The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress - Review by Kyle, Teen Blogger
In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, author Robert A. Heinlein gives a complex look at revolutionary ideals, their cost, and the reality of conflict between societies. Political ideas on these topics are presented and discussed often throughout the novel, but they are done so in such a way to make it interesting reading, even for those who may disagree. Its well-developed characters and comprehensively detailed setting make it a smart science-fiction tale, with impressively realistic sensibilities.
At its core this novel is a tale of conflict. Unlike many of its contemporaries, it is not only concerned with the conflict of war. It deals also with the conflict between societies, and conflicts of ideas. These confrontations are rendered with depth and elegance, thanks in part to the tight plotting of the story.
Of the two belligerent groups, the protagonists are on the side of Luna, a colony on the moon formed by prisoners sent from Earth and their descendants. The opposing force is the Federated Nations, a government that controls a large part of the Earth, and administrates on the Moon. These two societies are profoundly different, yet the Federated Nations have complete control over Luna’s government, making the political climate somewhat of a powder keg at the beginning of the story.
Throughout the novel, we see the effects of the oppressive colonial government on the Moon, and the eventual revolution against it. This is shown through the first-person narration of Manuel “Mannie” Davis, a computer technician charged with maintaining the colony’s master computer. In the first act of the novel Mannie befriends Bernardo de la Paz, an anarchist intellectual, and Wyoh Knott, a revolutionary agitator. Through these characters, his eyes are opened to the world of those who fight against the Lunar Authority. With his access to the central computer system, Mannie is an asset to the revolutionary cause, and he becomes a central member of the budding revolution.
Standing alone, Heinlein’s characters would be strong and well-developed, however, it is his excellent plotting that truly allows them to shine. The events of the novel are detailed, and follow one another beautifully, each character acting believably throughout. At many points, it felt more like reading a non-fiction account of these events, with the sense of the real world that comes along with that.
This inherent sense of reality allows the novel’s themes to be discussed and examined thoroughly, without descending into banality. It is impressive that, even when it errs towards the political, it remains a thoroughly enjoyable to read. Interestingly, the events that transpire do not inspire confidence in all of the political ideas espoused by the protagonists. This is an unusual decision, but one that reinforces that pervading sense of reality.
A major theme throughout the novel is authoritarianism and the corruption often associated with it. We see this in the Lunar Authority’s disregard for the well-being of its populace and the state of earthly governments. Heinlein’s own distaste for authoritarianism is particularly visible in the character of the Warden, the leader of the Lunar Authority. The Warden and the Authority use violence to keep the populace subjugated, all the while securing their own high-class lifestyles. This is a large factor in the revolution and convinces many of Luna’s citizens to aid the revolutionaries.
Interestingly, later in the novel Heinlein shows that despite their radical aims, the government instituted by the revolution is not necessarily better than that of the Authority. He posits that power may truly corrupt and that a change of government does not ensure a better life. Whether or not you agree, this is certainly a bold choice; where so many novels would agree wholeheartedly with the stances of their protagonists, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress does not.
This divergence between the intents and idealized beliefs of the revolutionaries and the government that may result presents another major theme. The novel seems to ask an interesting question on whether a violent revolution can ever better the life of the populace. This is a question it does not conclusively answer, leaving the readers to make their own judgments.
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is a relentlessly intelligent novel. It discusses heavy themes with complexity, and it doesn’t always seek to offer easy answers. It is certainly not light reading, but I enjoyed it greatly. I temper this recommendation with that, if you find political discourse boring or are looking for action, this might not be the best choice. This novel is one to think over, and its ideas invite dissection. It would be particularly enjoyable to those looking for complex science-fiction. This novel is available at Halifax Public Libraries.
Editor's Note: This book can be found in our Adult Fiction collection.