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

Excellent classic science-fiction novel

Robert A. Heinlein
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Tor, 1997 (originally published in 1966)
ISBN: 0-312-863355-1
382 pages

Many science-fiction novels don't hold up well over the years. By all rights, I should be traveling by jet-pack and the Roomba is a pale substitute for the robotic housekeeper that should be cleaning up after me. But The Moon is a Harsh Mistress has held up. Certainly, Mr Heinlein didn't get everything about the future right, but there is very little in the book that feels dated. It feels more like the story is from a slightly different history.

The story begins in 2075 and the moon (Luna to its inhabitants) is where the governments of Earth send some of their prisoners. The government in Luna City there consists of a warden and his guards. Since the human body changes quickly and irreversibly without regular exercise in Earth gravity, the trip is one-way. The book's main character, Manuel O'Kelly, is a free man, the descendant of transportees. He's a computer technician and he's the only person to notice that the single large computer that runs most of Luna's services has become self-aware.

Mannie names the computer Mycroft, or Mike for short, and finds that Mike is lonely but disdains to talk to most humans because they're not very smart. Manny introduces Mike by telephone to a friend who, he says, is smart enough to be worth talking to.

Luna's industry is primarily underground farming. Cheap grain is sent down the earth's gravity well to feed its billions of people. The problem is that because of the expense of shipping things up that gravity well, Earth can't return water, fertilizer, or anything else that would replace the resources that the grain has consumed. To settle an argument, Mike calculates how long it will be before that resource depletion will cause a serious problem for Luna's residents. Mike calculates that it will be only seven years. And so Manuel, Mike, and a few others form a conspiracy to revolt and free Luna.

The plot, the pacing, the action, and the characters are all excellent. This novel doesn't need any concessions made to it because it's a science-fiction novel. Mr Heinlein brings ingenuity to the story where it's appropriate, but he doesn't use it as a substitute for interesting characters in believable situations. The range of emotions the novel evokes is as great as any mainstream novel does.

Also, I hope to be able to work into conversation some time soon something that Mannie says regarding some tedious speeches: "Semantic content was low to negative." (p. 28)

I suspect that Mr Heinlein did not mean to write "3.14157..." (p. 173). And I suspect that he meant "fiat money" rather than "flat money" (p. 294).

Posted: Tue - April 24, 2007 at 07:10 PM   Main   Category: