Book Review: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
AUTHOR: Robert Heinlen
RATING: 4 out of 5 stars
SUMMARY: It is a tale of revolution, of the rebellion of a former penal colony on the Moon against its masters on the Earth. It is a tale of a culture whose family structures are based on the presence of two men for every woman, leading to novel forms of marriage and family. It is the story of the disparate people—a computer technician, a vigorous young female agitator, and an elderly academic—who become the movement's leaders, and of Mike, the supercomputer whose sentience is known only to the revolt's inner circle, who for reasons of his own is committed to the revolution's ultimate success.
SHE-WHO-READS'S COMMENTS: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is an excellent novel, action-packed, exciting, and deftly-plotted, with fascinating, complex characters and some interesting science-fictional ideas. I also enjoyed reading about Luna's culture; I thought the marriage customs were particularly interesting.
One thing I noticed right off was the way the Loonies use language differently than people from earth do. In fact, it threw me at first -- I couldn't figure out what was going on or why the language was so rough and unpolished and choppy. Eventually, though, I found the rhythm of it and settled in just fine -- I didn't even notice it after a while. It makes sense; Luna started off as a penal colony and has since developed completely seperate from Earth and relatively unmolested. Of course they would have their own dialect and speech patterns! To my mind, their language seems to be as efficent as possible. They trimmed away any unnecessary deadwood -- they don't use articles, for example, and very few personal pronouns, and they seem to prefer to use fragments to complete sentences. Only the essentials remain, much the same as the original colonists/prisoners had to start their lives over with only the bare essentials and sometimes not even that.
This book was written about forty years ago, and it has stood the test of time quite well, but there are some aspects of it that do seem rather dated. For example, the idea behind the character of Mike -- the computer that is connected to everything and has "woken up" or become alive -- is one that is very familiar to modern readers, one that we accept easily. Apparently, we accept it much more easily than Heinlen expected his readers in 1965 to accept it, because he spends more time explaining it than he really needs to. When Mannie, the narrator, tells Wyoh about Mike and introduces them via a telephone conversation, she is shocked that Mike already knows what she looks like. He looked up her medical records and found a picture of her immediately after being introduced to her. To modern readers familiar with the internet, this is an obvious step and hardly shocking; we expect it, and Wyoh's shock and apparent need to have every detail and implication of Mike's "life" spelled out for her makes her seem a little bit stupid to us. If we don't remember that Heinlen is using Wyoh to explain things to his 1965 audience that his 2005 audience intuitively understands, then we'll get a little frustrated with Wyoh's denseness.
All in all, though, this is a novel about politics -- a very complex, deep, intellectual and sophisticated look at politics, government, revolution and war. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress has a very definite world-view and political philosophy, some of which I agreed with, and some of which I really, really didn't. My agreement (or lack thereof) with the politics espoused in this book didn't seem to have much bearing on my enjoyment of it. This is a book that requires the reader to think. And that, I think, is why I loved it so much.
There is more to say about this book, but I think I'm going to stop here for now. Here's a link to an interesting article by Adam Roberts on the book, if you'd care to read more.
books, science fiction