Saturday 12 May 2012

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - Robert A. Heinlein

Title: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Genre: Sci-Fi
Published: 1966
Formats: Hardback/Paperback

Available at:
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

"The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is only the second ever Heinlein book I have read, with "Starship Troopers" being the other. In all honesty I only ended up reading this one due to a reading challenge but with so much Science Fiction out there I have always struggled to find the time to read some of the older novels. Either way, all I can say now is that this is another example of a reading challenge forcing me to read something I normally wouldn't and being rewarded with an enjoyable and complex novel.

The novel basically follows a revolution on the Moon by its oppressed people who can rarely ever leave and must live a life full of economic exploitation by The Lunar Authority. It is at its heart almost a retelling of the American Revolution and one of the characters actually uses various quotes and comments from that very war during their own revolution. The novel follows the carefully planned and executed conspiracy by the stories main characters from the beginning of their plot right through the claiming of the Moon as their own and the fight against Earth itself.

One of the most interesting aspects of this story is the fact that besides the economic issues and the lack of representation the government weren't necessarily treating the people of the Moon terribly badly. In fact those living on the Moon had an almost libertarian paradise where people didn't pay taxes yet people still got on and behaved well as those who didn't were shunned. In fact as the story progresses and the Moon sets up their own government they risk actually losing some of the very freedoms they had enjoyed. I am sure Heinlein was trying to tell me something there about the nature of man and all that but to be honest my mind was quite frayed by then trying to really follow all of his political points.

And it has to be said that politics really is the heart of this novel, I will admit it does have some rather enjoyable elements of action as the revolution occurs and the Moon tries to fight off the Earth but a large amount of the novel is quite simply based around the complex and quite dry subject of politics. The first half of the book almost seems entirely dedicated to discussions about political theory and debates about points that could have been ripped from any Marxist, Anarchist or Libertarian's handbooks. Now, I will admit that I actually quite enjoyed reading these political discussions as it made me think but by the end of the novel it just felt a little bit like Heinlein was trying to ram his opinions down the reader's throats. This wasn't helped by the ending which I found to be a little bit of a cop out in some areas such as what happens to self aware computer and revolutionary leader called Mike. This just reinforced my opinion that Heinlein was more interested in putting across his political viewpoints rather than ensuring the reading had an engaging and complete plotline to follow.

An issue I did have with the novel though was in regards to the style and language used by the main characters. Heinlein appears to have surmised that the people on the moon would use a form of English in the future that has altered from the one we all know and has decided to use this new style of English within the novel. The biggest change I found in the language was the lack of articles and whilst I suspect this may actually make for a good audio version, as a reader it really made for a tough read and I will admit that I almost just gave up on the novel. However, as the book progressed I actually found the rhythm in the language and almost stopped noticing it. Now looking back over it, I am actually quite impressed that Heinlein had the courage to create his own stripped back frontier version of English and then use it.

Overall, "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is quite a dry and complex Science Fiction novel that at times seemed to be more focused on expressing Heinlein's political ideology than on having an entertaining plot. Now don't get me wrong, personally I did still enjoy the novel but this was more on an intellectual level in regards to the society Heinlein has created on the moon and in the political discussions that made me think. However, if you like your Science Fiction full of action, drama and thrills then you will probably want to stay clear of this book.

Challenges Book Counts Towards:
Speculative Fiction Challenge
Sci-Fi Reader Challenge

1 comment:

  1. I would rate this book as one of Henlein's best, but I do think it points out some ways in which his work has not held up well over time. When it was written, his concept of "line marriages" where, say, three women would all be married to eight or ten men (sort of his version of "it takes a village") was considered really racy. Now it's something of a yawn. But while Heinlein could envision this situation in a society in which men outnumbered women 10 to 1, he could not envision men doing housework. And as you point out, the culture he created definitely reflects his libertarian leanings ("An armed society is a polity society"). But you've got to give him props for his imagination and his story-telling skills.