Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein (novel #116)

That we were slaves I had known all my life – and nothing could be done about it. ~ Mannie

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is set on the Moon, 2076. The Moon was originally a penal colony, but by this point is a bit more than that. Some residents like the main character, Manuel “Mannie” Garcia O’Kelly-Davis are native and free residents of Luna. Mannie is a farmer, but he is also a computer whiz who does free-lance work for the Lunar Authority when their super computer acts up. 

Life on Luna, also sometimes called The Rock: There are no cells for the convicts, as there is no escape. If escape were possible, it isn’t practical, because after about six months on Luna a human’s body cannot reassimilate to Earth’s gravity. There are few rules, as those who don’t get along, don’t live long. There is water on Luna, far below the surface and Luna’s primary commercial enterprise is the growing of wheat which is exported to earth. There are about 3 million Loonies (vs 11 billion Earthworms), with men outnumbering women 2 to 1, so many women have more than one husband. Loonies live in airtight underground cities which are connected by tubes (subway trains).

The one supercomputer that runs nearly everything on Luna is a High-Optional, Logical, Multi-Evaluating Supervisor, Mark IV or Holmes IV. And guess what? Holmes is sentient. Mannie nicknames it Mike, short for Mycroft, as in Mycroft Holmes, and Mike calls Mannie – Man his one friend.

Well the Loonies get fed up with Earth’s tyranny, and rise up in rebellion. They can’t possibly win, and yet…

Best part – know who their leader is? – Mike the computer, but only Mannie, and two others, The Professor “Prof” and Wyoming “Wyoh” Knott, know they are being led by a machine. Wyoh is Mannie’s love interest, though Mike also kind of likes her.

Have you ever considered the difference between Sci-Fi and fantasy? It can be a fuzzy distinction, but my understanding is this: Sci-Fi is at least theoretically plausible given current understanding of the physical laws of the universe. Fantasy is not thus encumbered. There is often a little fudging on the rules, but that’s the main distinction. (Star Wars is fantasy; Star Trek is Sci-Fi). 

And The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is Sci-Fi. In ways beyond just the technology/science, Heinlein really spins a plausible tale.

Robert Heinlein is one of the “Big Three” authors of English Sci-Fi along with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke and now I know why. I read mostly classics – and there are many classics that I admire, that I concede their greatness, but that weren’t precisely fun to read. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was just a ton of fun (though a ton would only feel like 333 lbs. on Luna). It was pure escape – thoroughly enjoyable, but also admirable. 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


That we were slaves I had known all my life – and nothing could be done about it. ~ Mannie

Prof had emphasized that stickiest problems in conspiracy are communications and security, and had pointed out that they conflict – easier are communications, greater is risk to security; if security is tight, organization can be paralyzed by safety precautions. ~ Mannie

Mike had no degrees. Simply knew more engineering than any man alive. Or about Shakespeare’s plays, or riddles, or history, name it. ~ Mannie

Mike didn’t miss a word; his most human quality was his conceit. ~ Mannie

But one thing must be made clear. Earth’s major satellite, the Moon, is by nature’s law forever the joint property of all the peoples of Earth. It does not belong to that handful who by accident of history happen to live there. The sacred trust laid upon the Lunar Authority is and forever must be supreme law of Earth’s moon. ~ representative of Luna Authority

Besides the Mycroft Holmes nod to the writings of Arthur Conan Doyle, there are many other literary references: 

Mannie once recites: "Curiouser and curiouser" from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland  

And later says "I seem to have wandered into Looking Glass Land."

Prof once says: "not my original idea but remembrance of things past" – using the title of Proust’s great work

Mannie says about Mike "You’re our Scarlet Pimpernel, our John Galt, our Swamp fox, our man of mystery." Citing from Baroness Orczy and Ayn Rand

Mannie refers to hiding something by "Purloined Letter". Reference to Edgar Alan Poe

A group of child spies for the revolution are called "Baker Street Irregulars", in reference to Sherlock Holmes’ young assistants.



  1. I really liked Starship Troopers by Heinlein. I have this one on my shelf actually and will probably read it someday. I want to also read these seminal SciFi and Fantasy books along with the other classics.

    1. When I was reading the 100 Greatest Novels, there weren't many Sci-Fi, in fact truly only one, Dune which is the Gold Standard IMO. There were a few others with Sci-Fi elements, but not overall Sci-Fi. Anyway, I have a lot more to read of this genre to make comparisons - but this was VERY good.

  2. This does remind me that I need to get to another of his books soon. All of his that I've read have been incredibly imaginative.


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