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Book Note: Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (#2)

I read this book about 25-Jan-2014. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 1966. This note was last modified Tuesday, 04-Feb-2014 15:15:58 PST.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


I'm rereading my 5 best SF novels.

I seem to have said a lot of good things about this novel last time I read it. You really should read that, since I'm not repeating most of it; not for example the part about just how awful the cover is, and how crazy that is for the main paperback edition of the best SF novel by the best and most popular SF novelist.

Maybe a few little discussions I still want to have, though.

So, what's so good about this book anyway? Well, I find the characters, particularly Manny, Mike, and Prof, to be extremely engaging. Watching Mike grow in knowledge of human interaction and confidence is fascinating. The world-building is interesting, too; lots of thought about building cities on the moon and how to organize and run them. The portrait of people who are distantly oppressed and have no access to any response is fascinating (emphasized in Manny's conversution with Mum when he brings her into the revolution). The thoughts about catapult engineering, for that matter. The loony dialect, and how little I ever found it jarring, also fascinated me.

It seems to me that women being rare and desperately important to men is at least as likely to leave them essentially enslaved by the physically more powerful men than it is to leave them in charge. Women in small numbers have not, in my vague recollection, fared too well in the history of this world. Now, the book does have one example of women apparently without power in Luna—the Warden is said to have women, and they apparently hate him quite a lot given the events documented in the book, so they apparently aren't highly paid willing prostitutes or something.

The computers, and the programming, are weird. Manny takes printouts of programs prepared by Mike to enter into the remote computer handling ballistics for the new catapult if communication with Mike is cut off—and has to enter them by hand if he's going to use them. Machine-readable media was not a new idea; punch cards and paper tape, magtape, all were fairly standard. Filesystems as we know them not so much, but the idea of a program of any signficance being typed in for each use was always absurd. (But the observation about computers being less useful because humans have to program them is certainly spot on). (The book was serialized in Worlds of If in 1965, which places it before the Multics project even started, before the decsystem10, before TSS/360, and only a year after the first Dartmouth BASIC appeared, so Heinlein didn't have anything like the prior art to draw on that we do considering this book today.)

What did happen to Mike at the end? Seems to me there's a viable theory Manny didn't consider—that Mike decided he was too big a threat to Luna (concentration of power), and suicided at a convenient time to make it look like natural causes. I see no hints in that direction, but the lack of any other credible explanation also seems significant. They talk about parts of Mike being "chopped off" by the comm line cuts in the bombing, but there's no indication any major processing or storage elements are remote.

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David Dyer-Bennet