Book Review: The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein

I’m breaking into the sci-fi classics. I’ve never read Heinlein, but I’ve had The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land on my list for some time. (I also have I, Robot by Isaac Asimov on the list because I really enjoyed Foundation, but more on that later when I actually get it.)

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. HeinleinIn this one, Luna has been a penal colony for around a hundred years, long enough that an actual society has sprung up there. But they’re facing a crisis: in around seven years, their food supply will be depleted, all of it sent down to Earth.

Now, it’s up to three disparate people — a computer technician, a female revolutionary, and an old professor — to start the revolution that will win Luna her freedom. But they have a secret ally: Mike, the first computer to gain sentience.

The whole book is written from a first-person viewpoint, with our main character being Manuel Garcia O’Kelly-Davis (known as Man or Manny), a top-notch computer technician on Luna.

As such, it’s written in “Loonie” slang, which makes it a little like reading English translated directly from another language. Plus, Luna is a colony that’s been populated by people from all over the globe, so bits and pieces of other languages creep in, particularly Russian.

I see in Lunaya Pravda that Luna City council has passed on first reading a bill to examine, license, inspect — and tax — public food vendors operating inside municipal pressure. I see also is to be mass meeting tonight to organize “Sons of Revolution” talk-talk.

Those are the first lines of the book. I had to read the second sentence two or three times to make sure I wasn’t accidentally skipping over a word.

While I respect Heinlein’s ability to stick to his viewpoint character’s tone, it did make it difficult to get into the story, and made it very difficult to understand some of the more complicated scientific and political theories and processes he was discussing.

It’s also not really written as a traditional story is. A large part of the first third of the book is a summary of the events leading up to the revolution, and the revolution itself is but one quick chapter. After that, it’s all about the Loonies keeping the freedom they’ve gained.

For some parts, it’s interesting — reading about how they build the resistance, how Man and the professor travel to Earth, and how they solve the problems that running a revolution entails, both the small ones and the large ones.

However, that is a large part of what you’re doing: reading about it. There were only a few times that I felt like I was transported; other times, I wondered when they were going to quit summarizing what was happening.

I also got the feeling a couple of times that I was being preached at. I understand that an author’s personal views are probably going to come through at times, and I’m fine with that, as long as it doesn’t detract from the story. Here, I felt that it did.

That being said, Heinlein had some cool details put in that really made it more realistic. For example, he dealt a lot with the different gravity on Earth versus Luna, which meant Man and the professor had to spend their trip to Earth in wheelchairs (or in bed) because their bodies weren’t used to the higher gravity. Conversely, you had soldiers from Earth unused to the lighter gravity on Luna, which meant they were their own worst enemies during fights in Luna’s warrens.

But my favorite part of the book was easily Mike.

Some logics get nervous breakdowns. Overloaded phone system behaves like frightened child. Mike did not have upsets, acquired sense of humor instead. Low one. If he were a man, you wouldn’t dare stoop over. His idea of thigh-slapper would be to dump you out of bed — or put itch powder in pressure suit.

Yes, the computer. It was fascinating to watch him as he grew and changed over the course of the book — from acting like a very young child at the beginning to gradually maturing into someone who could handle every aspect of Luna’s revolution.

However, there were times he felt a bit like a deus ex machina over the course of the novel. Can’t handle something? Need something impossible done? Turn it over to Mike, the magic supercomputer! Mike became a tool, rather than a character, and that really frustrated me.

It really is an interesting story, and despite the problems I had, the ending still had an emotional impact on me. Though there were a couple of times where I did put the book down, I didn’t really have to force myself to pick it back up again (which was nice).

I’m glad I’ve finally read Heinlein, and I would still like to pick up Stranger in a Strange Land. If you’re interested in reading this one, definitely pick it up. The biggest barrier is the slang, and really, after about 20-30 pages, I got used to it enough that it didn’t bother me too much for the rest of the book.

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5 comments on “Book Review: The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein

  1. Heinlein is among my favorite sci-fi authors. While I haven’t finished reading this one, I did enjoy it to some extent. Sadly, my copy has since disappeared over the course of several moves.

    Might I suggest another book of Asimov’s to read? Song of Distant Earth. It isn’t long and a good paced read. It is my absolute favorite sci-fi novel to this very day.

  2. i really enjoyed stranger in a strange land. it was wonderful. this one sounds like it may be harder to get into but i may try it sometime.

    • thebnc says:

      The slang/dialect made it really rough for the first bit of the book, especially when we were spending so much time in Manny’s head. It got better when there was dialogue, because the professor and Wyoh and Mike didn’t talk the same way.

      After awhile, I did get used to it. If you’ve liked Heinlein before, give this a read.

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