Book Review: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

The more I read by Robert Heinlein the more I like his stuff. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress sets itself up to be a typical science fiction adventure story, but quickly takes a sharp turn into more of a sci-fi political thriller. Ever wonder what would happen if a super intelligent, self-aware computer was put in charge of overthrowing a corrupt government on Earth’s moon? That’s a large part of what this book is about. Mannie, a one-armed computer technician with an anti-authority streak, discovers that Mike, the computer that runs basically every system on the struggling Luna colony, has developed consciousness and a predilection for jokes. Soon Manny and Mike are at the center of a revolution against the crooked corporate/government forces that have been keeping the lunar colonists under their thumb. The book has a nice “small epic” feel to it, in that it traces this story from discontent to revolution to war with Earth to victory to self-governance. It’s a great ride.

Heinlein still has some of his dippy hippy fantasies in place here, though it’s not as flagrant and bizarre as in A Stranger in a Strange Land. Luna is a place of free love and sexually empowered women, but the author actually makes a case for it a lot better here. Group marriages where one woman takes several husbands make more sense in the context of a society where men vastly outnumber women. In fact, a fair chunk of the book is spent on detailing the humdrum of lunar life, from social systems like marriages and court trials to farming technologies and prosthetic arms. The book can get dense, dry, and overly self-reflective at times, but I loved how it balanced those things with good old fashion adventure, intrigue, and a David vs. Goliath showdown between Free Luna and Earth where the heroes have to out think and out bluff their adversaries rather than win through just brute force.

There’s also a lot of Libertarians in SPAAAAAAAAACE going on here, too, with Heinlein’s political views about the proper role of government and individual accountability on center display. As with many of his other works, the heroes of the books speak directly for their creator. But again, it works and it’s both thought provoking and entertaining. Luna’s situation is highly contrived, to be sure, but it does make for a good mental exercise about these kinds of topics.

So while some things are a bit outdated given this book was originally published decades ago, there’s a lot to enjoy here, as with the other Heinlein books I’ve read. If you want a good story with message and meaning as well as entertainment, you could do a lot worse.

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