on November 30, 2011
This novel is a study of the politics and mechanics of a planet's struggle for independence, packaged as compelling science fiction. It takes part in the 2070s when the collection of human settlements on the moon want independence from the oppressive international "Federated Nations" of Earth. Without spoiling anything, the first part of the book takes place on the moon ("Luna") with help from the lunar super-computer who has secretly achieved consciousness, the second part is human negotiations on Earth ("Terra"), and the last part is back on the moon for the final struggle, again teamed up with the artificially intelligent "Mike".
Although heavy on political science at times, this landmark sci-fi story is nonetheless a wonderful blend of subjects such as the novelties and challenges of off-planet human settlement, long-term sustainability, independence, revolution, leadership and organizational theory, politics (especially libertarianism and anarchism), international (and interplanetary) affairs and trade, military strategy, cultural identity, community, polygamy, physics, human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence, and media/mass communication.
The character development is excellent between Manuel (technical expert), Prof (political expert), and Mike, the computer with brains, personality, and independent thought.
Even though the lunar revolution is *against* the reader's familiar Earth, you easily side with the rebellion and the Lunies' fascinating culture and difficult lifestyle that's on the line.
Enjoy the ride!
on September 6, 2003
Standard Heinlein Disclaimer: Heinlein is a frequently polarizing figure in American literature. The people who dislike his work (e.g., A. Panshin) seem to *really* dislike his work, and often for reasons that seem to me spurious. The people who like his work are in many cases blind or too forgiving of Heinlein's problems as a writer. I like Heinlein's work quite a bit, and find all but two of his novels consistently enjoyable, but I would not rate any but one or possibly two of his books as being the "best of the SF genre." They are for me, however, always enjoyable, and that is no small thing to find in an author.
That said, this is one of those books for me. One of the typical knocks against Heinlein is that his books usually star the "Heinlein Hero," a brilliant, tough, sensible Renaissance man; hard if not impossible to kill, ever rising to the occassion. Manny, our hero in this book, is not one of those men. He is hardly brilliant, doesn't want to get involved, and is pitched into the main action of this story--an updating of the American Revolution, but set on/in the Moon (or "Luna")--almost by accident. Manny is, to be honest, one of my very favorite Heinlein characters. (One of the others being Henry Gladstone Kiku of "The Star Beast," but I digress.) Manny has a distinctive voice, and is one of the few characters of fiction who, for me, stays with me after the story.
The story itself is enjoyable, if a bit bumpily paced. To me it had a bit too much start and stop action, but I am completely willing to forgive that given how much I enjoy the characters, the setting, and the fascinating (to me) circumstances conjured by Heinlein in setting up his society in Luna. Not only has Manny stayed with me, but the Lunar society I find one of his most solid "worlds;" so much so that I was greatly pleased when he revisited it in a later book ("The Cat Who Walks Through Walls").
If you have enjoyed Heinlein but not read this book, I believe you will really like it. If you are a Heinlein detractor, I think the pacing and story of this book will not win you over. I love it, but hey, I'm weird.
on February 25, 2003
In many ways, this book has something for everybody. My wife assigned HARSH MISTRESS as the final reading to a class studying American revolutions. She finds the connections to American history interesting. Some are explicit, such as the Professor's own lectures on the importance of timing and foreign distraction in creating your own revolution. She also liked the historically appropriate "complainant pays" criminal justice system, and the penal colony environment.
For me, there was Mike. Mike represented the ahistorical link. American revolutionaries never really had their own Mike, the intelligent computer. Though depicted largely as a cobbled-together mainframe that just happened to stumble on the necessary capacity for sentience, Mike provides the means for looking at more contemporary revolution issues. For instance, his interference represents the imperfect communications monitoring that allows cell-structured groups to operate today. He also brings to mind the financing required to operate a disbursed and secretive group. It's cheaper to run than the US Military, but it still requires some seed money.
I'll assume that, >whoah!<, thinking computers were not even that amazing an idea back when Heinlein envisioned this book, though apparently personal computing was. That is kind of the quaint charm of the story, the sense that computers were this awe-inspiring thing that only a handful of technicians could understand. Eventually, interesting as Mike's initial explorations into human interaction are, he and the Professor jointly morph into the Heinleinian sidekick, while Manuel is your basic Heinlein First Person, albeit with neat-o changing arms and funky accent (this guy needs an action-figure toy). There's no point in remembering the name of The Blonde, because, well, the other "quaint" aspect of this book is how much of a non-entity she is.
Basically, MISTRESS is a book of ideas. That the ideas are so interesting is what makes it seem like the author had a fun time writing it. The plot is uneven, the characters so-so, and the conflict rigged with pushover antagonists. This book has become part of the libertarian freak flag because it has interesting things to say about justice, coercion, and economy, many of which today's would-be libertarians would do well to remember.
on December 22, 2002
Much like Heinlein's "Starship Troopers," "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is not so much the sci-fi adventure yarn the cover copy promotes as a thoughtful, resonant novel of socio-political commentary. But whereas the former novel is underdeveloped and somewhat disappointing, "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is a well-plotted and mostly interesting example of what sci-fi can do in the right hands.
Set in 2076, "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" tells the story of a lunar colony's bid for independence from an exploitative Earth which regards the "Loonies" as celestial fodder. Slowly but surely the seeds of revolution are sown by a determined clique of conspirators: Wyoh, the spirited and beautiful heart of the cabal; Mike, the virtually omniscient supercomputer struggling with his own self-awareness; Prof, the conspiracy's mastermind to whom revolution is just another cerebral exercise; and Manuel, a computer repairman and the story's narrator, whose unique gifts and commitment to the cause ultimately make him the revolt's most important member.
Heinlein does stack the deck. The powers-that-be on Earth are not only barely developed caricatures but inept fighters to boot, while the Lunar revolutionaries benefit from some extraordinary strokes of good luck. Even so, the plot rarely flags and much remains in doubt to the last page.
While perhaps not the unqualified masterpiece cited by some of my fellow reviewers, this is a highly notable book of much insight, wit, and literary power. The case for libertarianism is well-made, and many of Heinlein's political points are dead-on--and even those that aren't help make for a very worthwile read. Recommended to anyone interested in sci-fi or political theory.
on April 26, 2002
Lately I've been reading a lot of older science fiction, especially Hugo award winners and nominees, so I've come across some pretty great books. In my mind, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress ranks right up there with The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester and David Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself for best SF novel written prior to 1980. A lot of people have commented on the politics in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. While the role of politics does play a major part of this novel, it was hard for me to get very interested in. Despite that, there's enough of Heinlein's typically brilliant hard science speculation to keep any sci-fi fan interested. Even better, the characters seem real, the kind of people you immediately like and want to root for. The computer aspect of this novel is really dated, but it didn't pose a problem at all for some reason. I suppose it's because I've never really been exposed to huge, mainframe computers since they're kind of before my time, so it just didn't distract me very much. There's really not much to say that hasn't already been said. Compared to other Heinlein novels I've read, I would rank this one slightly ahead of Stranger in a Strange Land and Time Enough for Love. I also really enjoyed Starship Troopers and The Puppet Masters, though I don't they're quite in the same league as the ones I just mentioned. One other thing I love about Heinlein is his writing style, especially when it's in the first-person as this novel is. The narrator's style is very original. As others have mentioned it's written in a kind of stripped-down, "pidgin" style, and while it's mildly distracting for the first few pages, it flows just fine once you become immersed in the novel. Compared to similar (in some ways) narration styles in books like A Clockwork Orange or some of the novels written by Irvine Welsh such as Trainspotting, it's actually much easier to get used to. In fact, I found The Moon is a Harsh Mistress much easier to understand than novels by Neal Stephenson, for example. Heinlein's down-to-earth writing style shines through, even when adapting the language to suit a future dialect, something that I think a few modern writers could learn a lesson from with their pretentious "look, mom, I'm writing" style of writing. All in all, this was a great book and I look forward to reading more RAH novels. For fans of hard science fiction, you can't go wrong here, and for fans of literature in general, I think this is a pretty safe recommendation. I certainly enjoyed it more than 95% of the "literature" I was assigned to read in high school.
on April 16, 2001
The description on the back of the book says it best: Libertarian revolution. If you're interested in this book at all, you should read it. It was brilliant, moving, thrilling.
What's it about? Well, there's a computer technician living on Luna, a prison colony where the lack of gravity causes irreversible osteoporosis that makes it impossible to move back to Earth after a few months. Earth is dealing with overpopulation and lack of food and shelter. Nations are still divided. And then the people of luna decide that they have had enough and want their freedom. They fight for it. This is their story, including the AI computer that helps them figure out a way to win against the mother world. But I won't tell you what that is or how it ends, because that's the best part.
As a standard caveat though, Heinlein uses a couple of obsolete concepts freely. Relish it, if you will, but be prepared. Sometimes that's what good sci-fi is all about.
My only real q!ualm with this book, and one that almost cost it a star is that it is narrated in the first person, and the narrator has a thick Loonie accent.
on March 3, 2001
I was very skeptical of this book after reading some of the reviews here. Overall, I feel I got my money's worth reading this book. Was it the best book I ever read? No, but it was amusing, worth the money I spent, and worth the time it took to read it.
I found myself stopping and thinking about some of the points Heinlein made throughout the story. I found myself relating to Mannie time and again. As an idealistic libertarian who has grown cynical with age, this story seemed to take my ideas and beliefs, jump ahead 75 years and say "what if".
The story is somewhat dated. We have already advanced technologically beyond parts of the story. Story includes Soviet Union. Nothing too distracting.
Most of the controversy I have heard about this book is the "bizarre" marriages and sexual relationships in the story. Look, the author was trying to make a point about human nature and adaptation under extreme conditions. When men outnumber women 10 to 1, multiple husbands makes mathematical sense.
As a Christian, yes, I find this view of marriage offensive, but hey, it is fiction. It was an interesting exploration of one possible future.
on December 7, 2000
Writing a review about a Robert Heinlein novel is a difficult and daunting task. His works are enjoyed by a wide variety of people who otherwise have very little in common. There is plenty in his politics to offend both liberals and conservatives. His sexual mores were, shall we say, liberated in the extreme. But coupled with those mores was a passionate devotion to children and the family concept that would give the "free love" crowd great pause. His works range from classic 1930's era pulp Sci-fi, to the bizarre, to well thought-out political and social commentary, laced with believable science and engineering.
"The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress" falls into the third category. It is a well reasoned, fast paced book about a time in the not all too distant future when the Moon, (like Australia of a couple centuries past) is used as a penal colony. By the time of the story, there are an abundance of free people on the Moon -- either convicts who have discharged their sentences, or descendents of previous "residents" -- and these people begin a revolt not unlike our own American Revolution.
Throughout the novel, Heinlein comments (strongly, at times) on matters of law, justice, social equality, personal responsibility, and sex.
I could not put this book down.
on November 12, 2000
In light of the Election 2000 disaster, maybe this is the perfect time to discover (or rediscover) Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress." The year is 2076 and the time is ripe for a revolution of the residents of the moon against the controlling Authority of Earth. Such a revolution for independence seems impossible. Yet, the hero of the book, Manuel (with the assistance of a computer named Mike) slowly begins to see that revolution just may be possible.
Years ago I read several Heinlein books, but this is the first one I've read in a long time. The book works on many levels. As a science-fiction novel, I would say the books succeeds quite well. While definitely not a space-opera, Heinlein packs the novel with plenty of action and adventure. The book also works well as a mystery, satire, character study, and even as a diagram for political revolution. As always, Heinlein has some very interesting (if not a little wacky) ideas about how a society should be run. Sometimes it's fun trying to figure out whether Heinlein is stating part of his world-view or simply making fun of us as a society.
This is a great book to read right now. Ever since the Presidential Election fiasco has been in the forefront of the news, many people have said that our way of voting may be changing. Maybe even more than our voting practices will change. Heinlein's book is basically all about change. Sometimes things need to change. Sometimes we think that things must change and we try to force change. Reading this book made me think a lot about the changes that might take place in the country in the coming months and years. After you read the book, do some thinking. Every change brings with it consequences and the chance that the change may not be exactly what we thought it would be. Happy reading.
on June 10, 2000
I'm not a Heinlein fan. Whenever I start with a book of his, I brace myself for yet another alterego surrounded by beautiful educated females who adore him for unknown reasons, and the also inevitable stronger helper/superhuman who accompanies and teaches the protagonist.
This time there was a "line marriage", again giving the protagonist any number of women he would want, and thus the opportunity to be lofty about it. But I admit readily: the line marriage is a real good idea. I hope it will be allowed on earth real soon. And yes the superbrain was there in the story too. This time in the form of a sentient supercomputer that was interesting to meet, and gave the opportunity to explore Heinleins concepts of AI.
The most important reason I liked this book is because it matched an intelligent plot to fast paced action and considerable insights in the making of revolutions and the behavior of governments if they are confronted with one. If you're planning a revolution, do read this book as a starter. But if you're not: it's still a good read that as an extra resets your thoughts about the way we have structured our society now.