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The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - Robert A. Heinlein

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Author: Robert A. Heinlein / Format: Hardback / Date of publication: 11 December 2008 / Genre: Science Fiction / Subcategory: Science Fiction General / Publisher: Orion Publishing Co / Title: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress / ISBN 13: 9780575082410 / ISBN 10: 0575082410

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    4 Reviews
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      15.10.2013 15:24
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      A classic

      The moon is a harsh mistress is a 1966 science fiction novel by American author Robert Heinlein, it won the Hugo award in 1966 and it accompanied me on a journey into the mountains of Slovakia in the summer of 2013, the reason for the visit was a conference in an out of season snow resort and one of the ways to dispel the boredom was to read this novel.

      Robert Heinlein is best known for writing starship troopers and is considered one of the founding fathers of the post second world boom in science fiction writing along with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke.
      The Moon is a harsh mistress tells of a future time when the moon has been colonised by self-termed Loonies, the moon being low on gravity but high on sunlight has been turned into a hydroponic wheat producer for the planet Earth. The book is a first person perspective by a computer technician called Manuel O'Kelly-Davis, who realises that the computer which runs the systems in the colony has been self-aware and has a dry sense of humour. Manuel persuades the computer to initiate a series of events which will cause starvation on Earth and a chance for the colony to become independent, to help him he enlists a subversive professor and a beautiful blond female agitator. Manuel and the others initiate a revolt and persuade the computer to front the revolt through a computer generated figure head called Adam Selene. The rest of the book deals with the revolt, the response of the Earth and finally setting of an independent Moon on the 300th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

      It would be fair to say I loved this book, though written nearly 50 years ago it has a fresh and engaging writing style and the persona of Manuel (Manny throughout the novel) is one the reader can warm too. I found that the book took the reader on a journey into a very realistic vision of a lunar colony, all of the colonists have to wear specially weighted suits to counter the lower gravity and if they go to Earth the gravity will cause them serious problems. There is a depiction of a war between Loonies and Earth marines but the gravity helps the colonists when weaponry and military force should have won the war for the Earth soldiers. There is humour too, the computer is called HOLMES IV but Manny calls it Mycroft or Mike because Mycroft was Holmes' brother in the original stories.

      There is a dystopian element to the tale, there is a dependency of the Earth for the wheat grown on the Moon and the Moon requires a lot of components found on Earth such as metals, plastics etc. The totalitarian nature of the Earths grip on the Moon was always going to breakdown and the combination of an intelligent computer, a subversive professor; a political activator and a computer programmer are enough to bring the two planets into collision.

      There are also more subversive messages coming through from the uprising, a sense that regardless of the start revolutions nearly always take on their own agenda's and momentum, the use of the faux - leader Adam Selene is a nod towards the way Lenin and Stalin tended to promote themselves above the common politics. This tactic is intended to divorce them from the worst of the state totalitarian beliefs and a chance to be a person who the populace could look up to and believe was being shaped by the events just as much as they are (Hitler tried this towards the end of the Third Reich).All in all, a very thought provoking book it is around 400 pages long so not too long a read and is a stand-alone novel with a rather apt ending.

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      14.09.2009 13:29
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      A science fiction masterpiece

      This is a 1966 sci-fi novel by Robert Heinlein about an attempted revolution by the colonists of Earth's moon around the year 2075. There's a brilliant plot, some great characters and humorous dialogue but it is mainly a platform for communicating Heinlein's libertarian ideals and is very talky. My copy is 288 pages.

      Luna is nominally a penal colony, set up by the nations of Earth and run by the Luna Authority. Undesirables have been sent to Luna to carry out their sentences since the late 20th Century, but due to the effect of the Moon's low gravity, no matter how short their sentence may have been, it is always a one-way trip. The human body is permanently altered by the low gravity and so after a year or so on Lunar is unable to cope with the relative high gravity of Earth for long periods - their cardiovascular system will no longer be sufficiently strong. This means that the Moon is filled with people who have completed their sentence and so are completely free - but free to live on the Moon and nowhere else. More than this, these colonists have been having children for years and so there are hundreds of thousands who have never been prisoners and have never been to Earth. However, the Authority still treats all of these people as little more than prisoners, with no rights. Because of this, there is trouble brewing on Luna.

      The book is narrated by Mannie, a computer technician with one arm who is best friends with Mike. Mike is a computer. Not just any computer, Mike is "a fair dinkum thinkum, the sharpest computer you'll ever meet." When Mike was first installed on Lunar, he computed ballistics for pilotless freighters and controlled the space catapult but this kept him busy less than one per cent of the time so they kept plugging more stuff into him, and more and more sub-computers to control and so increased his number of connections far and above the capacity of a human brain, until eventually (and in the great tradition of sci-fi), Mike woke up.

      Mannie has no interest in politics, but Mike the computer is curious and so asks Mannie to attend a protest meeting. The meeting is attacked by guards and so Mannie finds himself on the run. Luckily, though, he's on the run with Wyoming Knott, a staggeringly beautiful woman. Hiding out in a hotel room, they are joined by Professor de la Paz, an ancient political prisoner who describes himself as a Rational Anarchist (more on that later).

      In that hotel room, these three people, with the help of Mike the computer, justify and then plan a revolution. The hotel scene takes up a huge 60 pages and is absolutely brilliant, even though it is merely one long discussion. Then we see them actively recruiting and planning the rebellion for most of the rest of the book, right up to the short action finale where we find out whether it is successful or not.

      Mannie, our narrator, is a great character, the ultimate pragmatist who finds himself a leader in a revolution through simply going with the flow and taking it all in with good natured bemusement. His narration is in the style of the Luna colonists' (Loonies) patois, most notably a dropping of the article, so "toward the end" becomes "toward end" etc. This deceptively simple stylistic decision brilliantly creates a sense of distance in time and place to us now and as a reader you pick it up instantly (actually, it probably also makes the novel about 10% shorter than it otherwise would be!). This also being a colony made up of all the peoples of Earth, the slang used is Russian, Australian, Chinese, etc in origins and is littered liberally throughout, especially the Russian stuff. I would think that Heinlein nicked this sort of thing off A Clockwork Orange, and although it doesn't have the consistent genius of that novel, it still works extremely well.

      The Professor is brilliant too, though I suspect he is merely a conduit for Heinlein to convey his views on libertarianism. The book is often heavy with dialogue of the following nature, so if you like this passage, you'll like the book, if not, not.

      "A rational anarchist believes that concepts such as 'state' and 'society' and 'government' have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals. He believes that it is impossible to shift blame, share blame, distribute blame... as blame, guilt, responsibility are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else. But being rational, he knows that not all individuals hold his evaluations, so he tries to live perfectly in an imperfect world... aware that his effort will be less than perfect yet undismayed by self-knowledge of self-failure... My point is that one person is responsible. Always. If H-bombs exist - and they do - some man controls them. In terms of morals there is no such thing as a 'state'. Just men. Individuals. Each responsible for his own acts."

      The star of the show, though, is Mike, the genius computer. How Heinlein manages to get so much personality into a computer is beyond me, but he does it brilliantly. Mike is one of my all-time favourite characters. At the start, he's a genius with the mind of a child, playing practical jokes on people, such as (being responsible for payroll) issuing a cleaner a paycheque for $10,000,000,000,000,185.15, just for a laugh (the last five digits being the real amount). Mannie, "my best and only friend", has to be the father in the relationship, teaching Mike about humour and what is and isn't funny (the paycheque joke is a "funny once" sort of joke). Later, Mike grows into very much more and the roles are almost reversed. In places it is quite touching. Mike is quite understandably lonely and desperate for more friends. It's astonishingly good writing by Heinlein to make a featureless computer lovable.

      There are dozens of minor characters, all serving plot purposes or so that Heinlein can introduce more of his brilliant ideas, such as how a court system could work in an anarchic society, attitudes to women and the various forms of polygamy practiced by Loonies, most interestingly the 'line marriage', which is too complicated to get into here. In fact, there's loads that is explored in the book I haven't yet mentioned, stuff like computing and gravity and ballistics and revolutionary tactics but that's just scratching the surface of what lies within, so you'll just have to read it to see it all.

      If you like sci-fi and/or radical politics or philosophy then clearly you'll love this. If not, I'm somewhat hesitant to recommend it. I can see how the endless discussions and lack of action would get on some people's wick no end. But this is still a funny and entertaining novel and it's chock full of brilliance. A true classic. Actually, my woman isn't into sci-fi at all and she loves this book. So go on, check it out.

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        11.06.2001 22:15
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        This is my all time favourite book! Set on the Moon, written from the point of view of one of the leaders of the Lunar rebellion against the Federated Nations, it is everything a good SF book should be. It is funny, exciting, thought provoking, sad, outrageous and trimuphant. I first read it in the late 60's and re-read at least once every couple of years. The characterisation is great and you can really feel for the people in the book. One of the saddest things in SF is the loss of Mike at the end of the book. one of the funniest lines is "Stop throwing rocks at Cheyanne Mountain, it isn't there anymore!" The plot thunders on and for my at least it is very beliveable! A wonderful example of the best in Heinlein's work!

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          08.07.2000 19:36
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          This novel is set in the Moon, as a supposed retrospective of the Lunar Rebellion. Sounds corny? Well it isn't. Heinlein has written this piece in coloquialism so realistic, that you will be speaking in it by the end of the book. His genius for detail makes this book completely believable and very, very readable. The story is about colonialism and makes a lot of comments about Government and families. As always with Heinlein, you can read the book on more than one level. It is a very enjoyable story, but a very canny comment on society. It follows Manuel Garcia Kelly through his part in the revolution and what I really like, is that back in 1963 he was already laying down characters which would be used in his books in the 1970s and 80s. This gives a great feel to it if you have read his later works. It's a cleverly written and well-paced book and you might be able to find it in print in the wake of the Starship Troopers film.

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