The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.
Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is, essentially, a retelling of the American Revolution of 1776, the major difference being that this revolution takes place on the moon, and is in response to oppression from the planet Earth. There is also a similarity between the founding of the Lunar “nation” and the founding of Australia, in that each of these places was essentially used as a place for larger, imperial nations to place their unwanted – criminals, political exiles, etc. The story revolves around four main characters: Manny, the technician; Prof, the Rational Anarchist; Wyoming Knott, Political Agitator; and “Mike” – sensitive supercomputer with humanoid tendencies (for all you Star Trek Next Generation fans – think Data, after the emotion chip but without a humanoid body). This unlikely quartet somehow collides, and they begin what is to become one of the most unreal political and social upheavals in human and interstellar history.
4 – Characters extraordinarily developed.
Characterization is a great achievement in this book. Heinlein puts a realistic group of people together, in plausible but extraordinary situations, and creates responses, interactions, and events which are all believable and interesting to witness. Manny, the technician, is simple and factual. He analyzes situations, speaks with naïve wisdom, and reacts with fierce protective instincts whenever his (very large) family is threatened. He is equally loyal to his small group of friends, including his “best friend” – the supercomputer Mike. His personality shines through, and is not hard for the reader to imagine him as the reluctant leader he becomes – never wanting to engage in politics or to lead a rebellion, he becomes the perfect choice to guide Luna through turmoil and toward liberty. Wyoh (Wyoming) is every bit the rebel. When she was a child, she endured a physical injury which causes unfathomable mental anguish – this was caused by an unpardonable offense committed by the “Authority” – Luna’s political (or dictatorial security) body. She grows up to hate the Authority, and to seek vengeance, which leads her to create the first alliance against the Authority. Professor de la Paz, an exiled “subversive” from Earth, is a self-proclaimed “Rational Anarchist” who engages in the revolution mainly due to an innate hatred for any kind of government, but particularly towards those which oppress the rights of another people – in this case, Earth over Luna (the Moon). These three (Manny, reluctantly) form the very first Lunar self-government, with a Declaration of Independence (stolen from America’s Declaration) on July 4th. They are guided by the supercomputer Mike aka Adam Selene aka Simon Jester, aka Mycroft Holmes, aka Michelle – a computer who begins to form a type of sentience, and who is striving to learn human interaction by reading novels, playing games, and – most importantly – trying to understand (and tell his own) jokes. It is hard to say why Mike sides with the libertarians, but the assumption is that this machine learns to “feel” and he allies himself with those who show consideration for him – he denies the Authority’s rule because they treat him like a machine; whereas Manny and the small inner-circle treat him as a friend. The growth and development of these relationships, particularly between Manny and Mike, are incredibly well-wrought and wonderful to watch.
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.
Another high mark for this novel is its prose. The book is narrated by the main character, Manny. What is remarkable and intriguing is the way Heinlein has created a new dialect – including slang and vocabulary, for the residents of Luna. There are various Warrens – or cities – throughout Luna, each of them seeming to be an extension of the Earth-based benefactors (Hong Kong, Luna – for example), so many of the characters seem to know and speak various languages, the main being a type of English; however, there is also a distinct difference between “formal” English and Luna-English. When Manny and the Professor visit Earth to encourage the Federated Nations to acknowledge Luna’s sovereignty, Manny is careful to speak formal English so as not to offend or confuse (or annoy) the Earthlings. When he is home, or alone – lost in thought, or with the Professor, though, he (and they) reverts to Luna English – and the result is that even the reader is swept into this feeling of “rebellion” and revolution, simply by engaging in the local language. This is brilliant because it allows the reader to be swept up by the emotion of the movement, without any real guidance toward or description of it – the reader just “is” Luna. The narration is easy to follow, without being simple, and the new language is just divergent enough from English so as to make it interesting, without making it complicated (as with other works which do a similar thing with language as indicative of the represented people – such as A Clockwork Orange).
Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
3 – Additional elements are present and cohesive to the Story.
Heinlein obviously has a clear grasp of history and politics, as well as important thoughts on what it means to be “human” and “free.” This is a masterful science-fiction novel, in that it is futuristic and outlandish, without being disconnected from relative human history and experience. The book was written in the 1960s, and projects approximately 100 years into the future and, while we are no closer now to colonizing the Moon, Heinlein was very careful (it seems) to being realistic in his hypothesis of where human technology will be in 2075. Mike, the supercomputer, for instance, could not truly have been taken as a serious idea by most people alive in the 1960s but, today, with the advent of the Internet, wireless communication, portable telephones, miniature computers, etc. – it is perfectly believable that such a machine, one capable of processing human nature and thought, then developing itself to “grow” similarly, could exist one day. It is also extremely interesting to see the correlation between human history and the future – how will humanity develop over the next 60 years? What will it look like? How will nations begin to interact with one another, if the possibility of more leisurely space travel exists? How will humans look at the world, if they live on the Moon?
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Adult
Interest: Science Fiction, Fictional War, History, Politics, Revolution, Survival, Freedom, Technology, Humanity
“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”
“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.”
“Genius is where you find it”