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The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

I am in the middle of a 50 book challenge which I started last week and am already on book #4. I am a fast reader so I may have to raise the number of my challenge. I also challenged myself to read a genre I always stayed away from- science fiction. So last week I read my first sci-fi book, the highly recommended The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was written by Robert Heinlein in 1966 and is available for free in its entirety online. It took me two days to read. The book is the story of the quest for Lunar independence from a corrupt Earth/Terra in the year 2076. Luna is a penal colony that exists in underground tunnels and cities where the locals called Loonies learned to live, farm, and mine on the harsh moon. The moon is full of former murderers, thieves, and political prisoners and their descendants.

The protagonist is Manuel Garcia O'Kelly Davis a "Loonie" or native of the moon. He is an everyman with no real political affiliation. He worked with lasers cutting rock until he cut off one of his arms in a bizarre accident. He was sent to earth to train as a computer programmer and came back to work for the warden of the moon and work with the main computer. The main computer later became sentient and was named MYCROFT after Sherlock Holmes' brother. He went by Mike and became Manuel's or Mannie's best friends. Mannie is in a line marriage, a polyandrous marriage where a group of men and women are married to each other. "Mum" or Mimi is the primary wife and mother figure of the family.

One day Mannie goes to a political meeting where the top speakers are Wyoming Knott, a Loonie from the Lunar Hong Kong and Bernard de la Paz a former teacher of Mannie. There Mannie first hears about Lunar independence and establishing a new government free from Earth interference. The meeting is broken up by the Lunar secret police of the warden and Mannie saves Wyoming and together they hide from the law in a hotel. Mannie introduces Wyoming to Mike the computer who he can access on any phone line. (the book was written long before the internet!) Mike talks to Wyoming about the weaknesses of her freedom movement and how to make it more successful. Wyoming then wants Bernard de la Paz, the Professor involved and together the three of them organize a secret rebellious political organization and the Professor preaches a libertarian utopia.

On July 4, 2076, the group, now numbering in the thousands, declares their independence from Earth led by the computer, Mike, known to the public as Adam Selene. Mike puts on a CGI face for the public to keep his computer identity a secret. After declaring independence, Mannie and the Professor visit the earth to get their support for Lunar independence. The book accurately describes how the Professor and Mannie have trouble adjusting to Earth gravity and the sickness they get as a result. Future earth is corrupt and overcrowded and do not want to give Luna its independence.

In the third act of the book, the Loonies must fight for their independence. They have a war with earth which ends with the Loonies literally throwing huge boulders into the earth. The story shows the problems with fighting a war with little gravity in accurate detail. It has a bittersweet ending with Mannie the protagonist, now getting out of politics and skeptical of the life of their libertarian utopia.

The book is mainly the author tract of Robert Heinlein who is known for his libertarianism and advocacy of polyandry. The book is preachy and one sided, we never hear Earth's point of view of the Loonies or why the Earth was in such a bad state. The book successfully tells the story by making the protagonist an everyman like Mannie. Mannie is heralded to the political meeting by Mike and the resulting massacre thrusts Mannie into the quest for Lunar freedom. The Professor is his mentor and Wyoming and Mike are his companions in the fight. They travel to Earth, which is almost like a trip to the underworld and come back home to fight a war for their freedom. Mannie went from a passive non-political guy to basically the head of the freedom movement with "Adam Selene" as his face. There is sacrifice, love, danger, and adventure in the book as well as sci-fi world building with Heinlein building a very detailed Lunar world complete with discussions on how to farm underground, how to get water, and how a people could survive. The Lunar war is also well described and how soldiers would have to train to get used to the lack of gravity or how the Moon could use the Earth's gravitational pull to throw boulders to the earth. Trade between the Earth and Luna is also described as for some reason not adequately explained, the Earth, specifically India, depends on Lunar wheat to feed the masses of people who live a family to a sidewalk block. Internet, CGI, automatic sliding doors are also described before they were actually invented. Also, the book was written 3 years before man actually reached the moon.

My only gripe with the book is how the women are portrayed. They enter polyandrous marriages with no problems or jealousy with their roles mainly in the kitchen. Wyoming begins the story as a strong, leadership like woman and by the end stays in the background living with her husbands, sleeping with them on alternate nights just like the other wives do, all under the control of the head elderly wife, Mum. If anyone has ever lived in a multigenerational home, you know things don't really go as peaceful. That is another thing. The Loonies, no matter what there criminal background is, are forced to act nice and polite, if they don't they get thrown out of the airlock and die within minutes.

I loved the long political debates of republicanism, libertarianism, classic libertarianism, Randism, Democracy, Socialism, and Communism. They were well written and I could just imagine sitting there listening to the Professor, Wyoming, and Mannie with Mike in the background as they drink Vodka. I don't agree with all their methods and thought that Mike's control over Lunar infrastructure a bit scary. He could literally turn off the oxygen from someone's home, control weapons, and feed propaganda to the people.

This book with its anti-tax, pro-libertarian message is a must read for today where we are faced with an overreaching, overtaxing government. Heinlein was definitely ahead of his time and his book can easily be read today just as it was in 1966.


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