • Walking the Earth: Rhysling. Until the accident that blinded him, he had been a spaceship engineer; after the accident, he took advantage of the law that a spacer could have one free trip home, using it to wander at will all over the solar system.