Monday, 23 December 2013

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress Is A Good Book

Or why you should read The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A Heinlein

There are some works of Science Fiction that are classic, baby, classic. And it's hard to get much more classic than Robert A Heinlein, and hard to get much more classic Heinlein than The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. He is one of the big three early Sci-fi authors and The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is considered one of his most important and best novels.

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is about the greatest revolution for independence in space. In the novel the Moon is the worlds penal colony, where criminals from almost every nation on Earth are sent on a one way trip to farm the lunar tunnels and send their produce back to a starving Earth. However, within the free folk of the Moon is growing dissatisfaction and the knowledge that the Loonies are losing precious, irreplaceable resources. And so a conspiracy is formed between  Manuel Garcia "Mannie" O'Kelly-Davis, a computer expert and local farmer, Wyoming "Wyo" Knott, a lunar freedom activist, and Professor Bernardo de la Paz, an elderly political exile to free the Moon from the control of Federal Earth. With the help of Mike, a sentient emergent intelligence living within the Lunar computer network the Loonies slowly build the conditions for a revolution that will pit the tiny Moon against the mighty power of Earth.

And it's easy to see why The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is so well regarded. The way the Lunar revolution is rolled out makes a lot of sense and while there are Scientific inaccuracies within the book, the majority of the mechanics of life on the Moon and the Loonies revolutionary strategy is constructed with the precision of an engineer. Add to that the brilliance of the conversation about computer sentience and control at a time well before the emergence of computers and a really cheeky look at polyandry as a family model, particularly in a location with severe gender imbalance. There really is a lot that holds up in this novel.

Unfortunately, there is an equal amount about The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress that reads pretty poorly from a modern perspective. The most obvious issue it that this novel is wildly problematic. Robert J Heinlein has a world view that is very, very much shaped by his era: his gender politics are quite icky, the novel praises Ayn Rand, and a character literally uses Black-face as a disguise. While I don't think Heinlein meant to be malicious with these choices, it is really uncomfortable to read them. A less significant, but more systemic problem, is that The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress uses a kind of Loonie Slang that is mostly just English that is slightly ungrammatical. While it isn't disgusting, it is REALLY distracting and took some time to warm up to every time I opened the book.  So despite some great Sci-fi in it, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is a pretty flawed book.

I'd really only recommend this book to Sci-fi completists. I mean, there is certainly fun to be had with The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, but I feel like there are enough better contemporary and classic Sci-fi novels that you could read instead. But at the same time, if you wanted to read all of Sci-fi's touchstone works, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress would obviously be included.  If you are looking for a good Heinlein novel, I'd recommend Starship troopers instead.

Starship Troopers

1 comment:

  1. ? I could not disagree more about the ‘slang’ used in the book. It demonstrates that the inhabitants of Luna come from all of earth. When people mingle? Words from all Languages seep into common usage. It’s HOW language evolves.

    The TV series EXPANSE captures this and is reminiscent of RAHs loonie patois