Book Review: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (Three Stars)


Book Review: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

(Three Stars)

“Chaotic crossed with psychotic.”

Disappointed. I read this story fifty years ago and loved it. On re-reading it now, I found it not only trite, but disturbing. This is going to be long, but I must justify dropping a former five-star rating to two. (I gave a star back for literary merit. Heinlein was a great storyteller.)

“He really did think he was Sherlock Holmes’s brother Mycroft … nor would I swear he was not; ‘reality’ is a slippery notion.”

The star of the story is Mike, a “gigantic” self-aware computer.

“I will accept any rules you feel necessary to your freedom. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”

Professor de la Paz is Heinlein’s anarchistic Yoda; and Manuel is everyman. This book is fictionalized propaganda for the kind of ugly libertarianism advocated by Aleister Crowley and Ayn Rand, as practiced by Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, etc. The Prof declares himself a rational anarchist: The ends justify the means. Murder and theft are okay, if done by your side. If the other side does it, it’s an atrocity. Sound familiar?

“I stopped three paces away to look her up and down and whistle. She held her pose, then nodded to thank me but abruptly—bored with compliments, no doubt.”

Even for the sixties, Heinlein is quite the sexist. Evidence also of the incest and pedophilia themes which would dominate his later works. “Ludmilla is a sweet little thing, just fifteen and pregnant first time.” “She’s below the age of consent. Statutory rape. “Oh, bloody! No such thing. Women her age are married or ought to be. Stu, no rape in Luna. None. Men won’t permit.” Did he believe that?

“One first thing learned about Luna, back with first shiploads of convicts, was that zero pressure was place for good manners.”

Quibbles: Manual has a pseudo-Slavic accent which carries into the narrative. But no one else, not even his family, have accents anything like it. “started tub” Admitted water shortage on moon, yet they take baths. “Sundown Tuesday to sundown Wednesday, local time Garden of Eden (zone minus-two, Terra) was the Sabbath. So we ate early in Terran north-hemisphere summer months.” (No, you’d eat later because the sun sets later in the summer.)

“Easier to get people to hate than to get them to love.”

One positive theme: race is no big deal. Most Loonies are mixed race and proud of it. The United States is moving that direction, if the white and black racists would let go of their real or imagined privileged positions.

“Parliamentary bodies all through history, when they accomplished anything, owed it to a few strong men who dominated the rest.”

The backstory economics make no sense: prisoners are transported to the moon to grow wheat for export to earth.

“All Terran satellites could accept high speed as sixty-to-one.” Slower than a dial-up modem. Remember them?

Things he guessed wrong: computers; his were still programmed with punch cards; apparently had no solid-state memory. (He shouldn’t have missed that one: semiconductor memory had already been invented by 1966. In fact, Moore’s Law was written in 1965.) “Got empty memory bank?” “Yes, Man. Ten to the eighth-bits capacity.” (A mere 100 megabits, not bytes. 100 megabyte chips were available in 2002.) Wireless communication. “needed to stay on phone and longest cord around ….” Things he guessed right: solar panels, “escape-speed induction catapult.”

“Tanstaafl. ‘There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.’ Anything free costs twice as much in long run or turns out worthless. One way or other, what you get, you pay for.”