mark monday's Reviews > The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
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Jan 08, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: futuristik-classik

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.
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Reading Progress

January 8, 2012 – Started Reading
January 8, 2012 – Shelved
Finished Reading
April 29, 2012 – Shelved as: futuristik-classik

Comments (showing 1-27 of 27) (27 new)

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message 1: by knig (new)

knig I used to read loads of Heinlein, Asimov and Bradbury back in the day. I hate to say this, because they are all iconic to the genre, but they can read a bit dated today: in terms of ideology, of course IT, even social memes, and shock o'horror: they still held on to some vestigue of moral code: perhaps disguised, but lurking behind the scenes in their phantasmogorical worlds. Morality, of course, impedes the fulsome unfurling of the imagination. Anyway, just some thoughts


message 2: by mark (last edited Jan 17, 2012 11:20PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday i quite liked the moral code in Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. if anything, it was quite forward-thinking, beyond even today's morality. its perspective on a positive, non-miserable blue collar world was refreshingly free of tired cliche. and the world today could certainly learn some lessons from its interesting viewpoint on female empowerment and female sexuality.


message 3: by Kemper (new)

Kemper Re: Your great intro about knowing the outcome of a game. There was a part in the book Charlie Wilson's War (Not in the movie.) with the brilliant tactical weapons expert who had been deciding what hardware to buy and equip the Afghan fighters with against the Soviets just walks into the CIA one day and quits.
Everyone was horrified because he was the key guy and they couldn't understand how he could just walk out in the middle of the operation.

He replied that the Soviets had already lost, they just didn't know it yet. He had enough weapons and supplies in the pipeline to more than finish the job and there really wasn't anything else for him to do and he was getting bored so he wanted to move onto other things. He was right.


mark monday ha! he certainly did turn out to be right.


message 5: by William1 (new)

William1 This guy was a terrible homophobe. Read Stranger. For that reason and others I will not read him. Call me sentimental.


mark monday yeah, it's a shame. i remember reading Stranger back in college and being struck by his pretty ridiculous views on that and also on women. i couldn't help but be angry that it was considered such a classic when i thought it was so crappy & offensive. also have read that the older he gets, the creepier he gets as far as his viewpoint on women and sex. my post-Stranger Heinlein reads (Number of the Beast, Friday) only confirmed my extreme dislike for him. the rape-is-okay parts of Friday really pissed me off.

but 15 years later, Moon is a group read for a group i moderate, so i thought i'd try to approach Heinlein with a fresh eye. i like what i read here, and i had an eye out for possible idiocy around women & homophobia. but happily, none occurred. there appear to be several Heinleins, i suppose.

which reminds me that another upcoming group read is Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. i remember loving it the first time. it will be interesting (and it kind of makes me nervous) reading it again, knowing what i do now of Card's extreme homophobia (both political and literary - did you know he wrote a novel which reconfigures Hamlet as a tragedy about predatory gays?? Hamlet's Father i would lol if it wasn't so offensive)... Card's various ridiculous attempts to defend his increasingly pathetic views are almost as aggravating.


message 7: by Michael (new)

Michael I used to enjoy Heinlein's juvenile fiction. The politics and sex and dialogue ("No siree, bub!") in the other stuff overshadowed the stories for me.


mark monday i think i should just stick to Moon Is a Harsh Mistress era Heinlein and earlier (like the juvenile fiction), if i ever get around to reading more of him.


message 9: by Stuart (new) - added it

Stuart Hit the nail on the head here. Heinlein set up his story purely as a soap box for him to espouse his own brand of libertarian anarchy (implausible), female empowerment (more positive, but somehow still condescending in the details), and let Mike be the Deus Ex Machina that makes everything possible. Most of the book was just talk-talk and the revolution didn't get properly started till 80% in. But certainly this is the last book of his that is readable before he went of the crank deep-end.


message 10: by B-MO (new) - rated it 3 stars

B-MO You mention that you saw no idiocy around women, I have to disagree. Pedophilia ran rampant through this book, even though it was only subtlety hinted at.

Then you have many instances in book where women were given roles which they did not qualify (and did not qualify because they were 'weak' women) just to keep men doing what they needed to do by keeping them interested. Certainly quite a few issues, despite some interesting and pro-feminist features along these lines. I think Heinlein might have attempted to write as a feminist here, yet was still affected by some social norms which might seem antiquated today.

I did not detect much but the most minor hints of homophobia, but did not really look either, did not know this was a Heinlein trait.


message 11: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday Pedophilia ran rampant through this book, even though it was only subtlety hinted at.

ugh, really?? well I guess I'm not all that surprised. but i am surprised that i missed it.

I think Heinlein might have attempted to write as a feminist here, yet was still affected by some social norms which might seem antiquated today.

that makes a lot of sense to me.


Cecily Clever: you turn predictability into a... well not exactly a selling point, but not a negative one either.


message 13: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday thanks Cecily! yeah I did not find this to be a bad book despite that predictability. it was entertaining.


Cecily There was too much politics and not enough sci-fi for my taste, so although I wouldn't rate it a bad book, I only gave it 2* in terms of my own enjoyment.


message 15: by Stuart (new) - added it

Stuart Totally agree with Cecily! Too much talk and politics, not enough story. Having said that, it's much better than the dreck he wrote later. My favorites are Early Heinlein books like Double Star, The Door Into Summer, and The Past Through Tomorrow. Hated Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land.


message 16: by Ted (new)

Ted Fun review, Mark. I especially like the last paragraph.


message 17: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday :)


Steve Cooper Very good review, Mark. The predictability didn't bother me too much - can you really imagine a book from '66 covering all this IT/political theory that also has an unpredictable plot and character depth? Like with PKD, plot and characters suffer in direct proportion to the size of the idea being transmitted. I personally loved the libertarian manifesto. While I can't agree altogether (I am french, after all :)), it got me thinking that this rational anarchy may make more sense in societies that are able to offer their people more opportunity. Heinlein's conception of AI's potential also seems extremely far-sighted. I hated this guy in my late teens after reading Stranger, but now, over 30 years later, I'm finding books of his that surprise me in their intelligence and maturity.


message 19: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday thanks, Steve!

don't tell anyone, but I have a secret libertarian buried deep beneath my progressive exterior. I also have a secret anarchist. the two are great friends but they are both scorned and ignored by the judgmental progressive who rules me.


Cecily For a split second I misread it as your having a secret antichrist!


message 21: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday oh I also have a secret antichrist. but that's super, SUPER secret so please just keep that between you, me, and the internet.


Cecily I thought you might. But I promise not to tell.


message 23: by Ted (new)

Ted (view spoiler)


message 24: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday I just have the three: the two under my brow, and of course the all-seeing one in the middle of my forehead.


William This is perhaps my favourite Heinlein, and the last one before his writing took a bad turn into verbosity and tedium.

Thank you for the review!


message 26: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday despite being rather a science fiction aficionado, I'm embarrassed to admit that I have read relatively little by Heinlein. I still have a bunch of his paperbacks, unread, but I rarely get an excited feeling when looking at them, so I usually end up skipping. it has mainly been Goodreads group reads that have inspired me to read him.


Abigail Heinlein does create the need for revolution by stating that Luna will be drained of natural resources in 7 years, although simply revolting won't be enough, they need to balance trade with earth.


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