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The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress

January 5, 2013

When thinking of science fiction, it’s easy to forget the past and a lot of the seminal stories that made everything to come after possible. Recently, I was irrevocably reminded of the genre’s roots by a book. The novel is The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress (1966) by prolific author Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988), a.k.a. the “Dean” of science fiction.

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The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is a story of friendship and revolution in 2076. The revolution takes place on the Moon, a.k.a. “Luna,” and the primary friendship is the bond between computer technician Mannie and “Mike,” a supercomputer he performs maintenance for.

That hardly taps into what the story has to offer, but I don’t want to spoil any of the story’s rich layers or the fully-realized futuristic society created by Heinlein. This was my first Heinlein, but I know it is one of his later works and commonly cited among his best. His mastery of storytelling and background in engineering shine through in this very well-rounded novel, encompassing politics and economics among other macro topics.

I found the real-life parallels interesting. The book often cites the American Revolution (and a few others) as a model for the revolt on Luna. I actually couldn’t help comparing Luna to Australia, as both evolved from penal colonies. The idea of history repeating itself is always fun, especially when you can project it far into the future.

Mistress is meticulous in detail and explanation as the revolution progresses. That said, the book can take some time to get into. The level of detail, not to mention the Lunar dialect, can be daunting and almost exhaustive but to parse through it is immensely rewarding.

The story opens with banter between Mannie and Mike. When these two characters are communicating is when Mistress’s words really sing. Mannie assisting in Mike’s quest to understand humor is one of the most memorable subplots of the book. This central relationship quickly becomes the story’s bread and butter. Thankfully, it is present from start to finish.

This is a later entry in Heinlein’s body of work and it shows through his sure-handed writing and informed engineering insights. Heinlein ability to conjure a plausibly functioning Lunar society is spectacular. It makes it that much more incredible that he was able to intertwine his influential concepts of artificial intelligence and space travel with a fully-realized revolutionary handbook.

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, may not be as breezy as the last book I reviewed (Walter Tevis’ The Man Who Fell To Earth, 1963), but it makes up for it by having an awful lot more to offer. It’s a dense story that takes its time in unraveling but provides memorable characters and provocative ideas along the way.

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From → Literature

3 Comments
  1. Along with The Puppetmasters, Moon is a Harsh Mistress is my favorite Heinlein. the end kills me every time, even though I know what’s going to happen.

    • I agree! There’s a big emotional punch at the end. I have I Will Fear No Evil lying around so that will probably come next for me but I’ll have to check out Puppetmasters too.

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  1. Heinlein’s I WILL FEAR NO EVIL | Our Planet Burke

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