The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress

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The Moon Is A Harsh MistressThe Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
Published: 1966
Narrated by: Lloyd James
Length: 14:12 (302 pages)

This is one of Heinlein’s most popular novels and the third of his I’ve read. It’s political science fiction that covers the span of a revolution. The year is 2075 and the moon (Luna) is now a penal colony for the criminals of Earth. The inhabitants live in underground cities, and once exiled it’s not just a life sentence for them, but for the generations that follow as well. Once someone’s on Luna for too long, their bodies have too much trouble adapting to earth’s gravity to return for long periods, so after their sentence is finished they live forever as free men and women on the moon.

I will accept any rules that you feel necessary to your freedom. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.

It’s a culture without written laws, following the philosophy of ‘there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch’. A perfect case Libertarian society. There are no signed contracts; if you are untrustworthy people just stop working with you. If you cause problems, you’ll find yourself thrown out of an airlock. There are twice as many men as women on Luna, which has resulted in polyandry group marriages and given women a lot of power, so if you treat a woman poorly it’s also an airlock sentence. It’s the wild west in space, in a way.

Don’t explain computers to laymen. Simpler to explain sex to a virgin.

The main protagonist is Manual, a native Loonie (Lunar resident) of Russian heritage. He works as a computer technician after having lost his arm in a drilling accident, giving him the awesome ability to switch his prosthetic arm out for specialty arms when the need arises, and one of his jobs is to maintain the Lunar Authority’s master computer, the HOLMES IV. He is the only one trusted with this maintenance, and therefore becomes the only one to discover that the computer has become sentient. He nicknames him Mike, after Mycroft Holmes.

The Lunar Authority is an exploitative controlling force from Earth that pushes arbitrary regulations to keep the Loonies impoverished. An apposing group had been meeting in secret for some time, but now with control of the moon’s super computer, Manual and two friends decide to head a revolution.

The thing to do with a spy is to let him breathe, encyst him with loyal comrades, and feed him harmless information to please his employers. These creatures will be taken into our organization. Don’t be shocked; they will be in very special cells. ‘Cages’ is a better word. But it would be the greatest waste to eliminate them—not only would each spy be replaced with someone new but also killing these traitors would tell the Warden that we have penetrated his secrets.

Once the revolution starts, the books jumps out to a high-level overview that covers the course of a year or two, and novels always tend to lose me a bit at that stage. I felt the same about Earth Abides, thrown off by the shift in pace and focus. The novel shifts from being a personal story about these three revolutionaries to a thought project on where this would lead, which was interesting as an essay but less so as fiction. I enjoyed reading about how to approach a revolution, how to organize covert cells, and the steps they were taking, but I would have also liked more personal conflict.

That might be the main problem with this – it’s a novel about a revolution that has no real conflict. It never feels like anything is at stake, or that anything is going to go wrong. The biggest surprise in the novel is that there isn’t really a surprise. Everything goes well. There are a couple sad deaths in what is essentially the epilogue, but no one important dies during the revolution. Nothing wrong ever really happens. The sentient super computer that controls the moon and the entire revolution, and has just discovered its sense of humour, somehow doesn’t go evil. It doesn’t even blue screen or have, like, network connectivity issues. Nothing!

Overall I did really enjoy this, but I found I didn’t care about the outcome as much as I wanted to. It was interesting, but it didn’t grab me in any emotional way.

3 thoughts on “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress

  1. Pingback: The Classics Club

  2. JE Fountain

    Heinlein didn’t quite make my top 100 (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is 106). But he has more than any other author in my top 350. So, I’ll get to this eventually….sounds good, not great.

    1. Rob Post author

      Good but not great is right, but there’s certainly a lot of people out there that would put this in the great category. Of the three of his I’ve read, this was my least favourite, but it’s still thought-provoking and imaginative.

      (I love that you have a top 350!)


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