Book: Moon is a Harsh Mistress

14 Sep

Second non-pony book in the hoard. Horde? Either works really. Anyway, below the break is the long form response. I rambled on quite a bit about it. Short version: It doesn’t hold up as well as some stories. Really heavy-handed with a lot of stuff I don’t agree with. Still has a decent story and is worth a read, but I’m not sure it should be considered a classic anymore apart from historical context.

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

This is a re-read for me. Enjoyed it quite a bit when I was younger. Heinlein was one of the first scifi authors I ever read, in fact. Though I didn’t know that until later. Didn’t realize that he wrote one of my favorite books as a kid until I saw it on a list of his works years later. Wasn’t really paying attention to authors when I was that young.

The book reminds me a lot of Atlas Shrugged, actually. Much better story, but same basic polemic that boils down to ‘see, I am right about everything’ with the story fine-tuned to get a result the author wants and sounds reasonable.

Anyway, this book is decently written. Could use some tips on dialect for one, but overall decent. It is showing it’s age more and more as I get older though. The preconceptions and assumptions of the author are really really obvious to me now. Learning about that sort of thing is kind of like being the fish that got pulled out of the water. You see the stuff everywhere. The biggest one is Heinlein’s fairly standard mid-20th century hetrosexual white male mindset. Even with all the free love and different standards of marriage, it’s all based on the assumption that humans are split into two distinct genders, that everyone is hetrosexual, and that both women and men have very clearly defined and standard positions and goals.

The other one is that Heinlein believes that people are basically decent people if goverment just gets out of the way. That corruption and crime are basically symptoms of something imposed from above, and if people were just left alone they’d fix all the problems that come up themselves. I think my favorite example is the idea that in a society with two guys for every girl, and no laws, there is no rape. Also the idea of a well-armed society is a polite society. Because all the criminal gangs, drug cartels, and gun-filled middle eastern nations are so polite. And we all know how rude and mean the gun and personal violence phobic Japanese are.

Plus, now that we are in the digital age, I’m finding the TANSTAAFL (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch) concept getting even thinner. Not that I fully agreed with Heinlein even as a teenager, but as I get older and actually think about such things I find I’m agreeing with less and less. Still think citizens should earn the right to vote though. That’s Starship Toopers though, a book that I talked about a long while back, but mostly enjoyed if memory serves.

On a less annoying level, it’s funny to see the tech finally getting dated. Like the computer AI needing a voice box to talk to people on the phone. Instead of just wiring the phone lines straight into the computer itself and having each phone synethsize the voice. There’s a point where the characters were worried that another computer technician would walk into the central computer core while the AI was on the phone and hear the voice. Like the computer was actually just talking out loud to the phone in the room like a person would.

This was somewhat stream of conciousness while I read it. Long enough that I wanted some during read thoughts down. Now I’m finished with it and can give a final verdict. It’s heavy-handed, but has a decent story at the core of it. I find that the older I get and the more thought I put into the subject, the more I disagree with Heinlein’s politics and philosophy. He is still a interesting storyteller. Sort of. A lot of the pony fan fiction I’ve read are better, but have to make allowances for how old this story is. Old enough that the tech is fairly laughable now that we are in the computer age.


Now for the follow-up section. This one might be worth your time, but there are better stories out there these days.

You Could Read This Instead: Empire from the Ashes by David Weber. It is a trilogy reprinted as one book, so just reading the first story in it would suffice. For those wanting just the first story, the title is Mutineer’s Moon. It doesn’t have the same revolutionary themes as Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, but it has a neat AI character, fate of the world, and some cool concepts. Plus none of the sexism of the Heinlein story.


Posted by on September 14, 2014 in Books 2014, Reviews


8 responses to “Book: Moon is a Harsh Mistress

  1. Cold in Gardez

    September 14, 2014 at 8:12 am

    Yeah, Heinlein’s stuff hasn’t really held up all that well. He gets a lot of knocks for one of his more infamous Stranger in a Strange Land quotes, too. “Nine times out of 10 when a woman gets raped it’s partly her own fault.”

    Oddly, Ayn Rand had a rape scene in Fountainhead that was played off as “but she really wanted it.” Seems to be a lot in common in their writing, as you note.

    • Griffin

      September 14, 2014 at 8:55 am

      Starship Troopers holds up decently well. I reread that just a year or two ago. Maybe that’s just because I recognized the junk in it even when I was much younger.

      As for that particular qoute, sadly, that seems to have been simply a somewhat widespread feeling of the time rather than a specific feature of either of them. Not sure that makes it better. I liked Stranger in a Strange land, more or less, but it’s one I would dread rereading for exactly that sort of thing.

    • Present Perfect

      September 14, 2014 at 4:55 pm

      That’s because they were both nuts, and The Fountainhead is a festering pit of literary sewage and crazy.

      • Griffin

        September 14, 2014 at 7:07 pm

        Yeah, gotta hand it to Heinlein that he was a much better author from a storytelling perspective.

  2. Viking ZX

    September 14, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    I can’t tell what I’m reading here. This started off as a book review, but then very quickly became social and political commentary asserting the blog author’s personal opinions and the “obvious” correctness thereof over the book in question. I was under the impression that this was a review, not a “my social and political view is obviously correct” site.


    • Griffin

      September 14, 2014 at 7:02 pm

      Then I’ve given you the experience of reading the book! So I guess that means the review was a partial success?

      I didn’t mean it as a ‘I am correct’ statement or rant. As always, these are pretty much just the ramblings that go through my head right after I finish (or sometimes during) reading the book. My intention this time was to simply comment that the author’s political views are very obvious in this book, that the cultural assumptions of the time were quite blatant, and that I noticed that I notice and disagree with those more now than when I first read it. My apologies if it got a bit muddled. Especially in that fourth paragraph.

      Thanks for pointing it out though. Don’t want to slide further down that particular slippery slope. I may not strive for that much objectivity, but I do want to stay focused on the story I read when I write theses and not wander off ranting about tangential subjects.

      • Professor Whooves

        September 15, 2014 at 1:08 am

        I don’t visit this blog for objective analysis. I like hearing your opinions, Griffin.
        However, I disagree that TANSTAAFL will ever fail to apply. Opportunity cost is a fundamental idea in economics and philosophy.

      • Griffin

        September 15, 2014 at 6:11 am

        I’m not opposed to the basic underlying concept. I just think that Heinlein uses it in a fairly specific fashion and that the precise way he means it is a little flawed.

        Also, good thing you aren’t here for objective analysis. I can do it, but I’m way to lazy to most of the time.


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