The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A Heinlein

Hey, smile if you bundled last night!!

Okay, that out of the system, just finished reading The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A Heinlein.  I’ve read this as part of the Vintage Sci fi event I’m taking part in and happily this also counts to my other none challenge event being hosted over at Stainless Steel Droppings.

Oh my giddy aunt.  What a thought provoking book.  It creates a little tornado of emotions and, yes, (slight spoiler) it has a somewhat sad end (did I say somewhat! slight understatement) but it also has plenty of humour – a good deal of which I probably missed or that went over my head but, I’m getting away with myself.

The Moon really is a Harsh Mistress!  Without a doubt.  The story brings to us a Moon that has been colonised – mainly with criminals or political exiles but what is interesting is that the population is obviously now increased due to the number of people actually being born to families within these colonies (the reason I found this interesting is that there is no return to earth for any of these people – it seems a little like the children are also suffering from the sins of the parents in a way although it’s not like they could return on their own).  The families live in underground tunnels and work hard to survive sending a good deal of their produce back to earth, probably as part of their punishment.  They pay for air and they live without luxury.  And yet, they seem content.  They have their own strict rules that they abide by and woe-betide anybody who breaks the code – think of honour among thieves – put basically you keep your good family name, you settle your debts and you don’t step out of line otherwise you might as well walk out onto the surface without your airtight suit.  Think not of being sent to Coventry but of being sent to a small planet in the outer ring of Saturn.  Dead.

So, life goes on.  However, the inhabitants have no idea that at the current rate that they are using the planets resources they are likely to run out fairly quickly and that will have disastrous results.  (Actually, now I’ve actually stated that in print was Heinlein trying to make a point about our use of the Earth’s natural resources?)

At the start of the story we’re introduced to Manuel, who used to be a farmer but due to the loss of a limb is now an engineer who is frequently called upon to service the planet’s mainframe computer – Mike.  Mike is developing a personality and Manuel or Man is becoming his only friend.  Then step up and meet Wyoming and Professor de la Paz.  Manuel meets Wyoming at a sort of political rally that goes a little bit pear shaped and means that the two of them have to keep a low profile for a while.  Wyoming is something of a political activist, fairly well known in her home town and the authorities have their eye on her.  The professor is a ‘rational anarchist’ – what a lovely phrase and contradiction in terms.  Anyway, to cut a long story short and not to go too much into detail Manuel introduces his two friends to Mike.  They pretty soon become aware of the impending threat to their way of life and start to cook up a rebellion.  That’s all I’m going to say for the plot.

Put basically this is a book about revolution and an overthrowing of unacceptable control.

Like I said earlier, there is such a lot to think about in this book.   I wish I’d actually kept some notes as I was reading because I’m sure that I’ve forgotten more than I ever knew and everything is now a big jumble!  But, for example, the Professor’s idea of not living with rules – he basically states he’s a free man, he abides with the rules he can tolerate and not by those he can’t. Yet, we all do live with rules don’t we?  Even in the colonies on the moon the inhabitants live by their own self-imposed rules.  They don’t have a Government or Royalty or a President – and yet again, interestingly, when they begin their revolution they almost start to emulate the very systems on the planet they’re rejecting (puts you in mind of animal farm – no more farmer, all the animals in a co-operative until the pigs get bigger ideas that is).  Really there is such a lot of interesting reading going on here.

I admit that at first I wondered what was going on with the form of writing.  It’s told in a strange type of translated Russian – not sure whether that is a reflection on the author’s thoughts in terms of the Russian Revolution? or not??  But, it took me a little while to get used to it until I suddenly seemed to have turned a corner and was almost reading with an accent going on in my head!  I also confess – when Mike kept saying things to Manuel such as ‘you’re my only friend man’ – I just thought he was imitating some strange type of hippie talk until it dawned on me that Man was short for Manuel (ahem, well I never said I was going to split the atom!)   Anyway, once I got used to Manuel’s form of narration I found myself enjoying the book a lot more and actually understanding a lot of the fun that is incorporated.

I thought there was a lot of humour in the book, although there is a very strong possibility that I’m reading it wrong.  And, I’m sure that I missed things that will be funny for some whilst laughing at other things that they may have missed.  But that’s part of the reading experience after all.  For example, I loved the little speech during the revolution that the Professor made to the crowds on luna – which was virtually the famous ‘we will fight them on the beaches’ speech made by Churchill adapted for the current situation.  I loved the fact that the inhabitants of Luna are called loonies.  And, I thought it was great that due to the ratio of men to women on the planet the women on Luna really do rule the roost!  So original.  Let’s face it chaps – one wrong move and you’ll find yourself ejected into outer space!

Now, obviously there’s a revolution and as we know from history we can’t have a revolution without some casualties.  I won’t say any more except TANSTAAFL!  Ain’t it the truth!

Very enjoyable read.  Now reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep – only two chapters in but I think it’s got me already!

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43 Responses to “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A Heinlein”

  1. Redhead

    I’m thrilled you liked this one, it’s my favorite Heinlein. don’t worry, you laughed at all the right parts, it’s got a lot of humor and political commentary in it. Never thought about that as Luna starts their rebellion they DO start to emulate the government they are rebelling against. now I want to read it again.

    Manny’s Russian-esque way of speaking, I think it’s just his dialect. i always get a kick out of how he talks.

    also, my hubby (who has titled himself “little red husband”) says – If you like this, try Heinlein’s Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.

    • lynnsbooks

      You know, I think I may become a sci fi fan at this rate – I’m enjoying Do Androids already (although it is early days). I mean, I can be a bit dopey or slow on the uptake sometimes and I had to get used to the style but once I had the humour, the politics, everything was just so readable. On top of that, and I forgot to add this in (you see, I had so much going on in my head, I couldn’t get it all onto the review!) I really like Manuel. He’s a very easy character to read and his friendship with Mike was very entertaining. I almost thought at one point that maybe Heinlein would take it in a different direction and Mike might develop a ‘God’ complex, start properly taking control and we’d have the whole machines taking over scenario taking place – me and my imagination! I’m glad it went the way it did. I was sad at the end and I couldn’t help thinking that of all the people to be affected Mike and Manuel were actually the most reluctant to actually take part in the first place! There’s a certain sort of irony in that. Thank the ‘little red husband’ for his suggestion. I will look into that.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Peter Galen Massey

    You know, this is a great review. Enough information about the book to help someone decide if they want to read it. A big heaping portion of your personality, which I liked. And the only time in a book review … and I’ve read a lot … when the reviewer said, “I’m not sure I got this part” and I thought, “That’s okay. Keep going!” rather than “Oh for Christ’ sake.” I have vague positive memories of this book from 30 years ago. You made me want to read it again.

    • lynnsbooks

      I think it’s probably science fiction that brings out my insecurity really. I always feel like I need to be a brain surgeon in order to read it and yet when I make the effort I do enjoy it (just maybe not all). I tend to lean more to fantasy novels although I am a bit of a book tart (sorry about that) but I read all sorts of historical, thriller, horror, etc. I hope you do reread it. I think it’s always interesting to go back and see how you feel about a book you loved when you were younger. It’s not always a good experience but still a good experiment. I recently reread the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I loved the first but was slightly less enamoured with the second. I’d love to see if you still feel positive about this – it is supposed to be one of his best novels so I’m told.
      Lynn 😀

  3. jameswharris

    I loved The Moon is a Harsh Mistress when I first read it back in the 1960s, and still liked it today after a couple rereads over the decades, but it has some huge logic holes in it. Sending prisoners to the Moon is insane. Penal systems need to be cost effective, and can you imagine the cost to tax payers to incarcerate people on Luna?

    We want to colonize the Moon with scientists and engineers that can build a new society, so we’d send the best and the brightest, not felons. Every ounce counts, not only in shipping cost, but how useful it can be once it gets to the Moon, either as manufactured goods, or skilled labor.

    Also, I just don’t buy the whole idea for the revolution. Heinlein strained to recreate the American revolution so he could play Patrick Henry, but it just didn’t fit.

    I mainly like the story because of Mike.

    • lynnsbooks

      I must confess that I never really over examined the logic of any of the arguments for or against. Like you say I think Heinlein just really wanted to write about a revolution and give it a sci fi feel so this was probably his best choice. That being said I understood that the cost of keeping them on the Moon was supposedly low because they weren’t policed at all but had their own self regulating rules – so I suppose the cost to get them there would be very high but once they were on the Moon they were responsible for themselves, had their own livelihoods and were responsible for feeding and clothing themselves plus being responsible for sending food back to earth before they could even start to barter with each other. It sort of reminded me of what happened in the UK when convicts were sent to Australia. That’s why there was only one computer, Mike, to cut costs (which ultimately turned out to be their biggest mistake because the loonies would certainly never have succeeded without Mike. If there had been more computers in control of different things then he wouldn’t have been able to manipulate everything quite so effectively) and one warden with a few staff, more to have a presence than to actually keep order. I did feel that the whole revolution had a slightly manufactured feel but I guess there wouldn’t have been a story otherwise, LOL.
      I really liked Manuel and Mike – I liked their friendship. Sad ending really for them both especially considering that they were the ones originally who didn’t really want to be involved but just got sucked in against their own better judgement.
      Lynn 😀

      • jameswharris

        I’m hesitant to mention this, but Manuel and Mike return in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, as does many of Heinlein’s favorite characters. But I hate that book. All of Heinlein’s wonderful characters end up at this orgy of wife-swapping swingers in an alternate universe. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress has characters from The Rolling Stones, which also appear in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. Evidently Heinlein was as sentimental about his characters as us fans, but I was disturbed that they all became so randy. I guess I sound like a prude, and I’m not. It was just too weird for even an extreme liberal like me.

      • Carl V.

        I don’t think is it prudish at all Jim, I think there is a balance between books that have responsible views about sex and treat it in a mature fashion and those that are just juvenile fantasies and it is sad to think that Heinlein’s juveniles (meaning books written for a younger audience) are often more mature than his true “juveniles” which are his sex-capade books in his later years. And I say that having really liked Friday and Time Enough for Love both of which have plenty of unnecessary sex, incest, etc.

        I’m saddened to hear that characters from The Rolling Stones (which is a great book) return in one of these later strange sex-fueled books.

      • lynnsbooks

        I had no idea that Heinlein had written sex-capade books but then I don’t really know much about him and readily admit that. I was surprised to read that at first which made me wonder why? I suppose he can write different books if he wishes I just hadn’t considered it! And I don’t think I’ll be reading The Cat Who Walks Through Walls and I don’t think I’m being prudish either, I just don’t want to end up disliking characters that I currently have a good feeling about. At the end of the day it’s up to the author what route he takes with his imaginary people but the reader has the choice about whether to pick it up or not.
        I wonder why he decided to change his characters and include them in later books – he could have just simply invented new ones which might have been more acceptable than seeing characters you know acting oddly?
        Lynn 😀

      • Carl V.

        Jim can answer this a lot better but Heinlein got strangely political (or probably always was but he hid it better) and also seemed to adopt that stance (I call it the 1970’s SF idea of Utopia) that in in the future there would be no more sexual taboos and so ‘free love’ would be the norm, and that includes incest. And of course it is all very male-centric immature fantasy ideas of sex not anything resembling real relationships. Sadly couched in some of these books is some fantastic storytelling and it is a shame they are marred with ideology and silly sex.

      • lynnsbooks

        I don’t think that’s prudish at all. If Manuel and Mike had behaved like that in The Moon then it would probably be easier to understand or accept but just to take characters and write them in a way that is frankly out of character I can completely understand how you wouldn’t like that! So, whilst one part of me thinks, great, Mike is back, the other part thinks, no, I don’t want to read about them if it’s going to change my opinion, I like them at the moment. I suppose when you read a book that you really love you feel like you’ve built up a kind of rapport with your best loved characters and then to see them behave out of character is a bit of a shock.

        Lynn 😀

  4. jessicabookworm

    I haven’t read anything by this author but my father is always singing his praises, so I will hopefully read some of his work soon. I have read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep though and really enjoyed it. Hope you do too!

    • lynnsbooks

      This is my first book by this author. I don’t really read a great deal of sci fi but I’m trying to step out of my comfort zone and these none challenge events allow me to do this without too much pressure. I am enjoying the Androids book so far. I probably find the writing style a little more accessible than TMiaHM which took a little longer for me to get used to.
      Lynn 😀

    • cherylmahoney

      That’s funny, my dad always sings the praises of Heinlein too! I’ve read a few now–loved one, didn’t enjoy two others, but I remain intrigued. I might have to try Moon or Androids sometime.

      • lynnsbooks

        So which are your loved examples? I think what I really liked about Moon is that it was very thought provoking and I also enjoyed the humour. On top of that I liked the character Manuel – and Mike also for that matter. I am really enjoying Androids.
        Lynn 😀

      • cherylmahoney

        Citizen of the Galaxy stands out–really liked that one!

  5. Carl V.

    I really need to go back to this and try to work past the issues I had with the weird dialogue. It was really driving me crazy the first time I tried to read this one and it is an affectation in science fiction that I hate with a passion, I think there are much more effective ways to communicate language and cultural differences, but that is just me.

    Beyond that irritation, I am a big fan of Heinlein, mostly of his juveniles but I’ve liked a lot of his later stuff too and I truly believe I’ll like this one if I give it a fair shake the next time I give it a try. Which I will, I promise. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much and hope you do read more Heinlein in the future.

    • lynnsbooks

      I did struggle with the strange dialogue myself at first and admit I came close to putting the book down but because so many people love this book I decided to give it a second chance and press on. At first I wondered if I was reading some sort of badly translated book! Once I got used to this it all became much more understandable and that’s when I started to enjoy it but I know what you mean.

      I hope to read more in the future too. Which would you say is your favourite juvenile or, more to the point, where would you suggest is a good starting point?

      Lynn 😀

      • Carl V.

        One of my favorite non-juvenile books of his is The Puppet Masters. Farmer in the Sky may be my favorite juvenile but the full cast audio versions of The Rolling Stones and of Star Beast are both outstanding too. I assume reading the books would be fun too but I highly recommend those audio books (Blackstone audio). I also highly recommend the novella The Menace From Earth which can be found free online, I believe. Or at least it used to be free on Baen’s website (if memory serves).

  6. Marie

    I’ve never heard of this book but it sounds pretty great, I love a meaty sci-fi novel with loads of different ideas to send your thought processes off on different tangents while you’re reading it. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? is brilliant, hope you enjoy it.

    • lynnsbooks

      Well, I certainly thought this had plenty of food for thought. Definitely a book to take notes along the way!!
      I’m loving Androids – it’s a really easy book to read and quite unputdownable. I’m going to have to watch Blade Runner when I finished. I haven’t watched it for years and can’t remember anything about it at all – it will be interesting to see how they compare.
      Lynn :

  7. jameswharris

    By the way, Heinlein left a note saying the three books he wanted to be remembered for were: Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. He considered them all about freedom and personal responsibility. They have turned out to be his most popular books. However, I don’t think people remember them for the reasons he wanted. Readers don’t remember books for philosophy, but for characters and stories. I loved the story about a computer that comes alive. That’s how I remember The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I always compare it to other books about computers that come alive like When HARLIE Was One, Galatea 2.2, The WWW Trilogy, etc.

    • lynnsbooks

      I really wanted to read Starship Troopers and had it on order from my library but I think it may have gone MIA! I’ll give it a few weeks and see if it comes out of the woodwork.
      It all just goes to prove that reading is so individual. Heinlein writing these books for one reason and his readers remembering them for another and it’s also interesting that his three books that he wanted to be remembered are his most popular and yet for different reasons than he imagined!
      I loved Positronic Man by Asimov – although that’s not really about a computer coming alive! I still really liked it though.
      Lynn 😀

      • jameswharris

        Right now the best computer coming alive story is Robert Sawyer’s WWW Trilogy, Wake, Watch and Wonder. I highly recommend it. I was hoping it would become as popular as The Hunger Games, but it didn’t. It should have. It’s about a blind girl who gets a digital eye and discovers an intelligence living inside of the web.

        If you haven’t read Heinlein’s juveniles, you should give them a try. I consider them Heinlein’s best books. Starship Troopers was supposed to be #13 in the series. They are all standalone books, but we fans think of them as a set of 12 classic SF novels of the 1950s. Starship Troopers was rejected for being too adult, but it’s not. My absolute favorite Heinlein novel is Have Space Suit-Will Travel. After that I love Tunnel in the Sky and Time for the Stars.

      • lynnsbooks

        I have actually read Wake but not the next two in the series. I didn’t really take to it for some reason, my friend loves it and has read all three, she’s constantly on at me to read the others. I think perhaps I read it at the wrong time as I was on holiday and maybe I just wanted something light. I never make a secret of the fact that I’m not the sharpest when it comes to maths and tech type things and at the time I think it felt like there was quite a bit of this going on – like I say it could just be I was on holiday and wanted a ‘no brainer’!
        On the strength of this though I did pick up a couple of other books by Sawyer (although I haven’t read them yet). One is Flash Forward that I think was adapted for tv – I haven’t seen it but I understand it’s good.
        Lynn 😀

      • jameswharris

        I’d suggest getting an audio edition of Wake and listen to it. Sometimes I find books I can’t get into by reading I can by listening. I now prefer listening. A good reader will showcase the story and give it its best spin. Plus, listening is much slower than reading and it gives you time to savor what the writer is doing.

        It might be a fun experiment for you to see if listening changes your opinion.

      • Carl V.

        I hadn’t really heard anything about those Sawyer books, James, so thanks for mention them as they sound interesting. And if I do grab the first one I probably will try it an audio. I’m assuming you liked the narrator?

      • jameswharris

        Carl, the narrator is very good. The main character is a young girl. She is blind. What Sawyer does that’s very cool is show how the computer mind becomes aware, and compares it to Helen Keller and chimps that learn to communicate. Sawyer brings in a lot of parallel ideas to help build the evolving computing mind.

      • Carl V.

        Well poop, my library doesn’t have it on audio. They do have it to check out as an ebook though so I may go ahead and snag it soon as a loaner.

      • jameswharris

        Carl you can get an MP3 audiobook edition of Wake from Amazon for $15.95, or a digital edition at iTunes for $21.91. However, the cheapest way to get audiobooks is Audible.com. The trouble with Audible is you have to commit to 1 book a month ($15), 2 books a month ($23) or buy a 12 ($149.50) or 24 pack ($229.50). The last option works out to be $9.56 a book, which is very cheap, but you got to get 24.

      • Carl V.

        Yes, I just can’t justify that expense right now when I could just read the book myself for free and can save that money for something else that I either need, or just want and would rather own. There is a need for a less expensive Netflix-style rental version, and by ‘less expensive’ I mean no more than the $8 a month I pay for Netflix.

      • jameswharris

        Carl, the alternative is Overdrive Library which many libraries support. Unfornately, most libraries don’t get anywhere near the number of audiobooks that Audible offers.

      • Carl V.

        Our local library uses the Overdrive system and you are right, they unfortunately don’t have the same resources. Still, I’m happy with what I can get.

  8. nrlymrtl

    I am so glad you got to read this book. I listened to it for the first time last year (and the narrator did the Russian accent for Manuel), I was highly impressed with Heinlein as it was such a gripping story. I would have liked a few more female characters (especially if some of them were average looking and capable and not interested in flashing cleavage to the guys), but overall, an excellent story.

    • lynnsbooks

      I was actually reading this with a Russian accent in my head. Is that really weird? Anyway, I know what you mean about the characters. Wyoming started off sort of as quite a strong character with quite a few opinions but she seemed to back down fairly quickly after the Prof took over the realm – in fact after she met Manny and the Prof she seemed quite happy to take a back seat – and once she was introduced to Manny’s family she became practically domesticated overnight. Bit of a lost opportunity in a way but a sign of the times that the book was written. Fiery, outspoken woman – but really she’s just desperately waiting for something more in her life so that she can drop the attitude!
      Still really enjoyed this though.
      Lynn 😀

      • nrlymrtl

        Like all the women were described physically in that book and most, if not all, were good looking women. Then they can be capable at something second. Whereas the men are hardly described physically, and if they are, it is only mentioned once, in passing. Their main, and repeated, descriptors deal with their capabilities. Despite all that silliness, I still enjoyed it.

      • lynnsbooks

        Definitely – and I enjoyed it much more than I ever expected given that I’m not much read in the sci fi area. This month is definitely changing that though and it’s quite odd that as I read more sci fi it’s almost addictive. Don’t think it will take over fantasy for me though!
        Lynn 😀

      • nrlymrtl

        I find both genres addictive, because they both deal with the human imagination and hopes for another reality – whether set in the far future or in some magical past.

      • lynnsbooks

        I know what you mean. I’ve always shied away from sci fi because I thought it would be too difficult to read. I’m sort of proving myself wrong with that at the moment!
        Lynn 😀

      • Carl V.

        And that is what the experience and Andrea’s vintage month are all about. 🙂

  9. Carl V.

    Just thought I would share that James, who posted comments above, sent me a package that arrived today and in it was an audio version of Moon is a Harsh Mistress which I am excited about listening to, hopefully sometime soon. 🙂

    • lynnsbooks

      Excellent – I hope you enjoy it – and I hope that the narrator has a Russian accent! Looking forward to your review Carl.
      Lynn 😀

    • lynnsbooks

      Also, should have said that was a lovely thing of James to do!
      Lynn 😀

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