First things first: although it is not without troubles, I enjoyed The Moon is a Harsh Mistress a lot. It’s exciting and interesting, even half a century after it was first published. A classic, yes.
So, troubles? The main problem is the pacing. The narrator – one of the main characters – doesn’t dose his telling one bit. He simply starts, and he rushes to the ending, all in short, chronological paragraphs. There’s a lot of information to digest, with lots of detail, at a high tempo. As a reader, there was not a moment to breathe. The book follows this template: “This happened, we planned this, we did that, repeat ad infinitum.” Boring in a way, but the story told is action packed, so you just tag along. Heinlein lets his narrator speak in a kind of mildly broken English – but whether this is a hybrid form of English spoken on the Moon, or just echoes the Slavic roots of the narrator isn’t really clear. He uses some Russian words, and, more annoyingly, he hardly uses any articles – the Russian language doesn’t have articles. It gives a bit of flavor to the book, true, but makes it harder to read too. I would have dropped the no-article thing, since it doesn’t really advance the story. The choice Heinlein made for the narrative voice also results in a book that is mainly telling, there’s hardly any showing – some readers might object to that. (The same goes for the lack of character development.)
Narrative technicalities aside, Heinlein is an interesting, fairly original thinker. I say fairly, since the subject matter of the book was undoubtedly shaped by the Cold War context it was written in. The book reads as a revolutionary manual, and makes some interesting observations about human societies. This is definitely “social sciences fiction” too. Although some of Heinlein’s projections are probably off (rather naïve thoughts about what would happen on an isolated moon with a 1 to 10 female-male ratio, or about the self-regulating peacefulness of a lawless Luna full of convicts,…) or outdated by contemporary science (like the fact that Loonies live a lot longer because of low gravity), there’s a lot of other, dead-on thought packed in the 288 pages of my pocket edition.
To end, since this book deals with AI too, I want to stress Heinlein’s hands on take on consciousness, being alive, etc.: right away in the opening chapters the narrator brushes of possible critical remarks as just semantics… For all practical purposes Mike, the sentient supercomputer that plays a big role in the story, is alive indeed: Heinlein is my kind of no bullshit philosopher. (It is a shame though that Mike solves about every problem the other protagonists encounter. That’s lazy plotting.)
This was my first Robert A. Heinlein, I’ll read more of him for sure.
originally written on the 25th of September, 2015