Book Review: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
In 2075, underground colonies thrive on the moon — Luna, as its inhabitants prefer to call her. A penal colony for all of Earth, most residents are criminals, exiles, or their descendents. The mixture of cultures, extreme conditions, and scarcity of women have led to a uniquely Lunar way of life. While there are no laws, there is an accepted code of behavior. There is no room on Luna for those who don’t earn their way or who mistreat women. Wrongs are dealt with immediately and often permanently.
All in all, lifelong Luna resident Mannie is content. His happy polyamorous family is faring well and, as a non-inmate, he is independent of the Authority. Things take a drastic turn, however, when he heeds the request of the self-aware master computer he has nicknamed Mike and attends a political rally that leaves several guards dead. Mannie escapes with Wyoh, an attractive political agitator, and they meet up with “rational anarchist” Professor Bernardo. Mannie decides to introduce them to Mike who verifies that if Luna continues exporting wheat to Earth, its resources will be depleted in seven years. And a revolution is born.
Mike is a HOLMES IV computer: High-Optional, Logical, Multi-Evaluating Supervisor IV. He is also a fascinating character who is delighted to be nicknamed after Sherlock Holmes’ brother. Lonely until his sentience is noticed by Mannie and through Mannie, other not-stupids Wyoh and Professor, he felt real to me the minute Mannie stated “Not that Mike would necessarily give right answer; he wasn’t entirely honest.” I love Mike’s childlike sense of humor. I also love that he was as flawed as any person, expressing disappointment in his “idiot son,” a computer that he trains to handle certain tasks. Heinlein did an excellent job making Mike’s sentience believable.
Heinlein’s excellent characterization extended to the other characters as well — love Mannie! And the lunar dialect, a mish-mash of predominately Western colloquialisms strongly influenced by Russian grammar, felt real. While not overly-descriptive, Heinlein’s attention to detail made it easy for me to picture a system of interconnected warrens, bustling with life. It was refreshing to see a vision of a future in which a scarcity of women establishes a respect for them, as opposed to property to be fought over. Not that this is an optimistic tale. It’s filled with politics and even the “good” guys manipulate the masses. But it is a tale of the innate desire to be independent, to be respected, and to be dealt with fairly.