Andy Love's Reviews > The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
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's review
Apr 04, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: science-fiction-fantasy
Read in April, 2012

When I first read this, 35 years ago, I would have rated it even higher - it was one of the first adult SF books I read, and I loved it thoroughly. Even now, I'm hesitant to write about it, because of its place in my life (I remember precisely where I was when I first opened it).

What strikes me now as I read it, is how thoroughly subversive a book this is:

It is superficially a retelling of the American Revolution on the Moon, but these revolutionaries use the cell structure characteristic of communist groups, and furthermore, the revolution is not a spontaneous uprising by an oppressed group - rather, it's a carefully planned conspiracy by a very small group that ruthlessly manipulates the larger population (and its inchoate dissatisfaction with the Warden) by provoking the Warden's agents into ever more unpopular actions, deliberately setting up a feedback loop in which reprisals stoke resistance, and resistance fosters reprisals, and ensuring that any attempts at compromise between Earth and Luna fall through.

It's the story of a revolt against a world government - but the world government is described as generally doing a good job at running the world; Luna's opposition is not because the world government is evil, but simply because Luna is not properly represented.

It's the story of a libertarian paradise, where there are no taxes and no government, yet people get along because they are generally decent, and because people with a poor reputation are shunned (and Heinlein drops the hints of how this actually works very sparsely, letting the reader fill in the details, where more ardent pro-libertarian authors these days have characters lecture for pages about the details); however, the secret is that there are no taxes and no government simply because the Warden does not allow one to exist - and the moment that the Loonies are free over the Authority (note the name!) that prevents any other authority from existing, they build a government for themselves, much like the ones on Earth, in spite of their decades of experience with a libertarian paradise, and in spite of the urgings of a charismatic hero of the revolution to avoid the mistakes of the past. One could almost believe that Heinlein is deliberately arguing that outside of a sheltered environment libertarian anarchy will immediately evolve into a society with a government

It's subversive in more obvious ways - almost all the characters are of mixed-race, in a novel written when interracial marriage was still illegal in many parts of the United States.
P.S. Sadly, Heinlein did not subvert the sexism in 1960s society or in science fiction of that era - this novel is very sexist, and not just in terminology (such as "girls" who are in the 30s or older, etc.). The first-person protagonist repeatedly talks about generic "Loonies" - and almost always means the men, alone, and in spite of what I think is the author's sincere desire to show women who are independent and in control of their lives, characters like the revolutionary firebrand, Wyoming, settle down and get married, and even in the midst of an invasion crisis, the women of Luna are assistants (or worse, mascots) to the men who do the actual, official, fighting.

P.P.S. Hazel Meade, the teenager who joins the Revolution grows up to be Hazel Meade Stone - the grandmother in "The Rolling Stones."

And one last comment - on my most recent reread of this book, I found the strawman villain (Minister Wright - a pompous pseudo-intellectual jackass) to be a flaw; I did not find him remotely believable, and having a hostile member of the Cabinet was unnecessary that close to climax of the book.
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