“The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” is a science fiction novel with political overtones detailing a lunar revolt with the aid of an artificial intelligence. The dialogue is humorous, the story is absorbing, and the science fiction angles are unique. Heinlein explores several creative ideas that will immerse you into the story as you follow along with the characters of Luna through their revolution.
The story is told through the eyes of the lunar colonist Mannie, who has befriended an AI named Mike. Mike was born out of the web of computer systems being utilized to run all of Luna. Mannie introduces Mike to other revolutionaries Prof and Wyoming, and becomes an integral part of the revolution, often used to project their “odds” of success in overthrowing the government and claiming independence. The group is spurred to action when the AI informs them that food shortages would likely occur if resources shipped to Earth are not stopped.
Luna society is mainly anarchistic, left to police themselves for the most part. Many cultural norms are established out of necessity. An alternative to the traditional family structure is present on Luna due to the male to female ratio being nearly 2 to 1. The presence of more males results in polygamy, as husbands usually have co-husbands with a shared wife. Mannie explains the structure as a positive one to an outsider in one instance, using the example that if a husband dies at work then it’s convenient to have another man already present to help raise the kids. The lifestyle of Luna is presented matter-of-factly and being “just the way it is” because it’s the only way that made sense. “Fish aren’t aware of water.”
Mike is a fledgling AI that has all the text-book knowledge in the world but a lot of fun is created through how little he understands about human thought. In the beginning he practices telling jokes to Mannie. Eventually Mike finds humor in wartime strategies, as Luna and Earth go to war. Mike describes what he feels are “Orgasms” when a series of well timed strikes all go off without a hitch against Luna’s targets on Earth. One of the more creative aspects of the book is in developing a weapon system that could combat Earth, when Luna had no weapons at all. It turns out that hurdling rocks is mostly just a physics problem that is easily solved by an AI, and a catapult of sufficient size could get a rock through lunar orbit, into Earth’s orbit, and onto Earth’s surface with catastrophic results.
Heinlein uses the establishment of a new government body on Luna and the negotiations with Earth as a platform for exploring political philosophies. One of the many ideas explored that grabbed my attention, were the restrictions the newly liberated revolutionaries begin to impose upon themselves. The leaders of the revolution allow the new government to run with some autonomy with the understanding that the politicians running it would never be able to change the rules because they would never agree with each other on the proposed changes. Having set the system up that way, Manuel and Prof felt they bought some time in leaving to do the negotiations on Earth. I felt that it was funny or at least interesting, that on purpose, the revolutionaries chose a less than optimally efficient government.
I continue to enjoy reading these classic sci-fi novels for the perspective an author provides in how they imagine the future can be. Communication with the AI Mike is done primarily through telephone. Dialing a special phone number. When Mike is introduced to new people he is capable of taking on a completely new persona. Michelle was present when Wyoming contacted the AI. The same AI, same personality, different persona. And why should an AI restrict itself to existing as one static being? It was an interesting idea. I also came to the realization that I had the preconceived notion that an AI is something that would be exclusively accessible through a computer terminal or some other internet connected device. If I took myself back in time to when the phone system was the primary method of communication, maybe I would have also written an AI character that you would call up over the phone. The authors Heinlein, Asimove, Gibson, Card, and more i’m just forgetting at the moment, were all so far ahead of their time, I feel extremely blessed to have their entire works available for me to catch up on. Sometimes I feel unworthy to critique or give these books anything less than a 10/10, but these are just my thoughts. Hopefully any egregious notions I’ve had about the books i’m reading will be buffered by the namesake of my site Monkeyscrolls. I’m a monkey. I don’t mean to sound self deprecating, but these books are written by geniuses, and if a monkey can help convince you to read even one of these books, then i’ll consider my job done.
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