The Green Hills of Earth – Robert Heilein

A fantastic tale about the heroic adventures of Rhysling, the blind singer of the spaceways.

‘I pray for one last landing on the globe that gave me birth, let me rest my eyes on the fleecy skies and the cool green hills of earth.’

Talk of speech. We of Earth have exported everything but this belongs solely to Terra. Songs of the Spaceways, from  Rhysling. Rhysling’s reputation was protected and he was never interviewed. The publicity was from whatever people remember of him. He was not sociably acceptable. A figure of high tragedy, concealed behind a black sealed bandage, any rag. Rhysling was a jet man. He signed on for a loop trip to the Jovian asteroids. Half the ships never came back. Spacemen did not care. Jet men were the most carefree. Jet men knew too much. Skill was useless. Atomic power-piles. Rhysling had been along for the first space trip. After the dry water pioneer trip he had been fired for writing song. He won an accordion. He kept his nose clean. Got back into deep space. Saw a second colony established at the ancient Martian capital. Jobs were always open for him. Lugging his accordion. Rhysling shrugs. Jet men don’t wait. He knew his power room. The lights went out. He went on fishing by touch. He called over the tube. A blue radioactive glow was the last thing his optic nerve ever responded to.

‘As time and space come bending back to shape this star spekt scene, the tranquil tears of tragic joy still spread their silver sheen, along the grand canal still soar the fragile towers of truth, their fairy grace defends this place, with beauty calm and couth. Bone tired the race that raised the towers, forgotten are their lores, long gone the gods who shed the tears that lap these crystal shores, slow beats the time worn hard of mars beneath this icy sky, the thin air whispers voicelessly that all who live must die, yet still the lacey spires of truth, sing beauties madrigal, and she herself will ever dwell along the grand canal.

Rhysling set down on Mars. Finish. Another space bum. Spacemen stay in one place. Marsopolis. Filth of run-off. He visualised it as it had been. On the esplanande. He saw it’s beauty before his blinded eyes. Beyond the water an architecture, delicate. The result: grand canal. He could see beauty where beauty was not. Sweet voices populated his world. Love songs to the womenless men of space. Verse to poetry. He had time to think. To sing true. The monotonous beat.

‘When the field is clear, when the reports are all seen, when  the lock’s eye is shut, when  the lights went green, when the check-off is done, when it’s time to pray, when the captain nods, when the military blasts away, hear the jets, hear them snarl at your back, when you are stretched on the rack, feel your ribs clamp your chest, feel your neck grind it’s rest, feel the pain in  your ship, a strain in the grip, feel her rise feel her drives, draining steel come alive, on her jets.’

While he was hitch-hiking he sang his songs. It was an easy life. From Venusburg to Dry-water as the wind took him. Lunar City. Volumes squeezed out of Rhysling, liquored up when he had sung everything he could remember. Verses collected. After his death. Greenhills. The Old Falcon ship, extra fare, between Earth cities. Rhysling decides to go back to Earth. A landmark in space. The captain finds Rhysling, says he can’t drag in his ship. Rhysling says he can have a trip back. Rhysling enjoyed it. The sirens pressure change in his ears, take off was imminent. Trying out a new version of green hills:

‘Let the sweet fresh breezes heal me as they roam around the girth of our lovely mother planet, of the cool green hills of earth.’

Archie was an old friend. An apprentice. Everything automatic. Rhysling’s conceit was that he was still a spaceman. Trouble. A blast of radioactivity. The alarm to the control room. The place was as light as ever. Rhysling could feel the desert sunshine. He decided to spill the jet. Archie McDougal is dead. A power room emergency.

‘We rot in the moulds of Venus, we wretch at our tainted breath, foul are her flooded jungles, crawling with unclean death.’

‘We’ve tried each spin in space mode and reckoned its true worth, take us back again to the homes of men, on the cool green hills of earth.’

‘The arching sky is calling spacemen back to their trade, all hands stand by free falling let the lights below us fade, outride the sons of terror, far drives the thundering jet, up leaps the race of earth men, out far and onward yet.’

‘We pray for one last landing, on the globe that gave us birth let us rest our eyes on fleecy skies, and the cool green hills of earth.’

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