Old Sci-fi (Asimov-Heinlein) question

I just finished reading a book (Asimov) called “The Caves of Steel” (copyright 1953). In this thing there was some discussion of a system of transportation which was kind of like freeways with moving strips kind of like those things in the airport you walk on, except with many parallel strips of gradually increasing speeds. So to get to the fast-moving lanes you just moved across the slower moving strips one at a time and gradually increased your velocity. Anybody still following me here?
Thing is, my foggy memory attributes this concept to several old Heinlein books (Green Hills of Earth, I think was one). I don’t have access to any of those Heinlein books here, so if I’m totally wrong you can all deride the newbie. But I don’t think I am wrong. The Asimov book described this concept in great detail, including a description of a game like tag that kids would play wherein they would try to lose their comrades by switching lanes rapidly. This same game was in the Heinlein books too. Who’s idea was this, Asimov or Henlein’s or somebody elses? There wasn’t any credit or mention of Heinlein anywhere in this book and the descriptions seem so similar that one is a clear rip-off of the other. Lastly, is there any way that such a system of transportation could ever be efficient (over much longer distances than airport corridors), even assuming that you could stand up in a 60mph wind?

Heinlein wrote a short story “The Roads Must Roll” dealing with this topic. It was first published in June, 1940 in Astounding Science Fiction.

It was included in some of his later collections. I believe it is in Past Thru Tommorow

Thanks. Seems Like Asimov totally ripped this one off then. Don’t know what more to say on that.

It does seem like a remarkably stupid way to design a transportation system. Can you imagine trying to move freight that way?

The name of the Heinlein story is something along the lines of “The roads must roll”. It is in fact in The past through tomorrow.

It contains the classic line “In Los Angeles, a pedestrian was defined as someone who had found a place to park”.

I read it quite some time ago, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you if it answers the OPs questions. Given that it was RAH, I would assume he would cover it in exhaustive detail.

How dare you malign the Dean??? Blasphemer! :wink:

You can also find “The Roads Must Roll” in The Man Who Sold The Moon.

I think Heinlein discussed how to get around the wind issue–there were buffers that extended down from the ceiling, isolating the airflow along tracks of similar velocities, and there were fans that created a “wind” that moved along with the tracks. (Possibly I’m misremembering this.)

He talked about moving freight, too, on special freight beltways–not alongside passengers. Since you could use load lifters to move cargo containers from track to track, I don’t see why it would be worse than using a railway–better, in fact, because the roads were always rolling.

The biggest problem that had occurred to me was that it required people to stand the whole way! Nothing to lean against, no bar to hang on to. . .

Obviously, it’s not such a great idea, or we’d see them everywhere (like waterbeds :)). Ya win some, ya lose some.

Hmm. You’d have to have a lot of freight lifters on every track, to reach out and grab freight from the slower lanes or deposit it onto them for the reverse trip. The lifters would have to be on the tracks rather than fixed because otherwise the high speed packages/track would be zooming by them. If the lifters were somewhat mobile along the track (ooh, or on separate tracks between cargo tracks!) it would be possible. But groups of packages would be spread out over a long distance and interspersed with other packages. I guess that a really smart computer could sort it out on the other end, but in practice I bet it would be a good way to make today’s airline baggage system look real good. Still, a novel (in 1940) concept that is fun to consider.

You could move loads across using lifting bags.

I remember this from years ago, the linear cities and all.

In some minor ways it is almost true, building new roads into wilderness does cause businesses to crop up along them along with services and finally housing.

Since it was written in 1940 log before the modern interstate jams it is prophetic in some ways.

It was in the paper that Germany is going to try an underground automated freight delivery system. I’ll try to find a link.

While Heinlein tried to make such a technology “believable” within the confines of his storyline (and the idea of conveyor belts being extended to urban and interurban transport is not wholly unreasonable, if somewhat far-fetched for reasons given by other posters already), I took it as metaphorical of the idea of urban sprawl, particularly along routes between cities, with consequent center-city decay. This was already beginning to be a problem in 1940 when he sketched out the story, and he merely extrapolated the trend. Does the idea that Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington are joined together by development along corridors, with much of the central cities far less vibrant and liveable than they were 50 years ago, sound at all plausible?

Oh, and by the way, Heinlein saw the power source for the “rolling roads” as something very far out – solar power. And all this supposedly took place during “The Crazy Years” when theoretically rational people believed in silliness like sun-sign astrology, mystical properties of crystals, and other such phenomena and to challenge the established social and political system, none of which could not happen in a scientific, God-fearing nation like America, as letter writers were quick to point out to Astounding.

Which brings me to my traditional Cassandra comment: given what Heinlein foresaw in 1940 for the rest of the 20th century, what about his vision for the 21st? St. Podkayne, care to comment?


Hope you don’t mind me jumping in here, Pod!

I am continually amazed by how on-the-mark Heinlein is. His predictions for scientific discovery, sociological change and human nature are astoundingly accurate.

What gets me, over and over, is how similar the newspaper headlines from his “Crazy Years” are to actual news items from our lives. I’m not sure if I should laugh or cry.

I was startled when rereading Starship Troopers (I think it was) to read a passage about gangs of lawless youth being a major problem in the cities. The thing that jumped out was that Heinlein, who was STRONGLY pro-gun, spoke of these gangs wandering about doing their violence with knives and clubs and chains. I wondered what he thought about the rise of gang-related gun violence.

Whenever I see some charismatic Fundie right-winger with political ambition, I think of Nehemiah Scudder.

Organ-donor clone banks a la The Cat Who Walks Through Walls don’t seem that far off.

The Heinleinian concept I most look forward to seeing in the real world is his more flexible view of marriage. I don’t just mean the more out-there stuff, like line marriages. People are getting divorced at such a high rate that it only seems logical to legalize the “X-year contract”–we’ll function as a social and economic unit for a limited time, and when the contract expires, we’ll consider “re-upping.” It’s sort of like making eventual divorce the default mode. I’m sure it would offend the snot out of the Scudderites, but it makes a hell of a lot of sense to me. What with Vermont legalizing “civil unions,” I think there might be hope.

It’s often hard for me to sort out when books were written, and when he was just reflecting what was already happening in society, 'cause I’m such a young pup. I’ve never read a Heinlein book when it was “new”. He died in '88, when I was only 14. I remember the day I saw it on the news, and I was crushed. I had already devoured most of the juvies, but hadn’t really discovered his more mature works.

One can debate endlessly about whether a writer’s predictions about society were on the mark–those are subject to interpretation. But look at the technological concepts that Heinlein invented that are in wide use–waterbeds (as I mentioned above), waldoes (named for the title character of his novella, Waldo)–heck, some even credit him with the invention of the space suit. His movie, Destination Moon was the most accurate prognistication of the Apollo landings. How many other sci fi writers have that kind of track record?

Can anyone suggest any other inventions by sci-fi writers? Clarke gets credit for the geostationary telecommunications satellite. Any others?

Actually, the moving sidewalk idea pre-dated “The Roads Must Roll.” I came across it in a story entitled “Seeker of Tomorrow”, by Leslie Johnson and Eric Frank Russell, which can be found in the collection “Science Fiction of the 30’s” (edited by Damon Knight). Knight pointed out that this story was published in 1937, 3 years before TRMR.

Asimov admitted that the moving sidewalk idea had been used before, but he pointed out that, back in the old days of SF, most everybody thought that we’d have moving sidewalks. They never foresaw the idea of interstate highways (or suburban sprawl, for that matter). Instead, most writers assumed cites would just get bigger and bigger, with hardly anyone owning a car (unless it was a flying car…).

Acutally, I’m glad we don’t have those. I’m barely coordinated enough to handle the non-flying kind. :wink:

It is amazing how well people in touch with human nature and technology can make predictions, but it is just as astonishing how badly they can screw things up.

For example, in the story New York A.D.: 2660, written in the pre-war year of 1911 by Hugo Gernsback, automated cars with voice-recognition are described. The main character can hail an Aerocab (the standard flying car gimmick), tell the machine where he wants to go, and off he flies.

He also describes solar cells in some detail. He calls them Helio-Dynamophores and says they can generate 120 kW almost as long as the sun shines. He places them on a mechanical apparatus that keeps them facing the sun. He describes the modern flat cell as being invented in 2469 by the Italians, and that the secret ingredient used is derivatives of the Radium-M class with Tellurium and Arcturium. Well, we have found a different method, but the concept of turning solar rays directly into electricity is the same.

But perhaps my favorite is the Tele-Theater, essentially a home entertainment system. Predictably, they use it to watch plays and operas and other signs of sophistication and refinement. But in his system, a whole room of the house is a theater and you can order up programming on demand. He describes as playhouses in various cities as having international subscriberships.

He describes a system of strong lights guiding various types of aircraft in to land.

Interestingly, he describes using radiation as a cure for infectious diseases. Just get a good, strong dose of Arcturium Rays shielded by helium gas and you will be free of parasites.

He was as limited by his culture as by his technology. He predicted the TV but not the sitcom, the growth of the city but not the suburb.

I got this story from the book_Science_Fiction:Contemporary_Mythology, edited by Patricia Warrick, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Joseph Olander, ISBN number 0-06-046943-9, a book I personally recommend. It has stories few other collections have and it intersperses commentary among the logical sections it is divided into.