on September 8, 2003
I rank this among Heinlein's three absolutely magisterial novels (the other two being _The Door into Summer_ and _Double Star_).
I'm not altogether sure why it's regarded as a "libertarian" novel; although Heinlein was indeed calling himself a libertarian by the time he wrote it, there's nothing much here by way of a principled case for liberty. But it sure is some great storytelling.
It's 2076, see, and Luna is a penal colony (rather like Botany Bay). Projections indicate that it's losing natural resources at such a rate that it will become uninhabitable within a small number of years. So it's time to reenact the American Revolution.
But this time it's led by computer repairman Manuel Garcia O'Kelly Davis, "rational anarchist" Professor Bernardo de la Paz, rabble-rousing rebel Wyoming Knott, and a HOLMES IV computer named Mycroft who happens to have become sentient.
Okay, the technological projections aren't the most accurate (even for Heinlein, who didn't average all that well anyway). But man oh man, what a story.
And it's narrated by Mannie himself, in a thick Lunar dialect that owes a lot to Russian (and, one suspects, to Anthony Burgess's _A Clockwork Orange_). Heinlein does a wonderful job here, keeping the tone just right throughout the entire novel and never drifting into obscurity.
Heinlein made his original reputation with brilliant short stories, but this novel is one of the reasons he kept it. Nearly forty years after it was written, it's still on the shortlist of the best SF ever. Don't miss it.
on November 3, 2003
I'm not embarrassed to admit that I actually got teary eyed at the end of this book. It was one of the most engrossing, well written books RAH penned. It proved that his "black belt" in writing was well deserved. Any SF fan would enjoy this book, period. I know a LOT of people that love SF and some that tolerate it. All really - really- liked this book.
Come on, RAH even did some time hopping in another novel to revisit the events of this one - and "save" a key character. As the old cereal commercial states "try it - you'll like it!"
on March 17, 2004
I am not much of a science fiction reader or film watcher but when my friend bought THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS for my birthday, it instantly became one of my favorite books. Not one of my favorite science fiction books, one of my favorite books period. And what makes it such is its sturdy character development and plot development. All the characters are believeable and likeable. This includes Mike the computer. His desire to understand humor and humans must have been revolutionary for the time the book was written.
I have heard of Heinlein's political leanings and how they affected his writing. However, I did not sense that the novel was a veiled attempt at spewing a manifesto. The story is simply about humans wanting to be treated as such, and having to fight for that treatment. Mike's suggestion to "throw rocks" at the oppressors was absolutely brilliant. It made me think of the Biblical line: "Let he who is without sin throw the first stone". Maybe there's a link, maybe not. I'm sure there are dozens of master's theses out there on this subject. In any event, this is a brilliant work of fiction of any kind! Read it!
on January 13, 2004
With TANSTAAFL for a screen name, how could I not review this book. ;-)
TANSTAAFL (There Aint No Such Thing As A Free Lunch) is the theme of this book and here Heinlein, unlike some of his other works, manages to intertwine his plot and theme without being too preachy.
Heinlein who, preachy or not, is always a great storyteller is at the top of his game with this one. The people of the moon, populated primarily by prisoners and their decendants a la Australia, rise up for a hopelessly outmanned and outgunned battle with Earth. The story is told through the eyes of an everyman hero, Manuel Garcia O'Kelly, jack of all trades and even master of a few of them. An everyman protaganist is, of course, helpful for the reader to identify with but Heinlein makes the book great, rather than good, with the inclusion of three of the most memorable characters in SF literature. Professor Bernado de la Paz, a veteran revolucianario full of contradictions, Wyoming Knott, who I do not want to describe here because you should discover her for yourself in the book, and Mycroft Holmes, not Sherlock's smarter brother, but rather the smartest computer who we know has reached sentience because he wants what we all want - to be loved.
If you have never read Heinlein, read this book.
If you have read Heinlein and haven't yet read this, read this book.
If you have already read this book, read it again, I have been re-reading it every few years for more than 30 years now, and I still love to read it.
on July 25, 2003
Lots of almost-great science fiction stumbles on the 'science' part - you have to keep reminding yourself, 'Oh, that's a literary device to keep the story moving.' Examples include the evil critters in Alien, transporters in Star Trek, and so on.
You will NOT have that problem with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Not only is it a great political-wartime thriller, but the science is rock-solid. There's nothing fundamentally impossible, and the numbers, where they appear, are right. This lets you sink deeply into the story without constantly having to suspend disbelief.
Briefly, the Moon is a penal colony of Earth and both worlds are in a deep economic crisis - only the moon doesn't know it yet. Enter a shifty computer-repairman who is the only person who knows that the colony's main computer has become sentient. Add a hot-headed revolutionary and a subversive polymath who use the computer to find out that everyone on the Moon will starve unless the balance of shipments is changed radically. The Earth won't listen, ergo, revolution.
But how to foment revolution? How to force powerful Earth to grant independence? How to keep the lights on and the air moving while Earth is dropping H-bombs? And how to to keep the computer, who doesn't 'understand' the urgency, entertained by the whole thing?
This gritty story should be read by high school students, political science majors, pacifists, generals, technologists, luddites...
I'd love to see this made into a movie, but only if Stanley Kubrick could do it, and he's slightly unavailable. Keep Spielberg away from it!
Heinlein is great at speculating how societies work under different conditions. This story is believable, engrossing, and reads as well now as the day it was written.
on July 6, 2003
A recent and much-publicized poll by the Science Fiction Fan Club attempted to list the fifty greatest science fiction and fantasy works of the last fifty years, and "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" failed to make the cut. This just goes to show, I suppose, that some people still don't get it. This is a brilliant book, insightful, clever, thought-provoking, and one of only a few science fiction classics from the sixties that has aged well over the past four decades.
The story, of course, is set late in the twenty-first century, when the Moon is being used as a penal colony. A group of insurgents is working to overthrow the Authority, but progress is slow until the computer responsible for running communication and almost everything else becomes sentient and is talked into fighting on the side of the rebels. While the novel does contain a complete and coherent story arc, it essentially exists as a fairly episodic sequence of events, each one exploring specific topics. There are discussions ranging everywhere how to deal with a computer that develops a sense of humor to whether alternate family arrangements would be superior to our society's current norms. I may be deterring some potential readers with this description, so let me make two things clear. First of all, "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is peopled with a cast of distinctive and engaging characters, and they keep their personalities at all times even when they're planning or debating. Secondly, the writing in this book is outstanding. The most distinctive feature is the dialogue. Heinlein tried to predict what future English dialects might sound like based on trends that he saw in speech. The result is word choice and vocabulary that in some ways was a quite accurate prediction of how spoken language has changed in the last two generations. It should also be mentioned that Heinlein makes very efficient use of his sentences and paragraphs, leading to a book that covers a tremendous amount of ground in less than four-hundred pages.
Of course, the political and social aspects of "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" will probably always remain its most controversial feature. Heinlein has quite a bit to say about any number of topics; I won't attempt to summarize it all here. Some of it I agree with while other parts I'm strongly opposed to, but I don't judge novels by the stances of their writers. The important thing is he integrates his ideas into the story and presents them in a convincing manner. There are a few subtle hints which suggest that Heinlein didn't intend for his message to be taken entirely at face value (a fact which seems to have passed over the heads of a few readers), but in my mind any book that challenges the reader to think from new perspectives rather than just trying to buttress old ones qualifies as a success. Many political novels go to extremes of dichotomy, making one side universally noble and honest while the other team gets depicted as completely vile. One thing that I found refreshing about "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is that it readily admitted that even the good guys had to be duplicitous and occasionally criminal in order to win the day. Such honesty about politics is refreshing indeed.
on March 25, 2003
Some people claim this book is sugar coated. The enemies are one dimensional and easily conquered. I'll concede that's true, to an extent. What makes the book shine, however, are the characters. Heinlein's technical and scientific descriptions show the heavy research that went into crafting this book. Radiation storms, catapults, etc. Sure, a giant immobile computer is a bit dated, but who cares? It's all about suspension of disbelief. If you're going to accept a colony on the moon and a man with 7 detachable arms, accept Mike, the computer.
Speaking of Mike..absolutely the most endearing artificial intelligence character I have ever come across. I was nearly in tears at the novel's conclusion (Man . . . Man my best friend . . . ). Mannie turns from a simple mechanic out to cheat Authority to a full blown leader. Prof is endearing and vicious at the same time. Stuart LaJoie, although somewhat underdeveloped, serves to amuse and delight.
A fascinating tale of rebellion, potentially realistic space travel, and a wonderful talking computer. One of Heinlein's best.
on January 23, 2003
It is a shame that sci-fi is so easily written off by many people as geek fodder. This book has much in common with 1984 in that it has such an insightful view into how politics, and society itself for that matter, works. 1984 is considered by many to be a classic, but if you use the standard definition of sci-fi then it could be thrown in there, and if nobody had taken the time to see past the fact that the book takes place in the future, it easily could have been tossed aside like a cheap pulp novel and we wouldn't have learned so much from it. 1984 teaches us the mechanics of totalitarianism. Heinlein in this book shows us the mechanics of revolution against totalitarianism, and the view is slightly frightening. The tactics that must be resorted to in order to create a stable society based on individual freedom are not as idealistic as the end result. The main characters use schemes almost as treacherous as those used by people that create and maintain authoritarian governments. It is only because we can see inside their secret meetings, and for that matter their heads, that we know their motives are pure and we want them to succeed. However it makes it clear how both sides use propaganda and the wills of the people to accomplish their ends, and how revolutions can go wrong or only lead to equally as bad or worse governments if the people involved aren't honest.
Overall I would say that the information in this book is indispensable. Especially if you want to understand how politics really works, at the back room level, and how the rest is propaganda and bureaucracy. Anyone that liked 1984 will probably like this book, but with all due respect to George Orwell I would have to say that this one has a better plot and is more fun to read even if you're not as interested in the politics.
on October 13, 2002
Now, how to defend that sweeping statement? It's kind of hard to pin down WHY I like this so much.
Is it the story of a horribly oppressed people rising up against the whole world, and winning? Maybe.
Is it the fact that 3 of the characters (Professor De La Cruz, Wyoming Knott and Mycroft Holmes) are among the most memorable in all of SF? Maybe.
Is it the whole-cloth realization of the Libertarian ideal without being overbearing, pedantic or intrusive? Maybe.
Is it that Heinlein manages to have hit the sweet spot of his "it's not the plot, it's the gestalt fabric of the story" method of writing? Maybe.
Is it that he pulls this off with a dialect that appears to be English transliterated from Russian (no definite articles are used). Maybe.
Can't really say. But I've re-read this more than any other book I own, and I read maybe 5,000.
Oh, sure, there's "Ender's Game" and "Dune" and "Snow Crash", not to mention Heinlein's own quiet masterpiece "Double Star." But for some reason, I can't put any of them above this one.
Note that I'm writing this about 3 years after my last reading, and it's all still fresh in my mind. Maybe that's it. Certainly not a lot of books I can say that about.
on October 12, 2002
Set in a future penile colony on the moon, this book details the events in the life of a computer technitian, Mannie, who befreinds Mike, a computer just waking up to self-awareness. Mike is a well done AI charachter, as are all the charachters, but only a few know of him. He is the key to success of the plan to get rid of the controlling prison corperation who is in controll of life on Luna.
While I usually don't like books written in first person from one charachters point of view, I did not find it difficult at all because it is so well done. Heinlein has a talent for writing which can cover any style, even local vernacular, as this one is. I found myself typing in 'loonie' speak several times in the last week while re-reading this book.
This book also shows the intense study Heinlen put into social and political study before writing this book. There are many details of politics, negotiation, government, and human nature discussed, mostly from the point of view of 'Prof', a pivitol charachter who has monumental influence on the freeing of Luna.
Such social concepts as different forms of marriage such a polyandaries, group marriages, and line marriages are commonplace on Luna due to the different kinds of social and finantial dynamics in the prison colony. The main characher is part of a line marriage, which I found to be an intriguing concept.
This book is a classic of sience fiction. This riviting book will make you laugh, cry, and empathise with the people within. Highly recomended.