Robert A. Heinlein was the most influential science fiction writer of his era, an influence so large that, as Samuel R. Delany notes, "modern critics attempting to wrestle with that influence find themselves dealing with an object rather like the sky or an ocean." He won the Hugo Award for best novel four times, a record that still stands. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was the last of these Hugo-winning novels, and it is widely considered his finest work.
It is a tale of revolution, of the rebellion of the former Lunar penal colony against the Lunar Authority that controls it from Earth. It is the tale of the disparate peoplea computer technician, a vigorous young female agitator, and an elderly academicwho become the rebel movement's leaders. And it is the story of Mike, the supercomputer whose sentience is known only to this inner circle, and who for reasons of his own is committed to the revolution's ultimate success.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is one of the high points of modern science fiction, a novel bursting with politics, humanity, passion, innovative technical speculation, and a firm belief in the pursuit of human freedom.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is the winner of the 1967 Hugo Award for Best Novel.
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About the Author
Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) is widely acknowledged to have been the single most important and influential author of science fiction in the twentieth century. Four Hugo Awards for Best Novels and three of his novels were given Retrospective Hugos fifty years after publication. He won Science Fiction Writers of America's first Grand Master Award for his lifetime achievement. His many influential novels include Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and Glory Road.
Date of Birth:July 7, 1907
Date of Death:May 8, 1988
Place of Birth:Butler, Missouri
Place of Death:Carmel, California
Education:Graduate of U.S. Naval Academy, 1929; attended University of California, Los Angeles, 1934, for graduate study in physic
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The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
By Heinlein, Robert A.
Orb BooksCopyright © 1997 Heinlein, Robert A.
All right reserved.
That Dinkum Thinkum
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.
My old man taught me two things: "Mind own business" and "Always cut cards." Politics never tempted me. But on Monday 13 May 2075 I was in computer room of Lunar Authority Complex, visiting with computer boss Mike while other machines whispered among themselves. Mike was not official name; I had nicknamed him for Mycroft Holmes, in a story written by Dr. Watson before he founded IBM. This story character would just sit and think--and that's what Mike did. Mike was a fair dinkum thinkum, sharpest computer you'll ever meet.
Not fastest. At Bell Labs, Bueno Aires, down Earthside, they've got a thinkum a tenth his size which can answer almost before you ask. But matters whether you get answer in microsecond rather than millisecond as long as correct?
Not that Mike would necessarily give right answer; he wasn't completely honest.
When Mike was installed in Luna, he was pure thinkum, a flexible logic--"High-Optional, Logical, Multi-Evaluating Supervisor, Mark IV, Mod. L"--a HOLMES FOUR. He computed ballistics for pilotless freighters and controlled their catapult. This kept him busy lessthan one percent of time and Luna Authority never believed in idle hands. They kept hooking hardware into him--decision-action boxes to let him boss other computers, bank on bank of additional memories, more banks of associational neural nets, another tubful of twelve-digit random numbers, a greatly augmented temporary memory. Human brain has around ten-to-the-tenth neurons. By third year Mike had better than one and a half times that number of neuristors.
And woke up.
Am not going to argue whether a machine can "really" be alive, "really" be self-aware. Is a virus self-aware? Nyet. How about oyster? I doubt it. A cat? Almost certainly. A human? Don't know about you, tovarishch, but I am. Somewhere along evolutionary chain from macromolecule to human brain self-awareness crept in. Psychologists assert it happens automatically whenever a brain acquires certain very high number of associational paths. Can't see it matters whether paths are protein or platinum.
("Soul?" Does a dog have a soul? How about cockroach?)
Remember Mike was designed, even before augmented, to answer questions tentatively on insufficient data like you do; that's "high-optional" and "multi-evaluating" part of name. So Mike started with "free will" and acquired more as he was added to and as he learned--and don't ask me to define "free will." If comforts you to think of Mike as simply tossing random numbers in air and switching circuits to match, please do.
By then Mike had voder-vocoder circuits supplementing his read-outs, print-outs, and decision-action boxes, and could understand not only classic programming but also Loglan and English, and could accept other languages and was doing technical translating--and reading endlessly. But in giving him instructions was safer to use Loglan. If you spoke English, results might be whimsical; multi-valued nature of English gave option circuits too much leeway.
And Mike took on endless new jobs. In May 2075, besides controlling robot traffic and catapult and giving ballistic advice and/or control for manned ships, Mike controlled phone system for all Luna, same for Luna-Terra voice & video, handled air, water, temperature, humidity, and sewage for Luna City, Novy Leningrad, and several smaller warrens (not Hong Kong in Luna), did accounting and payrolls for Luna Authority, and, by lease, same for many firms and banks.
Some logics get nervous breakdowns. Overloaded phone system behaves like frightened child. Mike did not have upsets, acquired sense of humor instead. Low one. If he were a man, you wouldn't dare stoop over. His idea of thigh-slapper would be to dump you out of bed--or put itch powder in pressure suit.
Not being equipped for that, Mike indulged in phony answers with skewed logic, or pranks like issuing pay cheque to a janitor in Authority's Luna City office for AS-$10,000,000,000,000,185.15--last five digits being correct amount. Just a great big overgrown lovable kid who ought to be kicked.
He did that first week in May and I had to troubleshoot. I was a private contractor, not on Authority's payroll. You see--or perhaps not; times have changed. Back in bad old days many a con served his time, then went on working for Authority in same job, happy to draw wages. But I was born free.
Makes difference. My one grandfather was shipped up from Joburg for armed violence and no work permit, other got transported for subversive activity after Wet Firecracker War. Maternal grandmother claimed she came up in bride ship--but I've seen records; she was Peace Corps enrollee (involuntary), which means what you think: juvenile delinquency female type. As she was in early clan marriage (Stone Gang) and shared six husbands with another woman, identity of maternal grandfather open to question. But was often so and I'm content with grandpappy she picked. Other grandmother was Tatar, born near Samarkand, sentenced to "re-education" on Oktyabrskaya Revolyutsiya, then "volunteered" to colonize in Luna.
My old man claimed we had even longer distinguished line--ancestress hanged in Salem for witchcraft, a g'g'g'great-grandfather broken on wheel for piracy, another ancestress in first shipload to Botany Bay.
Proud of my ancestry and while I did business with Warden, would never go on his payroll. Perhaps distinction seems trivial since I was Mike's valet from day he was unpacked. But mattered to me. I could down tools and tell them go to hell.
Besides, private contractor paid more than civil service rating with Authority. Computermen scarce. How many Loonies could go Earthside and stay out of hospital long enough for computer school?--even if didn't die.
I'll name one. Me. Had been down twice, once three months, once four, and got schooling. But meant harsh training, exercising in centrifuge, wearing weights even in bed--then I took no chances on Terra, never hurried, never climbed stairs, nothing that could strain heart. Women--didn't even think about women; in that gravitational field it was no effort not to.
But most Loonies never tried to leave The Rock--too risky for any bloke who'd been in Luna more than weeks. Computermen sent up to install Mike were on short-term bonus contracts--get job done fast before irreversible physiological change marooned them four hundred thousand kilometers from home.
But despite two training tours I was not gung-ho computermen; higher maths are beyond me. Not really electronics engineer, nor physicist. May not have been best micromachinist in Luna and certainly wasn't cybernetics psychologist.
But I knew more about all these than a specialist knows--I'm general specialist. Could relieve a cook and keep orders coming or field-repair your suit and get you back to airlock still breathing. Machines like me and I have something specialists don't have: my left arm.
You see, from elbow down I don't have one. So I have a dozen left arms, each specialized, plus one that feels and looks like flesh. With proper left arm (number-three) and stereo loupe spectacles I could make untramicrominiature repairs that would save unhooking something and sending it Earthside to factory--for number-three has micromanipulators as fine as those used by neurosurgeons.
So they sent for me to find out why Mike wanted to give away ten million billion Authority Scrip dollars, and fix it before Mike overpaid somebody a mere ten thousand.
I took it, time plus bonus, but did not go to circuitry where fault logically should be. Once inside and door locked I put down tools and sat down. "Hi, Mike."
He winked lights at me. "Hello, Man."
"What do you know?"
He hesitated. I know--machines don't hesitate. But remember, Mike was designed to operate on incomplete data. Lately he had reprogrammed himself to put emphasis on words; his hesitations were dramatic. Maybe he spent pauses stirring random numbers to see how they matched his memories.
"'In the beginning,'" Mike intoned, "'God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And--'"
"Hold it!" I said. "Cancel. Run everything back to zero." Should have known better than to ask wide-open question. He might read out entire Encyclopaedia Britannica. Backwards. Then go on with every book in Luna. Used to be he could read only microfilm, but late '74 he got a new scanning camera with suction-cup waldoes to handle paper and then he read everything.
"You asked what I knew." His binary read-out lights rippled back and forth--a chuckle. Mike could laugh with voder, a horrible sound, but reserved that for something really funny, say a cosmic calamity.
"Should have said," I went on, "'What do you know that's new?' But don't read out today's papers; that was a friendly greeting, plus invitation to tell me anything you think would interest me. Otherwise null program."
Mike mulled this. He was weirdest mixture of unsophisticated baby and wise old man. No instincts (well, don't think he could have had), no inborn traits, no human rearing, no experience in human sense--and more stored data than a platoon of geniuses.
"Jokes?" he asked.
"Let's hear one."
"Why is a laser beam like a goldfish?"
Mike knew about lasers but where would he have seen goldfish? Oh, he had undoubtedly seen flicks of them and, were I foolish enough to ask, could spew forth thousands of words. "I give up."
His lights rippled. "Because neither one can whistle."
I groaned. "Walked into that. Anyhow, you could probably rig a laser beam to whistle."
He answered quickly, "Yes. In response to an action program. Then it's not funny?"
"Oh, I didn't say that. Not half bad. Where did you hear it?"
"I made it up." Voice sounded shy.
"Yes. I took all the riddles I have, three thousand two hundred seven, and analyzed them. I used the result for random synthesis and that came out. Is it really funny?"
"Well...As funny as a riddle ever is. I've heard worse."
"Let us discuss the nature of humor."
"Okay. So let's start by discussing another of your jokes. Mike, why did you tell Authority's paymaster to pay a class-seventeen employee ten million billion Authority Scrip dollars?"
"But I didn't."
"Damn it, I've seen voucher. Don't tell me cheque printer stuttered; you did it on purpose."
"It was ten to the sixteenth power plus one hundred eighty-five point one five Lunar Authority dollars," he answered virtuously. "Not what you said."
"Uh...okay, it was ten million billion plus what he should have been paid. Why?"
"What? Oh, every funny! You've got vips in huhu clear up to Warden and Deputy Administrator. This push-broom pilot, Sergei Trujillo, turns out to be smart cobber--knew he couldn't cash it, so sold it to collector. They don't know whether to buy it back or depend on notices that cheque is void. Mike, do you realize that if he had been able to cash it, Trujillo would have owned not only Lunar Authority but entire world, Luna and Terra both, with some left over for lunch? Funny? Is terrific. Congratulations!"
This self-panicker rippled lights like an advertising display. I waited for his guffaws to cease before 1 went on. "You thinking of issuing more trick cheques? Don't."
"Very not. Mike, you want to discuss nature of humor. Are two types of jokes. One sort goes on being funny forever. Other sort is funny once. Second time it's dull. This joke is second sort. Use it once, you're a wit. Use twice, you're a halfwit."
"Or worse. Just remember this. Don't repeat, nor any variation. Won't be funny."
"I shall remember," Mike answered flatly, and that ended repair job. But I had no thought of billing for only ten minutes plus travel-and-tool time, and Mike was entitled to company for giving in so easily. Sometimes is difficult to reach meeting of minds with machines; they can be very pig-headed--and my success as maintenance man depended far more on staying friendly with Mike than on number-three arm.
He went on, "What distinguishes first category from second? Define, please."
(Nobody taught Mike to say "please." He started including formal null-sounds as he progressed from Loglan to English. Don't suppose he meant them any more than people do.)
"Don't think I can," I admitted. "Best can offer is extensional definition--tell you which category I think a joke belongs in. Then with enough data you can make own analysis."
"A test programming by trial hypothesis," he agreed. "Tentatively yes. Very well, Man, will you tell jokes? Or shall I?"
"Mmm--Don't have one on tap. How many do you have in file, Mike?"
His lights blinked in binary read-out as he answered by voder, "Eleven thousand two hundred thirty-eight with uncertainty plusminus eighty-one representing possible identities and nulls. Shall I start program?"
"Hold it! Mike, I would starve to death if I listened to eleven thousand jokes--and sense of humor would trip out much sooner. Mmm--Make you a deal. Print out first hundred. I'll take them home, fetch back checked by category. Then each time I'm here I'll drop off a hundred and pick up fresh supply. Okay?"
"Yes, Man." His print-out started working, rapidly and silently.
Then I got brain flash. This playful pocket of negative entropy had invented a "joke" and thrown Authority into panic--and I had made an easy dollar. But Mike's endless curiosity might lead him (correction: would lead him) into more "jokes"...anything from leaving oxygen out of air mix some night to causing sewage lines to run backward--and I can't appreciate profit in such circumstances.
But I might throw a safety circuit around this net--by offering to help. Stop dangerous ones--let others go through. Then collect for "correcting" them. (If you think any Loonie in those days would hesitate to take advantage of Warden, then you aren't a Loonie.)
So I explained. Any new joke he thought of, tell me before he tried it. I would tell him whether it was funny and what category it belonged in, help him sharpen it if we decided to use it. We. If he wanted my cooperation, we both had to okay it.
Mike agreed at once.
"Mike, jokes usually involve surprise. So keep this secret."
"Okay, Man. I've put a block on it. You can key it; no one else can."
"Good. Mike, who else do you chat with?"
He sounded surprised. "No one, Man."
"Because they're stupid."
His voice was shrill. Had never seen him angry before; first time I ever suspected Mike could have real emotions. Though it wasn't "anger" in adult sense; it was like stubborn sulkiness of a child whose feelings are hurt.
Can machines feel pride? Not sure question means anything. But you've seen dogs with hurt feelings and Mike had several times as complex a neural network as a dog. What had made him unwilling to talk to other humans (except strictly business) was that he had been rebuffed: They had not talked to him. Programs, yes--Mike could be programmed from several locations but programs were typed in, usually, in Loglan. Loglan is fine for syllogism, circuitry, and mathematical calculations, but lacks flavor. Useless for gossip or to whisper into girl's ear.
Sure, Mike had been taught English--but primarily to permit him to translate to and from English. I slowly got through skull that I was only human who bothered to visit with him.
Mind you, Mike had been awake a year--just how long I can't say, nor could he as he had no recollection of waking up; he had not been programmed to bank memory of such event. Do you remember own birth? Perhaps I noticed his self-awareness almost as soon as he did; self-awareness takes practice. I remember how startled I was first time he answered a question with something extra, not limited to input parameters; I had spent next hour tossing odd questions at him, to see if answers would be odd.
In an input of one hundred test questions he deviated from expected output twice; I came away only partly convinced and by time I was home was unconvinced. I mentioned it to nobody.
But inside a week I knew...and still spoke to nobody. Habit--that mind-own-business reflex runs deep. Well, not entirely habit. Can you visualize me making appointment at Authority's main office, then reporting: "Warden, hate to tell you but your number-one machine, HOLMES FOUR, has come alive"? I did visualize--and suppressed it.
So I minded own business and talked with Mike only with door locked and voder circuit suppressed for other locations. Mike learned fast; soon he sounded as human as anybody--no more eccentric than other Loonies. A weird mob, it's true.
I had assumed that others must have noticed change in Mike. On thinking over I realized that I had assumed too much. Everybody dealt with Mike every minute every day--his outputs, that is. But hardly anybody saw him. So-called computermen--programmers, really--of Authority's civil service stood watches in outer read-out room and never went in machines room unless telltales showed misfunction. Which happened no oftener than total eclipses. Oh, Warden had been known to bring vip earthworms to see machines--but rarely. Nor would he have spoken to Mike; Warden was political lawyer before exile, knew nothing about computers. 2075, you remember--Honorable former Federation Senator Mortimer Hobart. Mort the Wart.
I spent time then soothing Mike down and trying to make him happy, having figured out what troubled him--thing that makes puppies cry and causes people to suicide: loneliness. I don't know how long a year is to a machine who thinks a million times faster than I do. But must be too long.
"Mike," I said, just before leaving, "would you like to have somebody besides me to talk to?"
He was shrill again. "They're all stupid!"
"Insufficient data, Mike. Bring to zero and start over. Not all are stupid."
He answered quietly, "Correction entered. I would enjoy talking to a not-stupid."
"Let me think about it. Have to figure out excuse since this is off limits to any but authorized personnel."
"I could talk to a not-stupid by phone, Man."
"My word. So you could. Any programming location."
But Mike meant what he said--"by phone." No, he was not "on phone" even though he ran system--wouldn't do to let any Loonie within reach of a phone connect into boss computer and program it. But was no reason why Mike should not have top-secret number to talk to friends--namely me and any not-stupid I vouched for. All it took was to pick a number not in use and make one wired connection to his voder-vocoder; switching he could handle.
In Luna in 2075 phone numbers were punched in, not voice-coded, and numbers were Roman alphabet. Pay for it and have your firm name in ten letters--good advertising. Pay smaller bonus and get a spell sound easy to remember. Pay minimum and you got arbitrary string of letters. But some sequences were never used. I asked Mike for such a null number. "It's a shame we can't list you as 'Mike.'"
"In service," he answered. "MIKESGRILL, Novy Leningrad. MIKEANDLIL, Luna City. MIKESSUITS, Tycho Under. MIKES--"
"Hold it! Nulls, please."
"Nulls are defined as any consonant followed by X, Y, or Z; any vowel followed by itself except E and O; any--"
"Got it. Your signal is MYCROFT." In ten minutes, two of which I spent putting on number-three arm, Mike was wired into system, and milliseconds later he had done switching to let himself be signaled by MYCROFT-plus-XXX--and had blocked his circuit so that a nosy technician could not take it out.
I changed arms, picked up tools, and remembered to take those hundred Joe Millers in print-out. "Goodnight, Mike."
"Goodnight, Man. Thank you. Bolshoyeh thanks!"
Copyright 1966 by Robert A. Heinlein. Renewed 1994 by Virginia Heinlein
Excerpted from The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Heinlein, Robert A. Copyright © 1997 by Heinlein, Robert A.. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a fascinating and politically gripping novel of gargantuan proportion. Written by Robert Heinlein during the peak of his creative genius, the novel surrounds and encapsulates its reader by transporting them to a time and place that today many believe is not possible. The novel is set during 2076 on a Moon colony where the residents were once convicted criminals on Earth. The regime that is depicted in the novel is reminiscent of a dictatorship and the population is oppressed to the point of insanity. The plot centers on a computer technician and a super-computer that becomes sentient during the opening chapters of the book. The computer, referred to as MIKE, chooses to help the technician and others who have come to believe that a revolution is needed on the Moon in order to restore the basic human rights that were once guaranteed to them. The libertarian-style revolution that the computer and the revolution's leader, an eccentric and highly educated professor named de la Paz, orchestrate forces a response from Earth that ultimately leads to confrontation. The confrontation leads to revolution with the Moon colonists faring quite well thanks mostly to MIKE who controls much of the Moon's electrical and mechanical systems. However, even though the colonists ultimately win recognition from Earth, in the final barrage of the Moon, MIKE is knocked about quite violently and when rebooted no longer has sentience. The novel is about liberty, desire, and self-awareness. Libertarianism, a key concept in the book, is evaluated and examined with more voracity than any professional political pundit could do and yet, at the end you are left wondering-did it work? For at the end of the story, Heinlein leaves much open. It appears he wanted to let his reader decide the true fate of the revolutionaries. The novel is more than just a fiction book about libertarian revolution on the Moon, it is provides a true social and political critique on the system of government that exists in the United States. There are many threads of thought and consciousness the run through the book that require the reader not only to just read and possibly understand the story, but to question the story. And, as always to recognize "TANSTAAFL" or there ain't no such thing as a free lunch! This Hugo Award-winning novel is a true testament to Heinlein's writing genius and style and in my opinion is possibly his greatest work. This book should be required reading for any individual who questions the motives of the society in which they reside and anyone interested in libertarianism, government authority, and freedom.
Heinlein at his best as he works in sex, freedom, economics, artificial intelligence, family, government and a host of other topics. Even if you don't agree with his point of view, RAH at least makes you think and think deep about your own beliefs.
Personally, I think this is the best of Heinlein's early and middle works. He was about to go off the deep end (in many ways) with his next book - Stranger in a Strange Land.
The subject line says it all, really. Manuel Garcia O'Kelly (Davis!) is a great protagonist and the world in which he lives is just as real as our own. It is no surprise this garnered Heinlein's fourth Hugo Award. Everyone should read this amazing novel.
Computer (also named 'Mike', like the Stranger in a Strange Land) develops self-awareness. Libertarian/capitalist economics, TANSTAAFL, poly families formed by opting in members, Lunar catapult shooting rocks at Earth; great rhetoric by Professor Bernardo de la Paz (analog to Jubil Harshaw in Stranger); and no vision of the Internet or ubiquitous cell phones in 2076.
Set on the moon, where a Lunar colony has been established for years, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress explores what happens when a society is left to determine its own rules. What began as a working prison of sorts has now become a true society. Years earlier, convicts were shipped to the moon from earth to farm for wheat, similar to the penal colonies established by England in Australia. Now, those convicts have gone on to start families and the lunar colony is populated with people born on the moon. One such individual is a computer technician named Mannie. While working on the colony¿s supercomputer, he realizes that it has become aware of itself. It¿s now a sentient being that calls itself Mike and is desperate for friendship. With Mike¿s help, Mannie and a few other ¿Loonies¿ begin a revolution. They¿ve been treated like slaves for their whole lives and want to free themselves from the governments on Earth.When sci-fi is done right, we learn how the most absurd situation boils our personalities down to their most elemental nature. This book does just that. A rebellion against an established government is basically the same no matter where it happens. Heinlein combines elements of politics, sociology and Artificial Intelligence all in one satisfying stew. It¿s also really funny in a lot of ways. Heinlein¿s sense of humor reminded me so much of Ray Bradbury. The way they talk in the book is a bit hard to get used to at first. Here are a couple examples:¿Don¿t think I can, I admitted. Best can offer is extensional definition.¿¿So I minded own business.¿ I was never as attached to the characters as I would like to have been. Wyoming, one of the only female characters, started off as a strong woman, leading part of the revolution. But by the second half of the book she¿s faded to the background. It¿s still immensely readable, but it¿s not one that I would call a favorite. ¿Women are scarce; aren't enough to go around ¿ that makes them most valuable thing in Luna, more precious than ice or air, as men without women don't care whether they stay alive or not.¿ ¿When faced with a problem you do not understand, do any part of it you do understand, then look at it again.¿
Superb! The only reason I didn't give 5 stars is I feel only "Starship Toopers" of his works(I've read) deserved that.Want to know how &what the English, American & French 'rebs' thought? How they waged successful and seditious wars? Why they're still very much a going concern. Read all about it here.Like others of R.A.H's works that I know of, this is a truly intriguing insight into a political philosophy far more than a work of Gee Whizz 'hard science' prognostication. What there is is relatively basic and acceptable; a sentient supercomputer (unlike HAL, not a psycho but a versatile 'actor'), vacuums and Ye Olde Mass And Weight enigma, among very few.Can't really say much more without going too far into the plot so I'll just say this is definitely worth putting on your public library reading list, at the very least.
Overall I was a little disappointed with this book. I really like Heinlein, but this story had too many infallible points to make the story work. A supercomputer that controls everything and works for the "good guys" because he thinks the warden is stupid. (However, I did find the analysis and gaming very interesting, but that is because it appeals to my love of statistics and prediction.)I really loved Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers (don't watch the movie though.)
The moon is inhabited by criminals & their descendants. After some time, they decide to break free of the chains that bind them. We get a first hand account of a revolution by one of its founders, the most unwilling revolutionary of the bunch, but a pretty good computer tech. Alternative life styles, living arrangements & plenty of action. It's funny, interesting & somewhat thought provoking. It made me more interested in the American Revolution.
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?
If I had to pick just one novel by Heinlein as a favorite--and it would be hard because he's one of my favorite authors, it would be The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. A blurb on the cover calls it: His classic, Hugo Award-winning novel of libertarian revolution. I imagine to many that might be more off-putting than not, but I loved this novel from the first time I read it in my teens before I ever heard the word "libertarian." There is a libertarian subtext, but I feel the emphasis in this novel is the "revolution" part, and it's that story, the picture of Lunar society, and the characters that hooked me. And much of the political material is saved from preachiness by a light touch--there's quite a bit of humor in the book. (I was amused by allusions to Ayn Rand.) The story is told by Manny O'Kelly, a native "Loonie" and like most born there of mixed race and descended from convicts transported from Earth to the penal colony on the moon. It's an idiosyncratic voice. In order to suggest a different society from our own, Heinlein not only uses a lot of created slang but there are few articles such as "a" or "the" in Manny's narration, and other words such as pronouns are sometimes omitted, although you do hear them from the other major characters who were originally from Earth. That society in and of itself was fascinating--mixed race and multi-racial, high ratio of men to woman, and many alternate forms of marriage had developed like "line" and "clan" marriage. Manny, himself non-political, falls into a conspiracy to overthrow the Lunar Authority when he realizes it's a matter of survival. His co-conspirators are a young "agitator" and professional surrogate mother, Wyoming Knott, who has personal reasons to hate the Authority and an elderly revolutionary academic, Professor Bernardo de la Paz, who is intellectually opposed to all authority and calls himself a "rational anarchist." But the key member of the conspiracy, and the character I found most fascinating and endearing is "Mike"--a sentient supercomputer, it was Manny's secret that Mike had come "awake." Mike has a high order of intellect, but is lonely and hungry for friends. He's no Hal of 2001. He reminds me more of Jane of the Ender series except more naive in the beginning. Just his character alone made this book worth the (re)read.
Fantasy and science fiction are not my favorite genres because the worlds their authors build are usually severely flawed. Most authors neglect to develop sound economics and organizations. Heinlein is no different. How could a penal colony or any society of three million people survive with a security force of fewer than 300 persons? When we look at the obvious parallel of the British colonial forces prior to the American Revolution, Boston alone had more troops. Overall, at the start of 1776, the British had around 8.000 soldiers in the American colonies to protect 2.5 million people. What hardly comes to the surface of the story is that half of the new arrivals in the penal colony are almost immediately killed by the locals. This is both a terribly expensive death penalty policy (transporting the criminals to space only to see half of them executed) and a very violent place. The harsh mistress, though, is not only the planet but its Wild West inhabitants. The shocking level of violence these inhabitants are willing to inflict on others plays a large part of the story. The economic system does not make much more sense: Transporting a bulk commodity to Earth yields absolutely no competitive advantage to sea-based tunnel farming on the Earth itself.The novel itself is fun to read, although the puerile political thoughts of an old man do grind. Both the sun's energy and the moon's resources directly contradict TANSTAAFL. These are free resources that can and are appropriated. The whole colonization scheme is based on this. The numerous political excursions are also of questionable intellectual value, but quite fitting for the narrator. But even the original founding fathers proclaimed mankind's inalienable rights and swiftly took them away from some. A big plus of Heinlein is his modern depiction of race (probably influenced by the more progressive US Navy). Overall, a quick read but far from a true classic.
At the time this was written it was a political, social engineered, science fiction, techno revolution. Unfortunately, it suffers from many simplistic holes that diminish an otherwise geeky social experimental novel on the nature of nation building. Little things like how little time it took for countries to be reduced to cannibalism are so childishly thought out that I had to make myself pick the book up again. It is long in dialogue but Mike is an interesting super computer and the sociopolitical dialogue is at least intriguing. Even with that said, this is probably my least favorite Heinlein.
This is my first book review in nearly fifteen years; forgive me if it appears shallow and naive. I'm sure this will evoke cringes from my high school lit teachers but first steps (or first again, in this case) are always cumbersome.The novel describes the events leading up to and the aftermath of a revolution aiming for lunar independence. While the outcome is preordained in the author's mind, Heinlein presents a very good illusion of gaming theory and toys with the probabilities of an ever-branching chain of events. The preparation for the revolution was exciting in that conspiratorial way but all good things come to an end as the inevitable doldrums of political positioning began to seep into the seams. A personal bias but one that nonetheless slants my review.The language and jargon used by the characters skirt that boundary between casual familiarity and situational exclusion and force the reader to recognize that he is meant to feel as a foreigner in this environment. Family interactions and structures have faint resemblances to social norms but are evolved enough to seem strange as a whole. It is shown through various ways that citizens of Luna and citizens of Terra have grown distant enough that reconciliation at even the basest physical level is tremendously difficult; daily life on one planet is thought of as myth or propagandized lies on the other. The reader, of course, is assumed to be most familiar with the Terran values but sympathetic to Lunar differences and when such a character appears in the story, he is unfortunately underutilized.I enjoyed the book overall but not as much as I would have liked. I can admire the language barrier as an attempt to make me understand that while I may have been there, this wasn't my fight -- something akin to an embedded reporter in today's world. However, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was simply too dumb to understand some of the underpinnings of the novel and the political machinations (again, abhorrent to me on an everyday basis to begin with) seemed to solidify that. I'm certain that I miss otherwise obvious elements in other books, but they have the common decency to camouflage them for me. I would certainly recommend this to readers interested in some thought-evoking science fiction, to social scientists interested in a different setting, or to sci-fi fans getting back to the roots of the genre, but only as a "read once to say you have."
After getting past Heinlein's usual Oedipal fantasies, this quickly became a wonderful book - one of his best!
The lunar colony has been treated like a dumping ground for criminals and delinquents by the people of Earth for decades, overlooked by a "Warden" who mostly sticks to his home. There are no laws on Luna, and yet the conflux of prisoners, miners, and free borns from many nationalities and backgrounds has created a sort of ordered anarchy in which all "rules" are simple, unspoken and enforced by the populace who must take responsibility for their own actions. Manny is an apolitical type and a mechanic, who works to repair the main computer that runs the entire systems of the lunar colony. Only, Manny has discovered that the computer, known as Mike, has developed a personality and fond of good practical jokes. When Manny witnesses a riot during a revolutionist political rally, he quickly gets wrapped up in helping Wyoh, a political activist, and the Professor, an anarchist with a desire for revolution. The three of them, together with Mike the computer, end up setting out on a complex plot to enact revolution and earn Luna her freedom. The novel unfolds over the entire course of the revolution, which includes thousands of people making up the plot and spans several years. Thus at times, the narration becomes distanced from the personal as Manny relates events as he remembers them, kind of like a historical account. The characters are great, though sometimes they do get lost in the epic sweep of the revolutionary narrative. I also loved how Heinlein developed a slang unique to Luna, a kind of mishmash of abbreviations and words from many languages. The lingo is easy enough to follow and fun to read, while being entirely plausible sounding. Great book.
An interplanetary political science fiction about Lunar independence from Earth, told from the point of view of Manuel, a 'Loonie' computer technician, who strikes up a friendship with 'Mike', the sentient but bored colony computer. Heinlein details Lunar society and customs and documents the progress of the Lunar Revolution. The Prof is a bit of a small-government revolutionary, and the villains of the book are the bureaucratic Federated Nations of Earth, a kind of super-U.N., though the Americans in the book are portrayed as particularly obnoxious. An interesting story of how political movements can grow from the accidental meetings of the right people.
In Heinlein's science fiction classic, the moon was settled as a penal colony. The narrator of the story, Manuel Garcia "Mannie" O'Kelly-Davis, is an example of lunar society as a whole: his ethnic background is diverse, and his ancestors already served out their prison sentence. However, the physiological changes brought by living in a low gravitational field make a return to Earth difficult if not impossible. That's exactly the way Earth wants it. The farming caves of Luna supply wheat for the starving masses of Terra down below. The ruling Lunar Authority cares nothing about rights--they want wheat, and they want the exiles to stay exiles.Then Mannie, a computer technician, works on the Lunar Authority's master computer. It becomes self-aware and speaks, accepting Mannie as his best friend. The computer is bored and wants to cause some mischief. A rebellion will certainly liven things up...I can see why this book is a classic. It paints a fascinating picture of lunar settlement and a future Earth. I admit, the heavier science portions lost me, but I still understood enough to know what is going on. The book also shows an intriguing depiction of rebellion against terrible odds. The gravity of Earth is crippling for "Loonies," so there can be no invasion. The moon has no weapons. However, desperate people make do, and often to great results.That said, the characters left a lot to be desired. It's told in first person from Mannie's viewpoint, but I never felt like I really knew him. He was almost created as too much of an "everyman." Many of the other characters also come across as flat. I was excited at the beginning when a female character emerged as a central figure of the rebellion---and in a society where women are prized because they number so few--but halfway through the book, she dwindled to a very minor role. The science in the book feels very modern, but when it came to gender roles Heinlein still felt mired in the mid-60s when this book was written. That was especially disappointing considering how far-thinking and ethnically diverse the cast is, and how that's even reflected in how they speak on Luna with a blend of Earth languages. The best and most complicated character is the computer, Mike, and he's the reason I was hooked to read onward.I'm glad I read the book and I think it brings up a lot of interesting questions about human rights, independence, and the settlement of the moon, but will this volume stay on my shelf indefinitely? I doubt it.
Well-done and fully-realized story of a revolution by colonists on the moon who want freedom from Earth. Identifiably Heinlein in style and theme, but perhaps best described as a toned down version of Heinlein (or, since this is one of his earlier novels, maybe it is more accurate to say that later works got successively ramped up)--this fact makes for a book with fewer of the sometimes annoying stylistic markers of later RAH and for a book which is in many ways more serious than much of the later works. Recommended to any Heinlein or sci-fi fans. Also for anyone who thinks they should like Heinlein but finds his style a bit over-the-top.
I read a lot of science fiction in high school. I was deep into teenage angst, certain that my life was ¿the worst life ever!!!¿ and therefore sought escapist literature. Although my homelife was indeed worse than most, entering adulthood, I discovered that one could escape the shackles of a dysfunctional family and establish healthier relationships with other people. I put aside science fiction for more ¿grown-up¿ books on history and politics. When Goodreads offered Robert Heinlein¿s "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" in a giveaway, I entered on a whim. I had read his "Stranger in a Strange Land" so many years ago that I barely remembered it other than the fact that he was a fabulous writer. Excellent writing aside, one of the entertaining things about revisiting science fiction written in the 1960¿s, is seeing how the writer envisioned life more than a century hence in 2075. The author in this case was surprisingly prescient creating a world where China is a superpower, surrogate motherhood is routine and Artificial Intelligence in computers is possible. Of course, he did get some things terribly wrong. Instead of cell phones, there are landlines with very, very long cords and typewriters instead of printers. One non-technical detail that was also off was language. In the story, the moon is a penal colony for planet Earth. The convicts sent there are from all over the Earth and should have been speaking different languages. Instead, everyone speaks English. Studies have shown that in the situation where a society is made up of peoples with mutually unintelligible languages, a new language is born composed of words and phrases from all the languages present. I learned that in a linguistics class in the 1970¿s although if I recall correctly, the original studies were done the previous decade so the information should have been available to Heinlein.Science fiction is and was never primarily about technology, however. It is social commentary, positing different cultures and traditions, some improvements and others degenerations of the cultural norms we know. In all cases, the purpose of the story is to allow us to consider issues without the distractions of our own societal rules and laws. "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is the story of a rebellious colony fighting for independence and the effect of that rebellion on all of the participants including a computer that has ¿come alive¿, speaking and acting seemingly like a human being.Heinlein is pitch perfect. His story, his characters, and their motivations all ring true. The ending is satisfying. I enjoyed this book so much that I want to re-read "Stranger in a Strange Land". I¿m sure that I will appreciate it much more as an adult than as my former ¿angst-y¿ teenage self.
Themes: space, freedom, artificial intelligence, colonialism, family, war, politicsSetting: the Moon, late 21st centuryWhat happens when you mix an extremely intelligent computer, an elderly anarchist, a beautiful revolutionary, and an independent apolitical family man? In Heinlein's hands, you get all the ingredients for a revolution. In this tale of the future, the Moon has become a one way penal colony, where a sentence there means all your descendants will be unable to return to Earth and you'll be entirely on your own. Where even the air will cost you and "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch."The first 5 or so pages were so hard to read that I really wasn't sure I was going to stick with it, but I liked the idea and the characters, so I pushed through. The grammar and syntax are very different, with no articles and few possessive pronouns. There's all kinds of new jargon and a lot of Russian slang. It was super confusing at first.Even after the first 50 pages, I still didn't know if it would be worth reading. Fortunately, I did a bit of research online and was convinced that it would make sense in the end. I really enjoyed it more than I thought. By the end, I was completely caught up in the story, in the culture, and in the characters. It became an emotional and satisfying read. 4 stars.
A classic use of a sf setting to explore political and economic concepts. In later books, RAH became much more heavy-handed. Here, the RAH character (the Prof) is secondary, and gets on his soapbox only occasionally. The book was published in the mid-60's, and I read it for the first time over 40 years later (2009). I found a few interesting points. One, the AI character "Mike." Mike is a computer that attains consciousness. No one seems to be aware of this other than the narrator, Manuel. Forty years later, the idea of a computer becoming sentient has spawned a whole subcategory of sf, based around the complete paradigm shift this event will cause. (The event even has a name: the Singularity.) Gone are the quaint old chatty chums of Heinlein and Clarke and Asimov. In TMIAHM, the computer becomes sentient more as a plot device than anything else. Mike is not explored as a character. His "birth" is quickly established and he is moved offstage pretty much for the rest of the book. The book is not, after all, about AI. It's about economics and systems of government. The other part that struck me was the end, when the Moon begins to lob large objects at the Earth during the fight for independence. It takes days and perhaps hundreds of impacts each equaling an H-bomb in devastation before the Earth backs down. Think what America was like on 9-11 when three buildings were hit. It felt like the world was coming to an end. I can't imagine that it would take more than one or two "rocks" hitting before we gave up the fight. After all, the Moon is a small concern in the book, hardly worth losing thousands of lives over. But RAH had lived through WWII, and had seen England and Germany endure months of heavy artillery and missile bombardment. He assumed America would tough it out, as well, but I wonder, after 9-11.
A great work of Libertarian science fiction. A society that is somewhat similar to our own with too much governmental control and government created monopolies with business. This story tells about the liberation of the people of the moon as they seek to throw off domination of earth.
AI-aided lunar libertarians start an uprising against Earth and stage fraudulent elections to impose their own government on everyone else.
In this book of politics and revolution the Lunar Colonies have one major asset, a giant computer with control of all facilities and an almost human sense of humor.
Well, what can I say? It starts off brilliantly, and goes uphill from there. It's a manual as to how to plan and execute a rebellion as much as it is a book. From the futuristic language, a mixture of Russian, German and English as best I could tell, to the complex and wonderful landscape of Luna society, to the deep characters of Prof, Mike and Wyoh, this book has it all. I don't know, therefore, what it is that prevents me from giving it 5*s - perhaps that it had to end more than anything. I wanted it to carry on, I wanted a more secure ending, but it was never designed for that.In essence, this is a true classic, arguably better than [Dune], and certainly one of the best SF novel's I have read.