The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A Heinlien (Tom Doherty Associates, 1966 {Blackstone Audio, Inc., Narrator: Lloyd James, 2002})

Grade: Γ — A good or even fantastic book within the genre, possibly worth reading regardless of which genre’s you like, but has a setting or style that is likely to be unappealing to individuals who are not fans of a given genre.    

In brief:

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A Heinlien is a classic of the Science Fiction world.  It is a tale of violent social revolution on the moon, and draws heavily from historic events in both the American and Russian revolutions.  Yet it is its own story, filled with classic Heinlienisms, and makes for a compelling tale of rebellion that focuses more on the political maneuverings than it does on the violence associated with it.  Even so, it remains a Ripping Yarn with compelling human interests. 


The Moon, 2076 (with some scenes on Earth)

In Depth:

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is one of Robert A Heinlien’s best stories. It takes elements from both the American and Russian Revolutions and turns them into a fascinating tale of social revolution and revolt on the moon. 

It is a Ripping Yarn, no doubt about that, but funny enough focuses not so much on the violence of the revolt, but on the political events and interactions that bring that revolt to bare.  How it does this while still remaining a primarily action based story is beyond me.  But it works. 

That is not to say it does not have some dated concepts (well, it was written almost forty years ago) and some very Heinlein-esque views of marriage and particularly women.  Still, if one can look beyond those, shall we say, interesting ideas, it is a great tale of rebellion and social justice. 

The premise is simple: The Moon is populated by a series of colonies that were established for different reasons.  Some were scientific, others purely economic, but a very large percentage of them were penal colonies.  Yet over the generations, this has changed, and the present population of the Moon are the descendents of these individuals who have developed their own society and forms of social networks (e.g. There are numerous forms of marriage, most of which are polygamous, and primarily based on keeping control of family assets). 

These colonies as a whole are overseen by a Governer General, and his security forces, and the products that the Moon produces are sent to Earth with virtually nothing given in return (other than air, etc.).  As the population gradually grows discontented they raise protest, but such events are cracked down upon severely.  Then, an AI develops out of the Lunar computer network and, well… the rest would be a spoiler.

It is fun book, with some very good social points that seem particularly poignant in the Winter after the Arab Spring.

Notes about the Audio Edition:

Blackstone Audio delivers another fine product.  Well produced and skillfully read by Lloyd James.  James uses accents throughout this first person telling which initially put me off, but in very short order I found that his skill drew me in and added to the tale.  In the end, I am delighted he read the book in the form he did, and enjoyed it all the more because of it.

About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
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8 Responses to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A Heinlien (Tom Doherty Associates, 1966 {Blackstone Audio, Inc., Narrator: Lloyd James, 2002})

  1. Good to see HeinLein getting some praise again. Think I have the book, but might not have fully read it. Will have to hunt it down. Yes, he wrote many underrated great tales.

    • Thomas Evans says:

      I completely agree with you and in my view, this is one of his best. He manages to tell a gripping tale about the political side of social revolution: not an eay task!

      • Joachim Boaz says:

        Probably one of my favorite of Heinlein’s works…. Definitely better than the painful Stranger in a Strange Land and his earlier Hugo winner, Double Star.

      • Thomas Evans says:

        Stranger seems a bit dated now, but at the time it really was revolutionary. Probably a bit too much so. Mostly I find it interesting because it demonstrates the diversity of belief systems at the time. Heinlein was a political conservative (in many ways. See Starship Troopers) but a social (or sexual) revolutionary.

        The Moon is a Harsh Mistress however shows a complexity of ideas. I can’t say I agree with his philosophies in most cases, but they are interesting and this story is one of my favs.

        Plus the audiobook version is very good

      • Joachim Boaz says:

        I agree, some of his jingoistic, misogynist (women want to walk around naked and be goggled by men — what I remember from Stranger, haha), and more libertarian political views bother me. What are you most troubled by? (perhaps, in Moon is a Harsh Mistress in particular — the one of I remember best).

      • Thomas Evans says:

        Mostly the same sorts of complaints. Particularly his portrayal of women was more than a bit irritating. Yet strangely, many of his female characters are strong and independent in a very “What I really want is to be treated like a sex object” kind of a way. While his views of women are clearly chauvanistic, sexisit and objectifying, they are not what I’d define as mysoginist. He seems to respect women in his own twisted and demeaning way…

        His extreme meritocratic/libritarian views also sit somewhat uncomfortably, though Moon guises them in a more Jeffersonian democratic concept than say… Starship Troopers.

  2. Joachim Boaz says:

    His portrayal of women gets even worse in his later works — The Cat Who Walks Through Walls for example. But yes, you’ve nailed it on the head, he likes female character who proclaim to the world “What I really want is to be treated like a sex object.” And it it bothers me….

    Some of his juveniles were fun in the 50s sort of way but I generally consider him one of the more overrated greats.

    • Thomas Evans says:

      The majority of works of any great author are still mediocre (Tolstoy and a few others aside). He wrote a few works that changed sci fi and that is more than any writer can ask… But he wrote some real crap too.

      As to women, the more I think about it, the more I am bothered even by his strong portrayal of women since it ultimately subjectifies them even more.

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