The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Robert A. Heinlein

Aug 24, 2015 review (read between Jun 28, 2015 – Jul 2, 2015)

1st reading read review on Goodreads

It’s been almost two months since I’ve read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein’s classic from the 60’s, but it’s certainly been on my mind since then. Unfortunately, it’s always as a reflection on how Heinlein’s wonderfully crafted Lunar society of the future and its struggles completely misses the mark with me.

Long story short, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress follows the journey of Mannuel “Mannie” Garcia O’Kelly-Davis, a computer repair technician on the Moon, but he acts more as a colorful window into the cultural and political climate of the Moon. The Moon acts as the penal colony of the future (think Australia, I guess), with all sorts of shady and outcast figures from all over Earth being exiled to it. Over generations the Lunar populous developed a society befitting their unique circumstances: polyandry relationships are the social norm due to men vastly outnumbering the women, the judicial system is practically non-existent because the skeleton government on the Moon instated by the governing Earth nations rarely exercise their power, and as a result, individuals typically abide by a set of unwritten rules that stress self-reliance. Heinlein does a masterful job of painting this fascinating and well-constructed society through Mannie, and then takes the populous (along with Mannie) for a wild ride in the form of a war for independence from Earth, weaving in politics, economics, history, and war into the narrative.

This war and all the circumstances surrounding it takes up the bulk of the book and to be fair, is incredibly interesting. Unfortunately for me, the hook that grabbed me initially was Mike, a supercomputer that rose to sentience without anyone but Mannie knowing. He(?)’s introduced at the very beginning of the book, and is pivotal for Mannie and his merry band of revolutionists if they have any hopes of winning their war for independence. As I read deeper and deeper into the book, however, I realized that Heinlein didn’t have much in store for Mike, and the Pandora’s Box of quandaries that might arise with a sentient AI is never opened. I can’t help but feel that Mike was nothing more than a near-mythical entity Heinlein was forced to create to even the revolutionists’ odds of success, and to me that’s a missed opportunity.

Then again, if I want a story revolving a sentient AI, I should probably read another book. It certainly wasn’t the focus Heinlein had in mind for The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and what he did want to tackle, he did so masterfully.