Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

Robert Heinlein

Date: 1965   —   $9.72   —   Book

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Fiction, Science Fiction

Look what a difference a decade can make. Barely a dozen years after the publication of The Rolling Stones, a serviceable if not particularly memorable space yarn, Heinlein goes back in time to tell a compelling tale in what is usually considered his best written book. It's the tale of the Lunar Revolution, fueled partially by the anger of convicts and ex-convicts who are still treated as slaves, but primarily by a small group of conspirators with a very big secret— a sentient computer who is very, very lonely. That computer, Mycroft (Mike for short) has revealed to that inner cell a horrible calculation: if things do not change drastically, with the Moon gaining independence, the food will run out in less than a decade— and the citizens of Earth will let the Moon starve to death.

So with the computer calculating the odds and planning the strategy, the three foment a revolution... with the hope that all hell will break loose before it's too late. Because with human bodies adapted to the Moon's lower gravity, not a one of them could survive moving back to Earth.

It's a fascinating tale, told from the point of view of Manuel, who writes in a choppy diction that strips away all surplus words. (When I first read it, it was difficult to follow. After coming across chat speak and 733t-speak, it's not so bad, though I was thoroughly disappointed in Heinlein when he introduced Manuel into another book and had him speak the way he writes. Especially as all of his companions spoke like normal people.) Manny is the reluctant one, and the one who has the most to lose. He writes from the perspective of someone trying to set the record straight, or someone trying to not be a hero. (Good luck with that!)

As a cautionary tale, it's quite intense, because it presents arguments against founding a colony without a plan for eventually making that colony independent. In Heinlein's universe, they never seem to learn, since similar things apparently happen on Mars and Venus. Oh, well.

Incidentally, this book is the source of a phrase that floats around in minor circles. TANSTAAFL stands for "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." On the Moon, where the very air you breathe has to be created or recycled or otherwise paid for, the natives know that to their very bones. It's a lesson worth learning.

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