06 May 2012

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Love those robot arms!
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
1967 Hugo Award Winner
Published by If
302 Pages

In the near future, Earth has outlawed capital punishment.  The Moon, Luna, has become a penal colony, to which those would-be-executed criminals are sent.  Their warden couldn’t care less what one Loonie does to another so there are no laws, but they also have no rights either.  For the most part they are a colony of ice miners and grain farmers, most of which they must send to Earth to meet quotas.  It is because of this last fact that unrest has been building.

Double Star Redux
When it comes to calculated, organized political showdowns, Heinlein has done it before.  In his personal life too, he ran for public office, though he wasn’t as successful as his fictional counterparts.  I guess that is why both of his most political novels (Double Star and TMHM) begin and end with political newbies (sorry, I hate that word) making an end-run on an ambitious campaign.

While I certainly enjoyed Double Star, in the lunar revolution and the coming-to-personhood of a supercomputer of TMHM, Heinlein’s seemed willing to add a lot of complexity and the story was a hell of a lot more exciting, which is saying a lot.  TMHM combines the best of his philosophical/theological themes with his insanely good action sequences to place it way up there in my list of favorite novels, and certainly one, if not the, best Heinlein novel.

You may also recall that my favorite aspect of Double Star was not so much the excitement of the political campaign, but the theme of self-discovery through being placed in an altogether unfamiliar role.  Well I’ll be damned if Mike and Manuel aren’t both a rehash of The Great Lorenzo.  Mycroft Holmes (Mike) is a super computer who essentially controls and organizes all the disparate computers and processes across Luna.  One day, his network becomes so large that he “wakes up”.  Being a computer, he has no need for revolution.  Manuel, having no real ties to the government, other than that his family has been stealing from them for years, but no real desire to see the Authority leave, also has no real need for revolution.

Yet both Mike and Manuel find themselves a part of a revolution/political campaign to run the Authority straight of the face of the Moon.  Not a small undertaking.  In my opinion, Mike’s path to personhood was beautiful and poetic and if I could go out and buy a new computer right now, I’d be looking for one like Mike.  Well, maybe an updated version.  I’m not sure if Mike could stream Netflix?  Manuel too, went through a very subtle transformation which to be totally honest, I’m still thinking about and trying to understand better.

Future History
I first picked up this book about six months ago because I had read a different book about a year ago.  In The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, there is a pretty elaborate mission through time to save Adam Selene, Mike’s public persona.  Based on that reference, I hoped TMHM would be worthwhile.  Time travel and augmented life spans play an important role in a number of Heinlein’s other books and a great many characters exist in numerous books, even when there is no other connection between the two.  Heinlein’s cumulative timeline(s) are called his future history and I would hazard a guess that it is probably one of his most significant and enduring contributions to the genre.

Sadly, I can’t really speak to how much of an impact his future history has had on the genre as a whole.  I also don’t know it myself well enough to say whether it is very consistent or if on the whole it is very well done.  I don’t know exactly how thoroughly his universe has been created and detailed.  I do know that whenever an author takes a chance to add to a pretty fun character by stringing them through multiple books, I’m probably gonna love it.  I also know that, whatever the future history’s larger effect on SF in general, as someone who has been reading SF for probably less than 10 years, the events and people that have made up parts of that timeline have been influential in the extreme on me personally.

Of course, his future history doesn’t actually make its way into TMHM, but the events and people are placed firmly within the timeline(s).

Reading TMHM is a lot like watching Mad Men; you have to go at it expecting some horrendously offensive garbage in there (i.e. “Lenore is a sensible fem and knows when to keep quiet”).  And if you can do that, everything else is great!  Yes, his politics are probably a little disjointed and Manuel’s voice wasn’t always consistent, but I found it all palatable enough to enjoy the rest.


Universe 4/5 (big props for a newspaper called The Daily Lunatic…NICE!)
Social/Political Climate 5/5
Dialogue 4/5
Scientific Wonders 5/5 (CREEPY cyborgs)
Characters 5/5 (I want so badly for Mycroft Holmes to be real)

Overall 23/25

The die being cast
This week’s book is A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.  Another post nuclear war novel.  I hope it actually adds something to the theme.

Next week’s book is Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny.  Author of This Immortal, which I loved.  Told it’s even better.  Can’t wait!


  1. Soon to read. I still can't believe that I never read TMHM! Judging from the HEP score, a must.

    1. I hope you'll put a review over on WWEND... I'll be interested in your take. I at least wanna hear which HEP scores you agree/disagree with.


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