The Green Hills of Earth

"The Green Hills of Earth" is a science fiction short story by American writer Robert A. Heinlein. One of his Future History stories, the short story originally appeared in The Saturday Evening Post (February 8, 1947), and it was collected in The Green Hills of Earth (and subsequently in The Past Through Tomorrow). Heinlein selected the story for inclusion in the 1949 anthology My Best Science Fiction Story. "The Green Hills of Earth" is also the title of a song mentioned in several of Heinlein's novels.

Plot summary

It is the story of "Noisy" Rhysling, the blind space-going songwriter whose poetic skills rival Rudyard Kipling's. Heinlein (himself a medically retired U.S. naval officer) spins a yarn about a radiation-blinded spaceship engineer crisscrossing the solar system writing and singing songs. The story takes the form of a nonfiction magazine article.[1]

Heinlein credited the title of the song, "The Green Hills of Earth", to the short story "Shambleau" by C. L. Moore (first published in 1933).[2] In the story Moore's character, a spacefaring smuggler named Northwest Smith, hums the tune of "The Green Hills of Earth." Moore and Henry Kuttner also have Northwest Smith hum the song in their 1937 short story "Quest of the Starstone," which quotes several lines of lyrics.

The events of the story concern the composition of the titular song. An aged Rhysling realizes that his death of old age is near, and hitchhikes on a spaceship headed to Earth so he can die and be buried where he was born. A malfunction threatens the ship with destruction, and Rhysling enters an irradiated area to perform repairs. Upon completing the repairs, he knows that he will soon die of radiation poisoning, and asks that they record his last song; he dies just moments after speaking the final, titular verse.