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The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

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It is a tale of revolution, of the rebellion of a former penal colony on the Moon against its masters on the Earth. It is a tale of a culture whose family structures are based on the presence of two men for every woman, leading to novel forms of marriage and family. It is the story of the disparate people, a computer technician, a vigorous young female agitator, and an elderly academic who become the movement's leaders, and of Mike, the supercomputer whose sentience is known only to the revolt's inner circle, who for reasons of his own is committed to the revolution's ultimate success.

288 pages, Paperback

First published June 2, 1966

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About the author

Robert A. Heinlein

787 books9,281 followers
Works of American science-fiction writer Robert Anson Heinlein include Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966).

People often call this novelist "the dean of science fiction writers", one of the most popular, influential, and controversial authors of "hard science fiction."

He set a high standard for science and engineering plausibility and helped to raise the standards of literary quality of the genre. He was the first science-fiction writer to break into mainstream, general magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, in the late 1940s. He was also among the first authors of bestselling, novel-length science fiction in the modern, mass-market era.

Also wrote under Pen names: Anson McDonald, Lyle Monroe, Caleb Saunders, John Riverside and Simon York.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,747 reviews
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,882 reviews16.6k followers
January 3, 2021
TANSTAAFL = There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

My three favorite books of all time are (in no order) Heart of Darkness, The Dispossessed, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

When I first read this years ago I loved it, I could not put it down. As Stranger in a Strange Land was a Robert A. Heinlein vehicle for theology, so is Moon is a Harsh Mistress to ideology. And just as The Fountainhead is the better, though less epic, of the pair with Atlas Shrugged, so is Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the more focused and simple of the two, better than Stranger in a Strange Land. I liked the setting, the use of libertarian principles and of course the brilliant work of the Grandmaster himself.

This is a virtuoso science fiction futuristic re-telling of the American Revolution. Told from the first person recollection of a computer technician (with thick Russian accent) and of the birth and progress of the Lunar independence.

The Moon (Luna to it’s residents – who call themselves Loonies) has been a penal colony for decades. It is the perfect prison, get outside the underground warrens and beyond the air locks and you’re on the moon. Without a pressure suit, you’re dead. There are very little rules and no real laws, so a hardscrabble anarchy has created a loose but tough and resilient populace who want freedom.

Certainly this libertarian paradise could have become an anarchistic hell, but in Heinlein’s hard loving hands, his creation is the Free State of Luna. This story tracks with the American Revolution with unfair and distant landowners, inept and uncaring provisional governors (the warden) and even a declaration of independence on the fourth of July. Students of revolutionary movements will also see an allegory for “throwing rocks” as a statement about the earliest stages of discontent and reaction.

First published in 1966, this was written at the zenith of his considerable powers and stands as a true classic of the genre. I just re-read this (one the very few books that I have read more than once) and may re-read it again – it’s that good.

** 2018 addendum - it is a testament to great literature that a reader recalls the work years later and this is a book about which I frequently think. A friend commented about Heinlein books and I realized as we talked that when I think about Heinlein, my mind automatically defaults to this book. When I read SF I project this on that book and I wonder if that author read and was inspired. This is on my short list of all-time favorites and I think this should be on a very short list of greatest SF books of all time.

*** 2021 reread

Of the hundreds of books I’ve read (as I type this in January 2021 over 1700) I have listed eight as my all time favorites: Heart of Darkness, Dune, The Dispossessed, Forever War, American Gods, Neuromancer, Breakfast of Champions – and Heinlein’s magnificent The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

This may be my favorite.

I like science fiction. I like Heinlein’s writing. I also like history and political science and ideology. RAH has combined all this into a year 2076 retelling of the American Revolution except from the perspective of the Free State of Luna and of their winning independence from the tyranny of Earth.

Central to this story is also a computer that developed consciousness, and in 1966 the idea of an AI was state of the market SF.

On every page is Heinlein’s homely personality and his affinity for characterization and dialogue. Modern readers may see this writer (born more than a hundred years ago in 1907) as sexist or racist, but his ideas were socially progressive for his time and he explores themes of sexuality, family, and inclusiveness. His description of open marriages, of multiple partner relationships, and of a line marriage – where husbands and wives can be opted in and can last hundreds of years, was thought provoking.

A MUST read.

Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
805 reviews3,848 followers
July 26, 2020
Space camp prison fun time

So we have AI, use of food as a weapon of war, philosophy, how probability influences human decisions and satirizing statistics, rebellion, how to treat colonies right or wrong and what true independence means with many side blows on history, emancipation by imbalance of sex ratio that enables women to be more powerful and what kind of family models form out of this new situation, and, as always in Heinleins´works, many dialogues and monologues.

He always played with political ideas and while Starship Troopers was quite unreflective, except of the philosophical debates, this novel has much room for interpretations. Especially anarchism, a mainly forgotten option for society design, takes a large place in the argumentation in one of the characters´ argumentations, not leaving space for counter-arguments. But it shows the inherent flaws of any concept that prioritizes the ultimate freedom of everyone over the protection of the weak from the arbitrariness of the law of the jungle, something certain ideologies seem to permanently forget mentioning. Heinlein has a special, tense relationship to democracy and regulated markets in welfare states and avoids mentioning such topics or describes them as not good options throughout his works.

His writing, dialogues, characters,… are so badass that it would be close to stereotypical, humoristic writing today because it´s so filled with cliches about that time that it´s hard to imagine that they really talked and thought like that. It´s as if the people had made a time travel to a brighter future, but kept their strange mentality, not having had the time for cognitive development and cultural evolution, so that the contrast is even stronger and they seem somehow primitive, stone agy, ugh.

The main difference to Clarke and Asimov is that they do worldbuilding and metaplots, while Heinlein is more of a character-focused writer who adds some Sci-Fi elements and a rudimentary plot, but is mainly interested in detailed descriptions of how the humans deal with the topics he wants them to talk about. And, of course, the controversial political and sexist views he added in his work, the other two were able to avoid and to stay neutral.

But with this work, he wrote a, for his standards, less agenda- and bias influenced work that is closest to what someone would call a Hard-Sci-Fi novel and it really takes place in space, just as Starship troopers, something not always the case in his works.

Because there will always be controversy around Heinleins´ work and changing world views, I want to add some personal opinion at the end of each review of one of his works.

It seems a bit as if Heinlein had been a lifelong searcher for the right ideology, as he switched from one extreme to the other, leaving marks of it throughout all of his works. This is the biggest contrast to others, who kept their work clean from bias and agenda and it certainly built both his legend, fanbase, and critics by provoking and polarizing. Of course, it´s the freedom of art to integrate serious elements, as long as they are not dangerous, but the thin red line tends to be pretty blurry and while some see him as a visionary for alternative society models the others describe him as a conservative, hate-filled, insecure man.

I don´t really care what his motives might have been, his work is something special and different, it´s just a prime example of why professional artists should keep their work clean from personal agendas, because that just, justifiably, feeds the trolls and ruins ones´ reputation as for example seen with the great three titans of sci-fi. Asimov: robots, psychohistory, foundation. Clarke: epic, subtle, philosophical, each time reading finding new depths, extremely complex. Heinlein: Meh, his writing was average, but did you know what kind of mindset he had regarding... See? While people will endlessly debate about the ingenuity of and inspiration from Asimovs´and Clarkes´work, they will remember Heinlein as the kind of strange uncle with borderline attitudes.

Tropes show how literature is conceptualized and created and which mixture of elements makes works and genres unique:
Profile Image for Kevin Kuhn.
Author 2 books584 followers
February 26, 2020
“The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” – what a title, sometimes I wonder if this book is considered such a classic in large part due to that title. Despite some imperfections, it does have much to offer, especially being published in the mid-1960’s. The setting revolves around a former Lunar penal outpost, which has evolved into a highly functioning colony with ice mining and successful grain farming. The colony is tightly managed by the Lunar Authority which is controlled from Earth. Set in the later 21st century, Heinlein imagines an intriguing future, publicizing some groundbreaking technology and ideas. We not only have sentient computers, rail guns, fusion power, space battles with laser guns, we also have a Lunar dialect, unique family and marital structures, and different social norms, sprung out of living in a harsh and compact environment. After establishing this future, the book explores a lunar revolution. Take the American Revolution narrative, mix it with the Australian evolution from a penal colony to an independent nation, stir in some libertarian ideology and you have the plot.

When I first read this book in the mid-1980’s it was later high school or early college years, I can’t quite remember. I was astonished by the concepts in this book. I was intrigued by the sentient computer and the concept of using a rail gun for space travel/supply logistics. Moreover, It was the first time I was truly interested in politics and political principles. I mean, I had some lessons in high school around government, but I found it mind-numbingly boring. This book triggered something intellectually that made me think deeply about government philosophy. Since then, I’ve considered the book one of my favorite science fiction books, if not overall favorite books. So, I almost regret this reread, afterwards, as I just couldn’t ignore some of its flaws.

The primary issue with this book is sexism. I’m sure at the time of its writing it was probably considered progressive in terms of how it treated female characters. I mean one of the central figures of the revolt is a woman. And the women on the moon control large, extended families with polygamous relationships. Women are revered and sexual advances are not allowed without permission. Advanced thinking for the early 1960’s, right? Well, unfortunately, you only need to go one step deeper to dig down to the issues. Women are only revered and not touched or raped due to their scarcity. The constant threat of other males tossing violators out an airlock is what creates this situation. It’s still socially acceptable to catcall and ogle women, and in this reality, women enjoy this type of lecherous attention because they don’t have to worry about rape. While one of the central characters is one of four founding members of the revolution, her role is often to gain interest and support due to her attractiveness. And when miners are reluctant to main defensive laser positions, the solution is to provide pretty women at the posts as well, problem solved!

Another issue includes a tremendous amount of exposition. It does help that its written in first person, so at least the infodumps are coming from the mind of the protagonist, instead of an anonymous narrator. The exposition also serves to move the plot along quickly at times, when complex setting, political, and technical information needs to be established. However, it did limit my enjoyment to continuously run into large blocks of narration.

Despite these flaws, it’s still an important book. Using science fiction to explore political affairs and alternate social structures set a foundation that many future authors built upon. Might we not have “The Handmaids Tale” without this book? Possibly. Was it brave in the 1960’s to explore alternate social structures such as polygamy? Definitely. Did the book popularize some intriguing concepts such as the importance of the moon’s weak gravity well, sentient computers, and rail guns? Absolutely. In the context of history, I still rate this book highly. However, I feel compelled to take away at least half a star in recognizing some underlying issues – TANSTAAFL! Four and a half stars, rounded up to five for this Hugo Award winning, philosophical yet action packed tale.
Profile Image for Mark.
76 reviews20 followers
December 15, 2008
Ah, Heinlein: SF's great paradox artist. I am fairly certain that I have personally held every possible wrong viewpoint on the man. Namely, that he was:

1) A radically forward-thinking visionary of libertarianism
2) A raging fascist, homophobe, and misogynist
3) Any point on the sociopolitical spectrum in between.

It's not my fault. Over the course of his career, Heinlein seemed to espouse every possible viewpoint on religion, government, and gender relations (obviously, he liked to stick to small themes), showing little tolerance for moderate opinions. Without a blink of irony, he also placed a premium on pragmatism.

And the balance of pragmatism and idealism -- or, rather, the illusion that the two can coexist effortlessly -- is what The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is all about. It is the story of a lunar colony's revolt, in the same way that The Fountainhead is a book about architects (an insulting comparison; Heinlein's prose is significantly more readable than Ayn Rand's). You see, it's really about libertarianism -- or, as one of the book's heroes characterizes it, "rational anarchism."

So, a small group of revolutionaries attempts to liberate the moon from her Earthbound oppressors, and institute a perfect anarcho-syndicalist commune in their stead. They set about doing this, of course, with the help of a sentient supercomputer. They organize the people of Luna, and succeed in overthrowing the existing government, but in so doing upset the nations of Earth. After all, the moon has been shipping grain down to help feed Earth's starving masses, so they're a little cranky when the "Lunies" threaten to cut off the supply (you'd be cranky living on 1,800 calories a day too).

Coincidentally, the ruling philosophy on Luna is the maxim "TANSTAAFL" -- There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. I mentioned that Heinlein was subtle, right?

So they go to war, and then, in the novel's single biggest twist, the computer doesn't turn evil. I could hardly believe it.

Although the book is riddled with bizarre moments that nag one's attempts to suspend disbelief (the most persistent being Mike the Computer's regular updates as to the revolutionaries' "probability of success," which starts out at 1/7, and then -- as everything proceeds to go perfectly to plan -- drops to as low as 1/100, in unapologetic defiance of all mathematical logic), the plot's weaknesses don't matter. Heinlein is a gifted novelist, and a natural storyteller. Even when the characters decide to take 10 pages off and simply talk politics for a while, it's enthralling.

And talk politics they do. No one flinches at the notion of attempting to institute a perfect democracy run entirely by a handful of exceptional individuals, who themselves defer to the managerial expertise of a supercomputer (no tyrannic potential there, right?). Nor do they worry themselves with the philosophical contradiction of attempting to forge a pacifistic state by means of terrorism and interplanetary warfare (those who raise the issue, and thus violate Heinlein's worship at the Altar of Pragmatism, are conveniently Roslined out of the nearest airlock; it's okay, they're wormy enough that you won't miss 'em).

But all of this simply serves to illustrate Heinlein's mastery of the ideological paradox. He's more than smart enough to recognize the inconsistencies of his own personal politics, and to play with them to terrific effect. Notably, Heinlein did not self-dentify with the majority of his protagonists. Instead, his Mary Sues are characters like Stranger in a Strange Land's Jubal Harshaw and, in the case of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Professor Bernardo de la Harshaw--er, Paz. They are cynical old men who are, in novel after novel, infallible, brilliant, well-connected, and almost disturbingly capable.

Exit thought: why is it that the computer that makes the revolution possible just happens to share its name with the superhuman hero of Stranger In a Strange Land, both of whom disappear suddenly and inexplicably upon concluding their tasks?
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews927 followers
October 20, 2022
"They kept hooking hardware into him - decision-action boxes to let him boss other computers...Human brain has around ten-to-the-tenth neurons. By third year Mike had better than one and a half times that many neurons."

Crítica | Revolta na Lua, de Robert A. Heinlein - Plano Crítico

One of the presents for my mother several Christmases ago was an Amazon Echo (Alexa). Having recently reread Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, I couldn't stop thinking about the parallels between the awakened computer, Mycroft (Mike) in Heinlein's novel and Alexa. This connection was reinforced when people ask Alexa to tell a joke. While he helps the former convict Lunar settlers in a rebellion against Earth, MIke's obsession remains fixated on jokes (and whether they are funny only once, in a given situation or always funny). Maybe Alexa is not on the verge of becoming self-aware; however, the idea that artificial intelligence could awaken is explored in an interesting way by Heinlein (in the mid-1960s) without the knowledge of what AI looks like now.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress feels a little clunky in my reread, but this side plot (Mike awakening) works well with the main plot (overthrowing Earth's control of the Moon). I would have liked more on the implications of Mike's awakening, but overall Heinlein tells an interesting and enjoyable story about the not so distant future.
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,677 reviews5,258 followers
March 10, 2017
do you play games where you know the outcome of the game itself is without question... where any fun to be had is not so much in the winning - that's predetermined - but in figuring out how exactly you will win, what moves you will make, how you will overcome all those minor hurdles along the way? that's sometimes how i feel when playing chess with some folks. for me, it's not the most exciting thing in the world; it's a little eye-rolling. i think others may have more excitement when playing a game they know they'll win. my little nephews seem to have a really enjoyable time kicking my ass at their various new-fangled video games. personally i don't get it, but they seem to love illustrating how easy and exciting it is, the thrill of watching all their strategies and skills coming to predictable fruition. even when there is no real competition. their eventual win is obvious. and that's the impression that i'm left with after reading the enjoyable Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.

the novel is about a revolution on Luna by its oppressed permanent labor force. far in the future, the moon is the newest Prison Island... once you are transported there, you can't come back. and there you work, mainly to export grain, and live a life of economic exploitation by The Lunar Authority. you will alway live in this proletariat society. overall, it is actually not a horrible existence. the "Loonies" are an enjoyable lot, unpretentious and down to earth, concerned mainly with beer, gambling, and the ladies. Heinlein creates an odd and i suppose semi-utopic world, with a pleasing lack of laws (a kind of libertarian anarchy of sorts) and a surprisingly liberated view on women. basically, women are the social/family/romantic Boss of It All... not truly a matriarchal society per se, but rather one built around the need to make sure women are completely empowered. apparently due to the 2-to-1 status of men to women on the moon, and the need for women to be 'available' to much more than monogamy, if they so chose.

still, despite the basic lack of horror in this odd world... it's no fun to be exploited by bureaucratic overseers. and so must come REVOLUTION! we have our friendly & no-nonsense Everyman, we have our bewitching & passionate Lady in Hiding, we have our amusing & highly intellectual Idealistic Professor. and of course we have our sentient computer Mike, who likes to play games. and revolution is just another kind of game, right?

the writing is breezy, casual, and in a sort of pidgen english - a kind of cross between baby talk and our very own text messaging style. that style should be annoying but actually isn't. much like with HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, we have a fascinating computer who provides all of the genuinely emotional and resonant moments in the narrative. and - perhaps because of the time period in which the novel was written, but certainly topical today - we have a step-by-step account of How To Make A Revolution Work. Heinlein's passions come across mainly in the world-building of this almost-utopia and in the very detailed expression of how exactly to overthrow the chains of oppression through revolution (and i suppose a bit of terrorism, at times).

so back to my original point. i liked this novel, but i would never consider reading it a second time. it was fun. but the outcome was never in question. Heinlein loads the dice by making sure that everything happens as projected, each step of the way. no tension... and a tension-free revolution is a curiously child-like enterprise. child-like but not childish. there is a sweet naïveté to it all. Heinlein jerry-built this revolution to be won and so i never felt any kind of nervousness, i never worried. the only stakes that were meaningful to me were the (rather slight) emotional stakes around Mike the computer: his past loneliness, his concern about whether he is actually sentient, and his need to have friends, to talk to people who are 'not-stupid'. aww... that's adorable! Mike, i'm not super-smart or anything, but i'll be your friend! cute little revolutionary computer minds are very appealing to me.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,100 followers
September 15, 2023
What do you want us to do? Throw rocks at them?

Nah, but we could have a tea party.

Wow. I'm still amazed at how good this Revolution novel has held up over the years. I had read it twice before this latest re-read, but it hasn't lost any of its charm.

Of course, I love Heinlein's heavy reliance on self-reliance, libertarianism, and TANSTAAFL. I'm lucky to have read him early so as to be fully indoctrinated in this gung-ho politicism of Rational Anarchy and I can laugh and whoop and grin foolishly all the while.

But I'm weird.

Still. When it comes to the story, the most amazing thing about this novel is not that it's set on the moon or that it has been populated with all of Earth's undesirables, or that they're economic slaves to the Earth. Nope. It's amazing that this book is actually a How-To-Guide on how to stage a successful revolution against a technologically and militarily superior foe, from initial planning, leverage, sleeper cells, and of course, political preparation, communication, diplomacy, and economics. And, of course, the resulting MASS DEATH of so many innocents. Can't forget that.

But I suppose the one thing that sticks in my mind most strongly is the planetary computer, Mycroft. What a guy/gal. He/she always gets me in the feels. That's leverage.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I keep on seeing tons of good revolution books or modern SF still stealing from this classic, either knowingly or unknowingly. Perhaps all AIs that show up in SF are a reply to Mycroft in one way or another. Who knows? This is the one that stands out supreme in my mind and perhaps always shall.

Call me a Lunatic. I dare you. ;)

This one won the Hugo in '66, but I also place it firmly in one of my top 100 novels of all time. :) Great stuff. :)
Profile Image for Martin.
327 reviews143 followers
August 22, 2019
Imagine a prison colony on the Moon
Now add a new and updated twist on the American war of independence
A self aware computer that actually runs the colony
A non-political computer engineer
A beautiful freedom fighter
A politically cynical professor
The birth of a (new) nation
And you have one of the best hard science fiction tales ever !

image: description

Prison History
My Grandfather Stone claimed that Luna was only open prison in history. No bars, no guards, no rules—and no need for them. Back in early days, he said, before was clear that transportation was a life sentence, some lags tried to escape. By ship, of course—and, since a ship is mass-rated almost to a gram, that meant a ship’s officer had to be bribed.

Some were bribed, they say. But were no escapes; man who takes bribe doesn’t necessarily stay bribed. I recall seeing a man just after eliminated through East Lock; don’t suppose a corpse eliminated in orbit looks prettier.

Slaves of the system
That we were slaves I had known all my life—and nothing could be done about it. True, we weren’t bought and sold—but as long as Authority held monopoly over what we had to have and what we could sell to buy it, we were slaves.

But what could we do? Warden wasn’t our owner. Had he been, some way could be found to eliminate him. But Lunar Authority was not in Luna, it was on Terra—and we had not one ship, not even small hydrogen bomb. There weren’t even hand guns in Luna, though what we would do with guns I did not know. Shoot each other, maybe.

Three million, unarmed and helpless—and eleven billion of them. . . with ships and bombs and weapons. We could be a nuisance—but how long will papa take it before baby gets spanked?

A computer with a sense of humor
“Mike, her name is Wyoming Knott.”

“I’m very pleased to meet you, Mike. You can call me ‘Wye.’”

“Why not?” Mike answered.

I cut in again. “Mike, was that a joke?”

“Yes, Man. I noted that her first name as shortened differs from the English causation-inquiry word by only an aspiration and that her last name has the same sound as the general negator. A pun. Not funny?”

Wyoh said, “Quite funny, Mike. I—”

I waved to her to shut up. “A good pun, Mike. Example of ‘funny-only-once’ class of joke. Funny through element of surprise. Second time, no surprise; therefore not funny. Check?”

“I had tentatively reached that conclusion about puns in thinking over your remarks two conversations back. I am pleased to find my reasoning confirmed.”

How to deal with a spy
The thing to do with a spy is to let him breathe, encyst him with loyal comrades, and feed him harmless information to please his employers. These creatures will be taken into our organization. Don’t be shocked; they will be in very special cells. ‘Cages’ is a better word. But it would be the greatest waste to eliminate them—not only would each spy be replaced with someone new but also killing these traitors would tell the Warden that we have penetrated his secrets.

How to fight back
Let’s get back to the basic problem: how we are to cope when we find ourselves facing Terra, David facing Goliath.”

“Oh. Been hoping that would go away. Mike? You really have ideas?”

“I said I did, Man,” he answered plaintively. “We can throw rocks.”

“Bog’s sake! No time for jokes.”

“But, Man,” he protested, “we can throw rocks at Terra. We will.”

And throw rocks is what they do.
A space war - with rocks!


Profile Image for Luffy (Oda's Version).
765 reviews757 followers
November 6, 2020
DNFed it at 55 % or so. I can't believe that this difficult to read and difficult to follow story is so highly rated on Goodreads.

The story is so painstakingly revealed, yet there are more questions than answers. The coup prepared by the oppressed moon dwellers seems to take forever.

Each successful book has its own audience, or should I say, readership. Maybe only the hardcore sci-fi crowd rated this beast of a book.

Maybe the usual romance reading housewives had a hand in rating this book 4 or 5 stars, but I can't see this happening. I'm amazed that I lasted that long.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
April 19, 2023
[Original review, May 2009]


Robert Heinlein was a good friend of AI legend Marvin Minsky (check out his people page! It's interesting!), and I've heard that they often used to chat about AI, science-fiction, and the connections between them. Here's a conversation I imagine them having some time between 1961, when Stranger in a Strange Land was published, and 1966, when The Moon is a Harsh Mistress appeared:

"Bob, this book's not so bad, but I felt it could have been so much better! OK, love the idea of the guy from Mars, who doesn't understand how people work and has to learn the most basic things about emotions, society, etc from first principles. You have some good stuff there. But I think you got a bit distracted with the super-powers and the sex. Sure, put in sex, all for it, but don't get Mike so involved in that part of the book. He should be more abstract I think. And I wasn't so thrilled by the fact that he never actually does anything much with his powers, except for start a minor cult and get martyred. Seems a bit negative. What does his martyrdom achieve, exactly?

Wait. I have an idea. Why don't you rewrite it so that he's an artificial intelligence? Really, that makes more sense. He's even more alien than a human raised by Martians. Oh, don't worry about that, I can help you with the technical details. Feel free to drop in at the AI Lab any time, we're all huge fans. People will be delighted. So, yes, as I was saying, he needs to do something. Maybe he's... the central computer in a future Lunar society? And he helps them start a revolution, and break free from Earth's tyranny? Even though what he's really most interested in is understanding how humor works? I don't think you need to change that much else. Call him Mike again by all means, so that people see the link. And you should absolutely martyr him at the end. Only, I think this time you should do it in a subtler and more ambiguous way. But sure, leave the door open about whether he's really dead."

"Hey, thanks Marvin! Terrific ideas! You know, sometimes I think you should be the science-fiction writer, and I should be the AI researcher. I'll definitely come by soon. With a draft, I feel inspired. Going to start as soon as I put the phone down. Take care!"
[Update, April 19 2023]

Perhaps the best pro-AI book ever. I hadn't read it since I was a teen, but it still delivers in the age of ChatGPT; the ending is even more moving now we know that beings like "Mike" aren't just science-fiction.

I had somehow forgotten the brass cannon. What a wonderful symbol!
Profile Image for melydia.
1,109 reviews18 followers
December 20, 2008
My first taste of Heinlein was Stranger in a Strange Land a few years back. It was, in a word, bad. So I gave up on Heinlein all together, figuring if his most famous and critically acclaimed book was no good, what chance did the others have? This conviction was met with protests from Heinlein fans, saying I need to read some "good" Heinlein before making the call. So I did, though it took me an unusually long time to finish. I just couldn't get into it. The characters were two-dimensional and shared too many qualities with those in SiaSL: the brilliant innocent (here, a self-aware computer named Mike), the levelheaded and elderly teacher/father-figure (Prof the anarchist philosopher), and the beautiful, "smart" woman whose most highly praised attribute is her ability to keep her mouth shut when the men are talking about important things (Wyoh, a revolutionary with a thing for older men - another SiaSL staple). Another recycled idea (though I don't know which book came first) was the group/line marriages, where the women are said to be in charge but actually spend most of their time at home worrying about their men. These characters weren't that great the first time around; the second time was just tedious.

The idea behind the story is fine: the moon is more or less a penal colony under totalitarian rule. With the help of Mike the computer, Mannie (a computer tech who talks - and narrates the story - in an obnoxious dialect that sounds like someone faking a Russian accent very poorly), Prof, and Wyoh engineer a revolution. There is some interesting discussion of political ideals and governmental structure, but without sympathetic characters to bring it to life the story is about as gripping as your average high school civics class. I simply could not bring myself to care one way or the other. Now I wonder, how many more of his books do I need to read before I can officially say I don't like Heinlein?
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,137 reviews4,177 followers
October 7, 2015
Very disappointing: 2.5* (it's not terrible, but it's weaker than books I award 3*, and I enjoyed it far less).

I know of Heinlein as a sci-fi author and had heard of some interesting language-type things that make this novel unique, principally a Lunar dialect.

Although it's mostly set in a lunar prison colony, just over 100 years after it was written (and 60 ahead of now), it's more of a political story, and the Lunar dialect is just a slightly stilted pidgin whose most notable features are the omission of articles and pronouns, and the odd Russian-influenced word.


It starts off promisingly, immediately introducing big issues around artificial intelligence. Mike (short for Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's brother) is a supercomputer who enjoys jokes and playing pranks, which is an entertaining concept, but does he also have self-awareness, free will, emotions, personality and so on?

The other principal character is Manuel (aka Mannie and Man), who is Mike's chief programmer and engineer. Oh, and a stupidly named woman, Why Not (albeit spelt Wyoming Knott, but usually abbreviated to Wyoh).

Then it threw in issues of prison, punishment, freedom, civilisation, redemption, and some of the practicalities of living on the moon (low gravity, habitats, air, economics). Oh, and different types of marriage necessitated by a society with a huge gender imbalance: polyandry, clan marriage and line marriage (though the details and differences were not clearly explained).

In this community, the scarcity of women gives them more power in relationships, which is a nice idea, but the opposite of what seems to be the case in China, decades after their one-child policy was introduced, with reports of young women being abducted and forced into marriage.

Most of the humans living in tunnels on Luna are free: either the descendants of deported criminals, or they have served their time. In either case, they are too acclimated to return to the high gravity of Terra. There is no need for actual prisons, or even laws, because there is nowhere to escape to. The main industries are ice mining, and hydroponic farming; for the latter, they import fertilizer from Terra and then export the grain. But why go to the expense of all the transport to and from Luna, when they could do the same in tunnels on Terra?


Understandably, some of the Loonies (as they call themselves) want independence from the exploitation of The Authority and its Warden, sent from Terra.

Cue LOTS of socio-political... stuff. It's not a long book, so I ploughed on, assuming it would return to form, but it didn't. Instead, I read endless discussions of political theory and tactics (it's all about the cell system and money laundering), meetings and diplomatic missions, and eventually .

There are plenty of parallels with GB and Australia, but nothing startlingly original.

One thing Heinlein did get right was the fundamental importance of communications, including mobile and covert - and also social media (not that he called it that, but irreverent propaganda was used to undermine the Authority and create unrest).

However, everything seemed too easy. Mike was such a super supercomputer, and he had no competition. I kept waiting for something dramatic and unexpected to happen, but Mike was TOO omniscient and omnipotent for dramatic tension.


A few final paragraphs tried to bring it full circle, by contemplating computer consciousness and emotions, but it felt forced and rushed.
Profile Image for Erik.
341 reviews271 followers
March 20, 2016
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress begins, promisingly enough, with a conversation between the sentient computer Mike and the mechanic Mannie, our protagonist, about the subjective and paradoxical nature of humor. It then segues into a revolution whereby the Moon, a penal colony used primarily as a farm to grow wheat to feed Earth's beleaguered masses, attempts to become an independent state. The revolution is planned and executed primarily by Mike, essentially an omniscient God, and everything which can go right goes right and everything which might go wrong does not. It seems then that The Moon is, in fact, a rather Lenient Mistress.

…and naïve, sexist, and outdated. But let’s start with the first one.

New Title: The Moon is a Lenient Mistress.

A clothesline with a pair of whitey-tighties has more dramatic tension than this book. Though there is, ostensibly, a macro-conflict in the form of Luna’s revolution, it doesn’t come across as such because everything always works out. Even when the plan appears to stumble, it actually turns out NOPE, it was all part of the plan. Computer Mike has no limitations and knows all. It's no surprise, and no spoiler either, to tell you the revolution succeeds. Manuel is clearly narrating in retrospect, a fact referenced multiple times throughout the book, which is itself largely told in summary, rather than depicted scene-by-scene.

What about micro-conflict? Ha! You may not have known this – I certainly didn’t – but revolutionaries are all extremely polite and well-behaved. The three main characters always agree or, if disagreeing slightly, happily defer to Professor (a blatant analogue of Heinlein himself). Any character who strongly disagrees just sort of vanishes. Any character who isn’t on the good side is portrayed as a bumbling, blithering idiot.

Course maybe Heinlein is just that good at mapping out a revolution. Maybe he’s a master of human nature. Maybe, should I ever plan a revolution, perhaps against our future McWalmart Overlords, I should exhume Heinlein’s body and use my necromantic powers to raise him as a zombie adviser. Except...

New Title: The Moon is a Naïve Mistress.

I’ll get to the dated technology in a moment, which has some excuse, but is there any excuse for an inaccurate depiction of human nature? To some degree, the lack of conflict makes sense because this is Old Sci-fi and in Old Sci-fi, drama and character often play a subordinate role to ideas and science. Much of the joy (and there is some) comes from reading this book as a Revolution For Dummies. But the joy is hampered by this book’s inauthentic depiction of the turbulence of revolution and of humanity and society in general.

Case in point: The very premise is absurd. Luna is a penal colony, filled almost exclusively with convicts (in the future, capital punishment is considered ‘inhumane’). Simultaneously, Loonies (those who live on the moon) are portrayed as being exceptionally polite. Simultaneously, a good HALF of those who arrive on Luna end up dead either through carelessness or murder. Simultaneously, there are no laws. Zero. Simultaneously with all this, Luna is depicted as a stable, healthy semi-utopia. Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh... (wait for it) ...hhhhhhhhhhhhhh... (wait for it) ...hhhhhh no. Next up, I am a Nigerian prince who has $10,000,000 to give you. I just need your bank account information. We all know that in the absence of societal structure, the strong rule the weak. In fact, we have places without laws in the world, Somalia being one of them. Don’t think anyone would call it utopian.

In addition to his wildly naïve depiction of a libertarian society, Heinlein’s grasp of gender dynamics leaves much to be desired. On Luna, the ratio of female to males is wildly skewed, a 1:2 ratio at time of story but even worse in the years before. The result, according to Heinlein, is the empowerment of women. Because that’s definitely what's happening in India. Oh wait. No, the opposite occurred. Duh. Ironically, because Heinlein obviously attempted to do otherwise, the book’s depiction of women is nothing less than creepy thereby granting TITLE NUMBER THREE. Cue drumroll…:

New Title: The Moon is a Sexist Mistress.

Heinlein’s depiction of women is bad. He tries and if this were kindergarten, that’d earn him some points. But we’re in the big leagues of literature, aren’t we?! So it’s just creepy and sexist:

Practically every woman of note mentioned is described as beautiful. No ugly women allowed, apparently. When beautiful woman #1, Wyoming Knott, was introduced, I thought to myself, “Oh man. Dollars to donuts, main character sleeps with her.” For a bit, I thought I'd be owing myself some donuts but then in a surprise twist... she gets married into Mannie’s line marriage!

You know that rule in theater about how if a gun is mentioned or introduced in act one of a play, it will go off by act three? I propose a similar rule for beautiful women. If a "beautiful" woman is mentioned in the beginning of the book then she will be slept with by the end. That or she’ll be an evil murderess. Sorry beautiful women out there. That’s your fate in life, apparently.

I mean, despite narrator telling us that Loonie women are empowered and in charge of society, the book consistently depicts them in subordinate or domestic roles. Wyoming Knott is one of three main revolutionaries, right? The book suggests she's essential. Which is because she does… wait… what does she do? OH THAT’S RIGHT. NOTHING. She flirts, she spurs the men on. All other women are likewise depicted in this bizarre cheerleading role, or as mothers. Every woman (or girl!) of note eventually gets married, like it's the penultimate fate. Well what can ya say? It's a universal truth, right Jane Austen?

This book is super hardcore about placing women on a pedestal. Heinlein, who obviously doesn’t get human nature and even less woman nature, seems to believe that this is a GOOD depiction of women. Like omg they’re so amazing and dynamic and look at this SPUNKY female, free with her kisses and sexuality and can take and dish out insults with the best of em. Please, God of Literature, spare me from such inadvertently Lovecraftian horrors. The spunky female stereotype of an “empowered woman” is so eerie. It’s outdated, at the least, and you know what else is? The technology!

New Title: The Moon is an Outdated Mistress.

This book is lauded for its supposedly accurate depiction of engineering and technology. Huh? What? You mean, like how one of the main characters uses a phone with like a hundred meter cord in order to talk to the computer? Don’t even give me that context of the past nonsense. We had radios back then. Is it really that hard to extrapolate that we’d have personal radios (i.e. cellphones) in the future? Or how about when the main character uses PUNCHCARDS to program a super computer? Hahahahaha. Or here’s a good one: nuclear-warhead interceptor missiles cost “thousands” of dollars. Do I buy a used car or hydrogen bomb? Choices, choices.

That is the very definition of sci-fi failure. It’s a sci-fi writer’s job (particularly one writing in this hard sci-fi mode) to infer future ideologies and technologies. It’d be the equivalent of my writing a story set a hundred years in the future and having people still drive around in cars with internal combustion engines. Barring Mad Max style post-apocalypse, that is NOT going to happen. Or talking about a hamburger costing $5 a century from now. (In fact, for your information, at average rates of inflation, a $5 hamburger will cost $96 in a hundred years. Jeez.)

In summary, is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress? Nope. The Moon is a Lenient, Naïve, Sexist, and Outdated Mistress. This book doesn’t grant insight into humanity, it doesn’t depict a realistic future, it doesn’t even entertain. And it's creepy. At any given point while I was reading this, I could have put it down for good and been content. Basically, The Moon is a Boring Mistress. No one wants a boring mistress – and that’s the truth.
Profile Image for Philip.
513 reviews683 followers
January 3, 2022
3.75ish stars.

It's the mark of a talented writer that a book that's basically 75% socio-political exposition is somehow entertaining. The narrator, Mannie, isn't particularly charismatic, lovable, or relatable enough to latch onto emotionally, but it works because he's funny in a deadpan sort of way, and loyal enough to admire. Obviously the star of the novel is Mike, and the best parts of the book were of Mike settling into his humanity. Overall, a satisfying story with a satisfying ending, but not one that will stay with me throughout the years like other classic sci-fi.

The audiobook version narrated by Lloyd James is highly recommended.
Profile Image for Nicholas Perez.
439 reviews96 followers
March 15, 2021
UPDATE 3/15/21. I have uploaded a BookTube video review, along with The Left Hand of Darkness.

Oh, Robert Heinlein...

Read for my resolution to read classic sci-fi

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is about a prison colony on the Moon. Most of its inhabitants are criminals that have been exiled by Earth and their descendants. An engineer named Manuel Mannie" Garcia O'Kelly-Davis is a native of Luna, or Loonie, who befriend the supercomputer Mycroft whom he affectionally refers to as Mike. Mike gradually displays human characteristics over the course of the novel and starts to manipulate events around Mannie and his allies. Mannie eventually falls in with a group of Loonies who want to break free of Earth's control and soon a revolution begins. A long, complicated revolution.


This book had such an interesting and promising start. The concept is even ingenious. Mannie, although being of mixed-race heritage, narrates in English but with a Russian accent and speaking pattern; meaning there are no articles Nataliya, if you're reading this please confirm if this is true or not. Despite this, the prose is quite readable and enjoyable. However, it all fell apart quickly.

After the initial raid on the revolutionaries in the bar, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress quickly lost its steam. Mannie and his friends Wyoming and Professor Bernardo de la Paz spent about 4 chapters in the same hotel room discussing politics and their plans for revolution. The discussion was complicated and very info-dumpy, as is much of the book, and I found myself skimming through it just to get past, as I did for most of the rest of the book. The other hindrance to the book is that Heinlein spends so much timing telling about events and certain things rather than showing them. Mannie describes certain raids, discussions, and daily life in Luna very matter-of-factly and with very little character interaction.

Perhaps I'm just an idiot, but I understood very little of the political and economic discussions, except for the basic libertarian ideals that the book revolves around: I'm not paying for something I didn't pay for, the government doesn't take my money. There were other things too that I was genuinely surprised to see in a book from the 1960s from a very libertarian man. Heinlein even criticizes the police for their brutality and how their control is used to scare the populace. Although this criticism does not include the racialized police brutality currently very prevalent in America at this time. Other than that, the constant political discussions were just so complicated and boring.

And speaking of race...who wants to hear about the racist stuff in this book!? I criticized Dunefor occasionally invoking the noble savage archetype, but this book really takes the cake. The character Wyoming is a white, blonde woman who turns her hair black and gets her skin colored brown, resembling a half-white, half-black woman in order to disguise herself. Mannie's wife, or chief wife I should say (Loonie society is polygamous) Mimi says her original tone is more beautiful but that she isn't half bad looking with dark skin. For a time, Wyoming keeps her brown skin and Mannie says she's beautiful and every man on Luna whistles at her. Later on, Wyoming goes back to her fair skin, but one of Mannie's other wives, who is also blonde, wishes Wyoming would "go back to being a brownie" so she could be the only blonde.

Like, WOW!

Yes, I'm aware most of the cast is mixed-race. Putting mixed-race characters into your story does not mean you aren't racist or can make a white woman have dark skin. Also, I don't know if Wyoming having darker skin would be considered black face because there is no mention of exaggeration of features, she's said to resemble a biracial woman, but Mannie also says she has Tamil features. I seriously don't know!

And now the women! OH BOY!

-Wyoming. Anytime she suggests an idea, she's immediately shut down as being wrong. She's strong and helps build the new Loonie society and even founds several women's militia groups, but she's mostly there just to be commented on her beauty.
-Mimi, Mannie's chief wife, was actually okay. She took no shit from anybody.
-Ludmilla, one of Mannie's other wives, got married and pregnant at 15...enough said.
-Sidris, another wife, ran a salon that gathered information. Cool, but barely there.

Loonie society has no rape, except by the evil Authority's dragoons. This is because women are rare and precious and no man would think of raping a woman. And if a woman was raped, hundreds of men would come to her aid. Women are also the ones who must give consent for any romantic or sexual interactions to happen, it all relies on them. It's kind of progressive, but at the same time, it feels like women are treated as a commodity a little.



Stuart, a Frenchman from Earth who joins the Luna revolution has a habit of catcalling and hugging and spanking women. When he does this on Luna he is nearly killed by men because of the aforementioned protection of women. Both he and Mannie explain that he couldn't understand because things are different on Earth. To show this, when Stuart, Mannie, and the Professor are on Earth to get support for the Luna revolution, Stuart spanks an Indian nurse and she wiggles her butt in approval. Women on Earth are okay with sexual harassment and catcalling, but not Loonie women. Things are just different that way.

Luna women respect themselves, but those Earth women are all hoes! (I am being sarcastic and am not slut-shaming, don't yell at me, but still come on, y'all.)

The only character I really liked was Mike the computer. At times it felt like Heinlein was contradicting his own philosophy, especially with the way the revolution went. Maybe that was intentional, I don't know.

I really wanted to read Heinlein for the longest time and this was just such a disappointment. I heard things about him before, but I didn't think that his writing before his long illness would be THIS BAD! I will still be reading Stranger in a Strange Land, his juveniles, and possibly others, because I want to give him more chances. But dear God, this book didn't age well at all. Perhaps I'm just a hypersensitive millennial, I don't know.

2/5 stars.
Profile Image for She-Who-Reads.
73 reviews182 followers
July 25, 2007
This is an excellent novel, action-packed, exciting, and deftly-plotted, with fascinating, complex characters and some interesting science-fictional ideas. I also enjoyed reading about Luna's culture; I thought the marriage customs were particularly interesting.

One thing I noticed right off was the way the Loonies use language differently than people from earth do. In fact, it threw me at first -- I couldn't figure out what was going on or why the language was so rough and unpolished and choppy. Eventually, though, I found the rhythm of it and settled in just fine -- I didn't even notice it after a while. It makes sense; Luna started off as a penal colony and has since developed completely separate from Earth and relatively unmolested. Of course they would have their own dialect and speech patterns! To my mind, their language seems to be as efficient as possible. They trimmed away any unnecessary deadwood -- they don't use articles, for example, and very few personal pronouns, and they seem to prefer to use fragments to complete sentences. Only the essentials remain, much the same as the original colonists/prisoners had to start their lives over with only the bare essentials and sometimes not even that.

This book was written about forty years ago, and it has stood the test of time quite well, but there are some aspects of it that do seem rather dated. For example, the idea behind the character of Mike -- the computer that is connected to everything and has "woken up" or become alive -- is one that is very familiar to modern readers, one that we accept easily. Apparently, we accept it much more easily than Heinlen expected his readers in 1965 to accept it, because he spends more time explaining it than he really needs to. When Mannie, the narrator, tells Wyoh about Mike and introduces them via a telephone conversation, she is shocked that Mike already knows what she looks like. He looked up her medical records and found a picture of her immediately after being introduced to her. To modern readers familiar with the internet, this is an obvious step and hardly shocking; we expect it, and Wyoh's shock and apparent need to have every detail and implication of Mike's "life" spelled out for her makes her seem a little bit stupid to us. If we don't remember that Heinlen is using Wyoh to explain things to his 1965 audience that his 2005 audience intuitively understands, then we'll get a little frustrated with Wyoh's denseness.

All in all, though, this is a novel about politics -- a very complex, deep, intellectual and sophisticated look at politics, government, revolution and war. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress has a very definite world-view and political philosophy, some of which I agreed with, and some of which I really, really didn't. My agreement (or lack thereof) with the politics espoused in this book didn't seem to have much bearing on my enjoyment of it. This is a book that requires the reader to think. And that, I think, is why I loved it so much.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
May 4, 2020
$1.99 Kindle sale, May 3, 2020. Robert Heinlein's books too often don't age well, but this one is one of my favorites and is still a fascinating SF novel, if you like hard SF. This one won the Hugo Award (and was nominated for the Nebula) back in 1966.

It's the story of a human colony on the Moon, which Earth has used as a penal colony as well as a source of wheat. The main character, Manuel or "Mannie," is a computer technician who discovers that the Moon's master computer has become sentient and even has begun developing a sense of humor (it's pretty juvenile at first, but grows in sophistication). Mannie calls the computer "Mike" (a tribute to Sherlock Holmes' brother Mycroft).

The "Loonies" who live on the Moon begin to realize that their society will break down completely if they keep sending food and supplies to Earth, so they decide to declare their independence (appropriately, in 2076). Mike the self-aware computer becomes a key component of their plans and the war against Earth.

Heinlein developed an interesting (if a little dated after 50+ years) lunar society here. But Mike is a great character, and ahead of its time. It's definitely worth the read if you like older, hard SF.
Profile Image for Tolgonay Dinçer.
20 reviews46 followers
September 7, 2017
İthaki bilimkurgu klasiklerinin 10. kitabı Yıldız Gemisi Askerleri'ydi, 20. kitabı da Ay Zalim bir Sevgilidir oldu, acaba 30. kitapta Yaban Diyardaki Yabancı mı olacak diye düşünmeden edemedim.
Yıldız gemisi askerleri ile militarizm ile başlayan savaşı sorgulama bu kitapla birlikte daha farklı yanlardan bir sorgulamaya gidiyor.

Hapishane olarak kullanılan Ay'ın Terra otoritesine karşı gerçekleştirmeye çalıştığı devrim konu alınıyor ancak kurgudan çok devri nasıl yapılır kılavuzuydu. aynı zamanda kadın-erkek ilişkileri, evlilik ve boşanmadan toplumsal kurallar ve cezalara kadar pek çok farklı alanda deneysel düşünceler ortaya koyuyor.

Ben bireysel olarak bilimkurgu romanında kullanılan ögelerin bilimsel dayanaklarının (kurguya müdahale edilmeden) açıklanmasını talep ederim. Bilimkurgu soslu kuram kitabı gibiydi roman. Devrimi profesör ile birlikte tasarlayıp işleve geçiren bilgisayar Mike'ın nasıl olup ta bilinç kazandığını bilmek isterdim. Ama bu tamamen benim tercihim yoksa roman kesinlikle okumaya değer, serinin bir sonraki Heinlein romanını merakla bekliyorum
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
1,016 reviews1,182 followers
April 27, 2020
Short review :

So. Much. Mansplaining. Yuk.

Long review :

I wanted to read “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” because I love both sci-fi and the idea of socialist revolution (even if I am well aware that socialism is not what Heinlein was going for here). I knew that there would be grossly outdated stuff in this book: sci-fi from that era tends to feature decorative and sexually pleasing female characters, there is often paper being used, as well as other quaintly outmoded ideas – and I can often make abstraction of that and simply enjoy the ideas and stories. But alas, this reading experience was an unpleasant one.

As the short review said, the amount of mansplaining in the first 50 pages alone almost made me put the book down. But I am nothing if not stubborn, so I kept reading. Because I was curious to see how Mannie the computer guy would manage to overthrow the Terra government with the help of the strangely self-aware computer Mike (I do love that it’s short for Mycroft Holmes, who is a favorite character of mine), the quirky Professor de la Paz and the baffling Wyoming. And I must say that she is baffling because I don’t get the point of her. She is the catalyst for the entire idea of the revolution, but Mannie and the Professor spend so much time reminding their charming female acolyte that she understands everything just a little bit wrong, and that she is adorably naïve, that I am not clear on why she was such an inspiration to start the whole thing in the first place. I wouldn’t be inspired by an incompetent revolutionary activist, but maybe that’s just me…

Even if there wasn’t so much condescending misogynistic garbage to wade through here, the writing is also frustrating. Heinlein wrote the book from Mannie’s voice, and so the prose adopts the spacer language Mannie uses; the choppy sentences are not that hard to get used to (it's nowhere near as tricky to wrap one's brain around as the Nadsat in “Clockwork Orange”, just dropped pronouns and prepositions). The real problem is that Mannie is not a great narrator: I could get no sense of the story’s setting or of any kind of atmosphere from this book. Idea-driven sci-fi often suffers from dry prose, and in this case, it exacerbated the book’s other flaws.

It probably doesn’t help that one of my all-time favorite books is LeGuin’s “The Dispossessed” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), which is also a sci-fi novel about socialism and revolution, so my mind constantly compared Heinlein’s work to LeGuin’s, and that doesn’t really do “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” any favors. The richness of world-building and character that I wanted from this simply wasn't there.

I have other Heinlein novels on my shelf, but now I think they may gather dust for a very, very long time. Bummer.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,986 followers
February 4, 2022
“Seems to be a deep instinct in human beings for making everything compulsory that isn't forbidden.”

Politics and space . . . not a surprise when reading Heinlein. With his writing will always be some very interesting sci-fi space travel, action, etc., but the political allegory is also always there. And, while some authors hide the point they are making under the story, I feel like Heinlein unapologetically puts his right on the surface. Sometimes this has not worked for me (I was not a huge fan of Stranger in a Strange Land), but with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, I found the balance perfect; not only was I entertained by the sci-fi, but it made me think without feeling like I was being preached at (too much).

But as you can see with the quote below . . . as I said . . . it is right there on the surface!

“A rational anarchist believes that concepts such as "state" and "society" and "government" have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals. He believes that it is impossible to shift blame, share blame, distribute blame. . . as blame, guilt, responsibility are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else. But being rational, he knows that not all individuals hold his evaluations, so he tries to live perfectly in an imperfect world. . . aware that his effort will be less than perfect yet undismayed by self-knowledge of self-failure.”

If you like just straight up action sci-fi to mainly escape with for a while, Heinlein may not be for you. But if you are a fan of a bit of political introspection in the midst of your Artificial Intelligence and laser battles, this book is worth trying.
Profile Image for Monica.
620 reviews631 followers
June 9, 2017
I feel like I just took a psychedelic trip culturally through the 60s in a dream of the life in the future. I found the book to be very reflective of the culture and philosophies of the 60s projected to the 2000s. In some ways Heinlein was ahead of his time. I found myself impressed with his treatment and characterization of the sentient AI. There was a lot of unexpected philosophy in the storytelling where they are discussion the behaviors of crowds, and people and greed and motivations. I thought he made very good points and observations about such systems.

Here's the thing, and I don't necessarily consider it (in its own right) a criticism. I think Heinlein wanted to write a story about governing systems. As a science fiction writer, he needed to put the story in space. This came across as relatively superficial. The scifi elements did necessitate the need for a sentient AI who could perform almost godlike tasks in order to ensure a successful outcome. The scifi elements were also part of why it seems like some kind of drug infused dream of the 60s than an actual scifi novel. The novel was irrevocably anachronistic. . But technology wasn't the only anachronistic element. OMG the treatment and characterizations of women and "others" (people not white males) as Valerie says "God bless him" (Heinlein). A seemingly confused soul I fear. A chauvinistic man who saw himself as an open-minded, broad thinker and perhaps even a visionary (don't think so).

Overall I enjoyed the book in spite of its flaws. Heinlein's libertarian views, counter-feminist and polyamorous idiosyncrasies not withstanding. To be honest it was a strange cross-section of sophomoric (especially with women and to some extent libertarian) views and some advanced, sophisticated thinking and an interesting examination of governing systems. Though the subject matter may be more common today, this book written in 1965, seems to be original, innovative and ahead of it's time.

3.5+ Stars

Edited to Add: I listened to this on Audible and followed along with a paperback. Narrated by Lloyd James, the performance was good. I think the interpretation of Manuel O'Kelly with a Russian accent was strange, but it worked.
Profile Image for Dennis.
658 reviews276 followers
May 13, 2020
Well, I tried.

This is not a bad book by any means. But Heinlein’s decision to let his first-person narrator speak in broken English made this hard work for me.

I just never got into a real flow, and after three or four pages my mind always started to wander. So I actually had to force myself to think about the book's content instead of whether I’ve already done the laundry or not.

Right now this just hasn’t any of the things that I want from a book. Which is either be fun, or be educational, or be an audiobook, so that I can do something else while I’m reading you.

It wasn’t fun for me, because of the narrative voice. Even though I liked the guy. It wasn’t educational, because I’m currently not planning to stage a revolution. And, well, it isn’t an audiobook, because this one here was made of trees.

Alas. Maybe another time.

April 2020 group read in Hugo & Nebula Awards: Best Novels, which, I’m afraid, has to finish without me.

DNF: 61%

Profile Image for Penny.
172 reviews347 followers
August 11, 2016
Fantastic! I won't be able to do this book justice in a review, but it really is one of the best I've ever read.

The language is brilliant and makes you feel that you really are living on the moon. The Loonies are interesting and the plot kept me completely absorbed and desperate to hear what happened next throughout.

One of the best revolutions I've ever had the pleasure to read. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for merixien.
588 reviews326 followers
April 15, 2021
Çok güzel bir tanışma kitabı. Çok kompleks olmayan ve aslında bir açıdan da “devrim 101” hikayesiyle birlikte hem kendi dünya-siyasi görüşlerini hem de yazım tarzını okura sunuyor. Kadınlara dair görüşlerinde 60ların etkisi hissediliyor, o bir parça can sıkıcı. Bir de eğer bilim kurgunun yoğun olarak bilimle harmanlandığı halini seviyorsanız bu kitap çok hoşunuza gitmeyebilir. Siyasi ve sosyolojik öğeleri ağır basıyor zira.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,042 followers
October 23, 2014
This is a classic SF story of the moon fighting for its independence from Earth, with a lot of parallels to the American Revolution. Heinlein has a political conversation with himself here, definitely coming down on the side of Libertarianism, but also acknowledges & points out the holes in his arguments himself. I've read some rants about Heinlein pushing his politics & I disagree with them. I think he's doing more questioning than pushing & that leads to some fun with the characters, especially Prof.

Prof is the Heinlein wise elder character while Manny is the middle aged incarnation. Hazel (who shows up as the grandmother in The Rolling Stones) is the youthful, female version. Yes, Heinlein only has 1 main character, he just changes age & sex to suit the situation. I don't consider this a horrible flaw in his books, though. They're more situational, so a steady character actually helps them out.

Prof has a wonderful political philosophy. He's a Rational Anarchist. Actually, that seems to pretty much be his take on life & I dare say it's more honest than most. He'll accept any laws you think you need & obey those he can, when he can, otherwise ignore them, but will pay up if caught. (Come to think of it, that's pretty much how I go through life.) His remarks to the new Lunar Congress on how to pay for government & what laws to make are well worth thinking about & certainly does point out the perennial problem they all have. One suggestion was they start by making laws of what the government could never do. Another was a house devoted to repealing poor laws.

Stu's observations on governing were more amusing. He wants to name Prof king because that would protect people from their biggest enemy, themselves. How true! The woman with the list of proscribed items in the early Congress is a perfect example. Anyone with half a brain can't help but make the comparisons to our own society & the creeping repressiveness as we democratically vote away our rights.

Heinlein points out another fallacy in government, one that he never explicitly states: What works for a small group often won't for a large one & that needs change over time. He makes this argument as a thread throughout the book: Manny's reflections from the future when Luna is much more populated & his other comments on its early days. The justice system of Terra versus that of Luna of Manny's time. It's important to note that Heinlein offers up no concrete answers, just a lot of questions, & he is pointing them out through a first person narrator. Manny is fairly reliable, but he's human & thus comfortable in the society he knows. There are multiple examples of how poorly this fits others - many of whom wind up paying the ultimate penalty.

The language of the book is notable. Sentences are clipped with a lot of polyglot slang & - possibly most important - he popularized the word tanstaafl : "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch". The link is to the Wikipedia article on it. I wish people would use & think of it more.

Racial, religious, & national slang names are commonly used & are now considered politically incorrect, but they are used in such a way that no prejudice can possibly be attached. The moon is such a mix that such designations are merely descriptive. Marriage is another institution that receives a thorough cleansing of preconceptions & homosexuality is also briefly addressed. IOW, Heinlein has a lot of fun with Civil Rights. Since this book was originally published in 1966, that's not surprising, especially given his views on the matter, but this book was well before he almost died & he hasn't gone overboard yet.

The story is quite dated as far as technology goes, but that didn't hurt it much. There are tape recorders, wall phones, & computer punch cards, but the overall experience of the moon is well done. Mike, the self-aware computer is fun, too. Not particularly realistic, but enjoyable & played his part well.

All in all, it's a must-read for anyone exploring SF. It is a classic & is a hell of a lot of fun, but gives plenty of food for thought, too.
Wikipedia has a so-so write up on it here:
Profile Image for Stuart.
722 reviews271 followers
May 9, 2015
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress: Soap-box on the Moon
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
Heinlein’s libertarian creed is TANSTAAFL ("There ain't no such thing as a free lunch"), and this book is probably the most complete expression of his political ideas about self-government, attempts to empower women while still being incredibly sexist and condescending, and some pretty good hard SF extrapolation of what a moon colony’s technology, politics and economy might be like. Oh yeah, and there happens to be an omniscient, all-powerful AI named Mike who helps the Loonies stage their revolution against the oppressive Lunar Authority (can you say DEUS EX MACHINA?). The outcome is never really in doubt, so what we are given instead is a 300-page lecture on what Heinlein’s ideal society would be.

Basically Heinlein thinks that most politicians are self-serving and corrupt (tough to argue with that), nothing important can be decided with more than three people, and intellectuals are useless yammerheads that just do a lot of talk-talk. However, for someone who doesn’t like talk-talk, I’d say about 85% of this book was just that, with almost a complete lack of action or tension and rest being an ultra-detailed description of how a revolution could be planned and executed. The critical flaw here is that none of the revolution would work without the comprehensive computer powers of AI Mike. The rest of the revolutionaries are simply depending on him to work his magic. So what does that say about the realizability of a libertarian utopia like the Free Luna State??? Deep down, I don’t think Heinlein really believes that any such society could ever come to fruition, since regular people just aren’t smart enough to pull it off.

In the end, it’s pretty clear that Heinlein can only really be satisfied with two types of people in the world: The super-competent blue-collar engineer-type everyman that most of his protagonists are, and the super-intelligent, totally-sexy, and yet thoroughly subservient women that dig guys like that. The only thing better is a polyandry/group marriage society where you can be married to several of these delectable creatures! It’s too bad the story takes such a backseat to the political daydreaming, since Mike the AI is such a likeable super-computer and the Loonie society is carefully constructed.

There are many readers who think this is probably Heinlein's last readable and thought-provoking novel before he went off the deep end into his libertarian, female-worship, crotchety old man stage, and I would certainly be in agreement.
Profile Image for Ron.
Author 1 book141 followers
August 3, 2023
“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, more properly Mycroft, 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.”

Misogynic. 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 today, 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.”
Profile Image for Ivana Books Are Magic.
523 reviews201 followers
September 10, 2016
As cynical as I have become about revolutions, this novel managed to warm my heart. This story about Loonies (residents of Luna i.e. the Moon) rebelling against Earth government is so well written it is really a crime to miss it. As a big a crime as not starting a revolution when revolution is due. If you want to feed your inner rebel with a delicious story of lunar colony rebelling against mother Earth, then what are you waiting for? If you’re feeling philosophical, then this might be a good novel for you. It raises a lot of interesting question. Once you start reading this one, you’ll see it is not really about action (but there is a bit of that so don’t worry, it’s not one of those novels where nothing happens). There are many dialogues in there that will make you think.

You want to start a revolution? Why, here is a great handbook for you! Seriously thought, this is one of my favourites by Heinlein. It is political SF at its best. Besides being a great handbook on staging a revolution, this novel has others things going for it. Let’s start with the setting.
Luna Is A Harsh Mistress is set on Moon. No surprise there! What is somewhat surprising is the incredibly detail with which Heinlein describes this Lunar society. The Moon is a colony of Earth and as such has a very different culture, language and just about everything. The way the writer set the story and the care he gave to developing this setting is bloody brilliant.

So, the setting is pretty awesome. Moreover, the story is entertaing and high paced while giving you enough food for the thought. What else? Another great thing about this novel is that it has such as a fantastic cast of characters. There is Mike- and he’s a doll. I don't recall any other A.I or computer character that was so loveable. Yet, Mike is definitely my favourite character, but other (human) characters are not any less fascinating, for example there's Miguel. This slightly cynical loonie ( an ingenious term coined to describe a resident of Moon) is for most part a pretty easy-going guy despite the fact that he had his hand cut off and replaced with a tool in order to make a living. I remember this premise being used in some third rate Hollywood movie and it really annoyed me, how they stole that idea like that. But let's back to the characters: Professor Bernardo de la Paz is there for smart ideas and dialogues. Mimi the matriarch was also a lovely character. I'll stop here, although there are more of them that are worthy of mentioning.

There are many aspects of this novel that make it such a great read. It is a very thought provoking novel, though it may not seem that way at first. Sure it is the story about a rebellion against government and there is some action, but another thing you will get is a lot of interesting lessons about human societies wrapped up in nice dialogues. Dialogues, you say? Yes, many of them between an AI and human beings. I did say there is a fantastic cast of characters in this one. Accomplishing a complete racial integrity in a natural way is something that many novels still fail to do, but this novel does it. That’s exceptional considering the time when this novel was published. The concept of line marriages is something that was developed nicely and it fit in with character’s development. Loonies feel very much real both as individuals and members of society. By that I mean they are very convincingly portrayed, not just as individuals but as society as well.

Now, some may say that it is kind of convenient for a Moon revolution to have a computer that basically controls every aspect of life on Moon on its side. Well, I can’t deny that but that doesn’t mean that is the only reason why our AI is there. He ( I can’t make myself to call AI it) does help the revolution but his motivation actually makes sense. Heinlein wrote him in a very convincing way, right from his ‘awakening’, through his character development and finally to him becoming a well-rounded character with unique characteristics and a sense of humour. Sure, in our world today, a SF author wouldn’t need to explain what AI stands for. However, all these descriptions that wouldn’t be needed today don’t really make Mike’s characterization boring. They also don’t make the novel dated. Maybe they just feel a bit out of place, but that's all. Back to my point. I don’t see anything wrong with our AI being conveniently there. Sometimes in life, we do get a little lucky. I didn’t see that as weakness in a plot.

Political ideas expressed in this novel are often the kind that make one really think. The idea of writing a constitution in negative was a very refreshing one. There is a lot of interesting quotes to be found in this novel, for example: "In writing your constitution let me invite attention to the wonderful virtue of the negative! Accentuate the negative! Let your document be studded with things the government is forever forbidden to do. No conscript armies... no interference however slight with freedom of press, or speech, or travel, or assembly, or of religion, or of instruction, or communication, or occupation... no involuntary taxation." I think this novel can also be viewed as a warning against government control and colonization. Take this quote for example: "In past history popularly elected governments have been no better and sometimes far worse than overt tyrannies." Well, as depressing as it sounds, that’s actually true. One only needs to remember a few history lessons ( Hitler, Stalin) to realize the horrible truth behind this sentence. Just because a government was elected doesn’t make it a good one.

Injustice is often our reality and it is injustice that fuels the rebellion/revolution in this book. Every government is an organism that defends itself, an organism whose sole purpose is to sustain itself…and is it any wonder that it can’t do much good? Is there such a thing as a good government or is it always a choice between lesser evil? This novel does raise some really interesting questions, but in a way that is anything but overbearing. I suppose there is nothing extraordinary in stating that high government control often results in suppressed citizens. What is remarkable is writing a novel that expresses various issues with government control intelligently, using dialogue, while at the same time fluently talking about various other subjects (for example what does it mean to be human?) and having a decent plot and set of characters. What is remarkable is the novel itself. It is interesting to read, the plot develops well and quickly, there are no boring parts and all of the political and philosophical ideas are effortlessly included. What are you waiting for?
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,630 reviews433 followers
October 29, 2019
-En la actualidad, más exitosa en cuanto al fondo tratado que respecto a la forma usada.-

Género. Ciencia ficción.

Lo que nos cuenta. En el libro La luna es una cruel amante (publicación original: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, 1966) conocemos a Manuel García O’Kelly, más conocido como Mannie o Man, especialista en reparaciones generales y amigo de Mike, un computador de la colonia lunar que ha desarrollado inteligencia y conciencia de sí mismo. Mannie no simpatiza con las políticas que rigen la vida de los colonos en el satélite, pero no será hasta que tenga lugar un incidente grave, con víctimas debidas a la represión de la Autoridad Lunar terrestre, que decida volverse activo y tomar cartas en el asunto.

¿Quiere saber más de este libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

Profile Image for Clint Hall.
168 reviews8 followers
August 12, 2023
If you liked Leviathan Wakes, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress has a similar gravity. In fact, by the end of it I felt like I had just read the prequel to the former, which, if you're keeping track, would make this the original, and Leviathan Wakes the spin-off.

The world-building in this is tremendous. The Moon is a thriving colony of humans who dream of independence. It is run by an artificial intelligence who isn't trying to kill everyone or take over the world--it just wants a laugh. The facets of this intelligence are what really fascinated me. Robert A. Heinlein had to explain how vast this intelligence was by explaining how interconnected technology might function, much in the same way H.G. Wells had to explain the concept of a man moving back-and-forth through time to an audience who could not yet comprehend such a thing. Heinlein had to explain that this entity was so powerful it could instantly pull a file on anyone, or even manufacture an unliving personality. A very eerie prognostication if one were to read this in present times. Fortunately, this AI was one of the good guys--as long as the good guys were the ones living on the Moon.

The story itself was almost an anarchist's handbook; thoughts on living without a government, thoughts on letting society function by itself. I find all the books of Heinlein that I've read are a handbook of one kind or another. George Orwell would have been a fan, I think.

I count this as my favourite Heinlein, thus far. That being said, they have all been good--I wish I had started reading his work earlier. Something worth noting if you are trying to decide whether to read Clarke, Asimov, or Heinlein for the first time is that Heinlein had the best characters of the three heavyweights.

A story not to be taken lightly, 4.25 stars.
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