Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein

Lowdown: The residents of the moon rebel to free themselves from earth’s shackles.
Having read several imitations lately, I thought I’d go direct to the source and read the real thing: a classic science fiction book written by Robert Heinlein. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress presented itself to me: I always found the title interesting, even if the only thing I remember from reading it in my early teens was that I didn’t like it. Oh, how times have changed!
Told in first person by a resident of the moon (or rather, Luna) living there at the end of this century, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress tells us the story of a simple computer technician with not much of an ambition other than to live his life comfortably, and how – with the extensive help of a computer that becomes self conscious – this technician ends up in a small group of people leading a rebellion to free the residents of the moon from the earth that rules is with brute force. Some background is due here, and Heinlein supplies quite a lot of it: the moon was first established as the ultimate penal colony at the end of the twentieth century (much like Australia was in its early days of European settlement), but with time most of its population now comprises of innocent descendants of those so called criminals. Unable to stand the earth’s gravity again, the moon’s population is locked: they can’t go anywhere, and the earth is sucking its resources dry leaving hardly anything for lunars.
The storytelling has its very distinct style, with our hero using much sarcasm (and oh, how I loved him for that). The hero doesn’t use regular English but rather a slightly lunarized version which I have found slightly annoying at first till I realized how brilliantly realistic this is and how well it reflects on Heinlein’s portrayal of the story at the detailed and incredibly plausible level he does. It’s not just the language: Heinlein does not shy from providing scientific explanations and delving into some math. He does it, though, at a very “popular science” way that makes it very easy to digest, especially as it comes out of our hero’s mouth.
Most of all, Heinlein uses the platform he had created in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress in order to provide one of the most detailed analysis of society’s political structuring I have ever encountered. The way this analysis is done, closely fabricated with a very thrilling story while utilizing circumstances that are definitely science fiction but also very incredibly relevant to our lives today, is nothing short of brilliant. Amazingly brilliant; I found myself dissecting every word with much pleasure, the pleasure that comes when you see someone else pondering the same issues you do and the pleasure that comes when you see that someone extending your thoughts much further and providing you with nicely fabricated examples as evidence.
The political discussion is virtually all encompassing. It starts from discussions on how to best plot a revolution, and moves on to discussions concerning various social structure forms: anarchism, dictatorship, democracy, monarchy, you name it. To that extent, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress continues the discussion from what is probably Heinlein’s most famous book, Starship Troopers: Whereas in Troopers he seems to be mocking democracy in favor of a form of dictatorship, in Mistress he seems to be mocking democracy in favor of anarchy. Given that I have a warm fuzzy feeling towards the form of anarchy discussed in the book I kept on finding it more and more interesting. That said, I also found it depressing: like many others before him, Heinlein sees anarchy as doomed from the start given the one constant element of society: human nature.
That, however, should not distract from the depth of the discussion at hand. For a start, it's better to know what problems we're facing than hide our heads in the sand; and second, it's better to recognize all the problems our democracies face rather than blindly consider them to be the best form of government there is. On his side, Heinlein doesn’t leave things at the level of society at large; he given the exact same treatment to the social structure of families and to the relationships between sexes. Read the book, I’m sure you’ll be surprised to learn how many things we all take for granted and how many of those can be done differently.
By asking questions I had never thought before through the establishment of a detailed imaginary yet feasible world, Heinlein has created a science fiction classic that immediately jumps inside my list of all time favorite books.
Overall: In English, this book is called The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. In Hebrew, the way I originally read it, this book is called Aritsa Hee HaLevana. Frankly, I don’t care how you call this book; I just call it a masterpiece. This is a 5 out of 5 stars treasure of a book that has opened my mind and already has affected my thoughts.

1 comment:

Uri said...

I liked it from the first reading, and mainly because of Mike.