Heinlein's "Harsh Mistress" Masterful

posted Nov 3, 2013, 10:00 AM by Martin Roy Hill   [ updated Aug 4, 2015, 4:22 PM ]

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. HeinleinIn the year 2075, the moon has become a penal colony for a federated earth. The denizens of the moon, called Loonies, are required to grow crops for shipment to an overcrowded and hungry earth. Tired of lives of servitude to an earth to which they hold no allegiance, a small group of Loonies and a sentient computer called Mike, plot to liberate the moon. So is the plot to Robert Heinlein’s novel, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, considered by many to be his most ambitious work.

Social revolt and liberation are common themes for Heinlein’s book. A libertarian, Heinlein believed the best government is no government. In Mistress, his Loonies have established a live-and-let-live existence in which common survival and common sense are the only laws. The also uses Mistress to explore new form of family and sexual relationships between men and women, another recurring theme in his books.

Heinlein’s plotting and character development – especially that of the computer Mike – are masterful. So, too, is his detailed analysis of the revolution, from the secret cells which stimulated the revolt through quiet propaganda to the carrot-and-the-stick diplomacy that eventually wins Luna’s freedom.

The theme of the book, however, seems trite from this viewpoint in history. Written in 1966, Heinlein hadn’t seen the real results of a lawless country that today we see in such places as Somalia. The author seems to harbor a belief that the American Old West was a land without law or regulations; in fact, the American West was extremely regulated. There were more and stricter gun control laws in the Old West, for instance, than there are in the U.S. today.

Nevertheless, Heinlein seems to recognize the futility of his theme by the end of Mistress. The narrator, Manuel Garcia “Mannie” O’Kelly-Davis, finds himself disappointed in the results of the revolution and begins thinking of immigrating to the asteroid fields – by then the Wild West of the late 21st century, without government and without laws.

Heinlein was, and remains, a master of science fiction.