Friday, August 12, 2011

The moon is a harsh mistress

Robert A. Heinlein
G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1966 (my copy is from Orb, 2007)
Size: Medium (my copy has 382 pages)
Theme: Futuristic space adventure
Narrative: first-person
Main character: Manuel Garcia O’Kelley
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

This is one of Heinlein’s most acclaimed works. It won both the Nebula and Hugo awards. It is a tale of revolution and the will to stand against all odds for your beliefs. Not surprisingly, the novel calls upon some well-established references, such as the 4th of July in the United States, as well as earlier revolutions. Although it delivers as much sci-fi as any aficionado will desire, the story spends considerable time describing the sociological and practical implications of a lunar colony. Written in 1966, it explored some very novel concepts for its time. The lunar society, despite being largely comprised of criminals and “volunteers” exported there by Earth’s nations, evolved out of necessity to become organized and extremely self-controlled. Crime is dealt with swiftly and ignorance of common-sense rules is not acceptable.

The story follows Manuel, aka Mannie, a peaceful and generally unknown handyman, with a particular knack for electronics and programming, as he becomes involved with a small group of cohorts who despise the way the lunar colony is seen by Earth and how its inhabitants are treated. After an anti-authority meeting one wrong, right at the start of the novel, Mannie is forced to take action against the tyranny of the Federated Nations. Through his unique link to a sentient computer, who only recently had become self-aware, and who features a peculiar sense of humor, he and his fellow revolutionaries manage to put together a plan to turn the Lunar colony into a self-sustaining, independent, nation.

The novel switches very nicely from family scenes over dinner, through revolutionary planning meetings, to action-packed scenes. Heinlein is able to create a reasonably credible story of a very small nation fighting a tremendously larger opposing force, and patches some interesting means of using science and technology towards those goals; there is an obvious parallelism to the war efforts by the US at the time the novel was written. The main character is a lovable person, and is very well explored, even though a little too smart and competent. The secondary cast is equally interesting, although we always see them through Mannie’s eyes. What is most interesting is the depiction of how the Lunar society operates, and its core motto “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, TANSTAAFL). I found the pace to be enjoyable and I could not put the book down until I was through with it.

*** Spoiler Alert ***
(Warning: the following text contains information that may hamper/ruin how much you enjoy the book):

The small revolutionary movement grows and overtakes the small contingent of troops at the lunar colony. Their main problem becomes how to handle Earth, which they manage through a series of deceptions, bluffs, and the plan to throw steel-girdled rocks using the catapult that was previously employed to ship grain to Earth. Mannie and Mike are able to keep their plan rolling up to the point when the different Earth nations start to buckle and sequentially recognize the Lunar colony as a sovereign nation, effectively ending the war. At the end of the book, the Professor is not able to withstand any longer the strain of recent events and dies. Mike, having lost connection to many of its parts through bombardments, loses self-awareness and becomes just another efficient computer.

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