Publication Date: 1966
The Moon works hard, and Earth takes the fruit of that labour. Not all are happy with this arrangement, and some even seek to change it …
This is a multi-award winning book. That, however, doesn’t mean I’m going to enjoy it. What earns awards and what I like reading are often very different, you only have to look at the Hugo Awards for evidence of that. But does that mean this is a bad book? No. Not at all. It’s actually very, very good. I just didn’t enjoy reading it. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is a book that I appreciate more as a writer than a reader. Mechanically, it’s an amazing piece of literature. But that doesn’t mean it’s good entertainment.
The book is narrated by a man with a thick russian accent. Well, he’s russian, and the sentences don’t quite work, so I’m ninety-percent sure there’s supposed to be an accent. I know I found it impossible to read without one in mind once I realised what was going on. One of the most incredible things Heinlein does is create a first-person narrator who does not have the word ‘the’ in his vocabulary, and yet still manage to string together a coherent narrative. Other characters say ‘the’, but that only makes the stylistic choice more apparent. It’s in the back of your mind constantly, but never in a way that’s intrusive.
The science in this science fiction largely takes a background, and I reckon that’s part of why this classic has held up so well. The physics of gravity and Earth-Lunar travel are all solid, as are the problems of living in a world devoid of natural air. Mike, the artificial intelligence, is an archetype of his kind. A machine that learns to the point it may as well be human. We don’t need to know the inner workings of his wiring, even if our protagonist is a mechanic. All that matters is that Mike is a constant presence, driving the narrative largely behind the scenes. The details of how he functions are a little obscure, but he does what he needs to serve the story.
Unfortunately, the story is where The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress loses me as a reader. I love political thrillers, particularly when they are set in space. Even more so when they deal with matters of independence, and the rebellions which these matters so often involve. But Heinlein seems more concerned with meetings discussing independence than he is in his characters doing anything about it. While there are action scenes, most of the major action is performed off-page by Mike. The hows and whats of maintaining a newly independent colony are left to Mike. The human characters just sit around and talk about what Mike is doing.
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is undoubtedly an important work, both in and out of the genre. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t better books out there telling the same story. The execution is great. the ideas are great. It’s just that these two great things are utterly disconnected by what Heinlein has actually written. A significant novel, but by no means a great one.