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

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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