Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert A. 1966. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.

I see in Lunaya Pravda that Luna City Council has passed on first reading a bill to examine, license, inspect--and tax--public food vendors operating inside municipal pressure. I see also is to be mass meeting tonight to organize "Sons of Revolution" talk-talk.

Manuel Garcia O'Kelly-Davis (called "Man" or "Mannie" by his friends) is the narrator of this Hugo-Award-Winning science fiction novel. In the first chapter, we meet Mannie and Mike. Who is Mike? Well, technically, he's a computer. The main computer on Luna, or the moon, to be exact. Manuel is the first (but not the last) to discover that this computer is alive. (I had to keep reminding myself that this was probably a new or newish idea at the time it was published. That figures like Data (from Star Trek) and Jane (from Speaker of the Dead) didn't exist. That these characters that I'm familiar with most likely draw their roots from Heinlein's Mike.) That he has a mind, a will, a personality of his own. When we first meet this pair, Mike is wanting to learn about humor, about what makes something funny, what makes for a good joke, and what doesn't. (See, why it reminded me of Data!) And Mannie is trying to help him out. Mike asks a favor of Mannie--well, several favors really. One, he asks Mike to attend a meeting, to record it for him so he can have it in his files. It is a meeting that the computer has been shut out of. It is this "talk-talk" of the Sons of the Revolution. Two, he asks Mike to help him be funny. He prints out a list of jokes, and he wants Mannie to mark which ones are funny and why.

Mannie does attend the meeting. While there, he meets two people who will ultimately change his life: Wyoming Knott (called Wyoh) and Professor Bernardo de la Paz (called Prof). Both have radically different ideas about the future of Luna, but both agree that the Luna Authority (led by The Warden) should be challenged. When the meeting is interrupted--turns quite ugly--the people fight their way out. (Never underestimate a Loonie!) Wyoh and Mannie flee together and hide in an out-of-the-way hotel room. While there, he decides that she is trustworthy and might just make a good friend for Mike. They meet. And Mike becomes Michelle. (He adopts a different personality 'to be' when talking with her.) Then the three of them decide to bring in The Prof into the circle, or mix, and a Revolution is born. Can two men, one woman, and a super-smart-but-not-so-funny computer take over the moon? Read for yourself and see in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.

My thoughts on the novel:

The style of this one is a bit sparse or jagged. Which isn't a bad thing. I got used to the abbreviated grammar--the elimination of some personal pronouns and articles and such. But it might come across as awkward until you get used to it.

The novel presents an interesting and strange arrangement of marriage. Marriage on the moon is rarely between one man and one woman. The scarcity of women, led to a woman being allowed (and encouraged) to bring in more men into the marriage. The novel talks (but not too in-depthly) about various kinds of marriages--specifically line marriages and clan marriages. I would have liked to known more, actually, about how these two differed. Mannie, for example, is part of a line marriage. There are several men, several women, all different ages.) The book does say that these marriages are happy ones and that they almost always work out.

The politics. The economics. The ecology. Not always interesting if I'm honest. It was interesting, in a way, to see war as being the answer. Prof believes--and Mike confirms--that the resources of the moon will be depleted in a little under eight years if grain shipments continue to Earth. Earth isn't really compensating Luna very much, for one thing, but another is that the grain is taking precious water out of the eco-system. And it's not being replenished. With each shipment worsening the long-term viability of the planet (at least for human use), something has to be done and fast.

Overall, I thought this one had a great beginning. The first third of the novel (maybe the first half) had me thoroughly hooked. I was loving Mike and Mannie. I was into the drama. Either I began to lose focus all on my own, or the novel got a bit bogged down in the political issues there in the middle. It became "this happened. Then this happened. And then this happened. And then this other thing happened." So it became more distant, at least to me. But at the same time, it didn't bog down enough for me to give up on it either.

So would I recommend it? Yes and no. If you love science fiction, then you'd probably enjoy this one. At least you might consider giving it a try. If it doesn't work out, no harm done. (That's what libraries are there for after all.) If you're not a fan of science fiction and are curious as to what it's all about, I'd probably start with another title if I'm being honest. (Maybe Foundation by Isaac Asimov instead?) The more you love thinking about politics and society and the behind-the-scenes making and breaking of a government, the more you'll enjoy this one. (Orson Scott Card goes there in some of his books, but to me, the more a book becomes about war and politics and power struggles, the boggier it becomes and less of an adventure. Not that all books have to have adventure, mind you.

Have you read this one? What did you think about it? Which other Heinlein novels might I enjoy? If you haven't read this one, what do you think about the merging of politics into sci-fi adventure stories in general?

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Carrie K. said...

I went on a huge Heinlein kick in college - but it's been years since I've read any of his. I know I've read this one, but don't really remember it. Makes me want to pick up one of his books now and see if I still like it.

Zibilee said...

My husband read this one not too long ago and thought it was pretty good and fairly representative of most of Heinlein's work. I will have to ask him what he recommends out of all Heinlein has done. He is slowly reading his way thorough all his stuff, so he can probably suggest something you would like.

RM1(SS) (ret) said...

I love The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress - it's one of my favourite Heinleins, and he's one of my top ten authors. I think Manny's version of English was influenced by Russian grammar, as well as by the Russian vocabulary he uses. (I knew a Finnish kid years ago; he was born and raised in the States, but his parents were immigrants; he had a tendency to talk this way, too, especially when excited.)

You'd probably dislike Starship Troopers, another of my favourites (which is nothing like the movie!), for the same reasons you disliked Mistress. Heinlein's philosophy and politics do have a habit of showing up in his works, but I would recommend Tunnel in the Sky, Citizen of the Galaxy, The Rolling Stones, and Podkayne of Mars. (These four were all published as "juveniles" - ie, YA/MG books.)