The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – review of Robert A Heinlein's book

6 February 2011 , ,

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - Robert HeinleinRobert A. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a rarity amongst science-fiction of its era in portraying political decisions and political decision making with a depth and subtlety quite unlike the embarrassingly bad seen in highly praised books such as Isaac Asimov’s The Gods Themselves (where asking one question once of one Senator and not getting the answer you like is enough to give up on government, democracy and all). Heinlein’s tale of a revolt on a lunar colony which then seeks independence from Earth has strong parallels with the American War of Independence and gives a long hearing to libertarian ideals, but it is not an uncritical homage to life without government (especially given the reliance on insider dealing and printing of money to fund the libertarian efforts). Whilst some characters are enthusiastic libertarians, there is enough material for readers to draw very different conclusions.

The narrator has a very distinctive syntax along with a special Lunar vocabulary, reflecting how the English language will most likely continue to change in the future. This can make for tough reading at times if you do not like the style but also makes the audio version of the book particularly good, especially given the fine performance and accents by the person who reads the main audio version available.

The attempts to generate a version of English for the future is part of a general attempt to paint an internally consistent and plausible future, where the impact of the Moon’s low gravity is thought through in its many different impacts on the colony. Where the future now looks very off is the failure to appreciate how computers and communications technology would get smaller (no need for the massive mainframe of the story now nor the reliance on popping into phone boxes) and how having more and more advanced computers now no longer seems to be a sure route to enabling them to be able to answer almost any question and predict almost everything about the future.

Heinlien’s plot has other holes – especially the Lunar authorities’s inability even to investigate the cause of malfunctioning sewage and air supplies. This is more than compensated for by the good mix of action and thought, intelligent variation of pace through the plot and absence of (too many) predictable twists and turns in the storyline. A good read all in all.

You can buy Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress from Amazon here.

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3 comments
montejo
montejo

The society created by the revolutionaries in this book seems anarchist rather than libertarian. There are no courts to settle disputes between people--they are resolved through hiring a local mob. I also don't see how the character "Mike" fits comfortably within science fiction. Mike is more of a fantasy because Heinlein doesn't explain how a computer could achieve sentience and experience human emotions like loneliness and sympathy for revolutionaries. My full take on the book is here: http://thecosmicparadigm.blogspot.com/2011/03/review-moon-is-harsh-mistress.html

John Wood
John Wood

I feel you may have misinterpreted the book. It is clear that the first thing that the Authority do when there is a problem is to suspect the control mechanism i.e. the HOLMES IV computer (Mike) and ask the resident computer technician (Manny) to see if that is the problem. This seems quite sensible to them - if Manny couldn't repair the control mechanism then they would take further steps. It states quite clerly in the book that a solution was always found. The LA do not know that Mike has become self-aware and is playing tricks because he is lonely, nor that Manny and Mike are deliberately causing the problems - initially so Manny can get a contract (and money) to fix them!

Mark Pack
Mark Pack

John: Interesting point, but not one I find completely convincing. Imagine the scenario - authority is facing unrest and regular technical troubles, only one engineer apparently knows how to fix them and though he seems to fix them other problems keep on happening - and yet the one engineer doesn't then get spied on or have someone supervise his work? I don't find that a plausible sequence.

C-