Sunday, March 30, 2014

On "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress" by Robert A. Heinlein ****

I'd been told to read Starship Troopers by people in the know, this more than Heinlein's classic Stranger in a Strange Land. I ended up reading neither, as both were out of stock at the library. And I can  say that the choice of this book was not a bad one. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is essentially a story about the founding of a nation, a fight for independence--but with many odd social and technological considerations included.

It starts off more or less as a story of friends, a man and a computer--a very intelligent computer, with access to records that affect an entire colony. This computer appears to have self-awareness. (Having just seen Her, I had to think often about how many other people this computer was pretending to be "specially" linked to. It was Mike to the narrator, Michelle to a later friend. Events in the book suggest it was not playing both sides, friends to both rebels and approved government.)

The narrator, Manuel, is not particularly political, but somehow he gets drawn into a meeting that seems vaguely communistic--though as the text goes on, the eventual government that emerges appears to be more inclined toward anarchy and then finally something more like the U.S. government in its early days. There he meets a couple of folks, a man and a woman, who draw him into their attempts to free the moon from its owners on Earth (essentially, a UN-type board--ownership shared by all peoples). The issue is that the moon grows food for Earth, and the people of the moon are essentially treated like slaves (they see little in return for their work, though they don't pay taxes, and because they live on the moon, which has less gravity, they are not really free to return to Earth without health consequences). Manuel introduces the two agitators to Mike the computer, and together they all begin to hash out plans to sever ties with Earth.

Eventually, the novel becomes an account of war, one in which Mike takes a major role, saving the Lunies from encroachments of troops sent from Earth and plotting out large rocks to send to Earth as asteroid bombs that eventually convince the Earthlings to grant the Lunies their independence. Strangely, by the novel's end, one has a certain amount of feeling for the computer, who becomes a very real type of character.

Also of interest in the novel is Heinlein's take on families. With a lack of women on the moon, families take on a group form: one woman with several husbands, and then eventually several men and women together. I've read of the former in certain Asian cultures where women are in short supply, but I don't think I've read any anthropological works that would feature something akin to what Heinlein describes.

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