Saturday, December 3, 2016

October's Book, Finally: The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

It's worth noting I did read and review a book in October, with the original idea it'd be a bonus book. November was more about releasing my own material, and reading it too.

December has some great, great books I'll post.

The first of three (November's and December's are on their way):

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
Science Fiction (1966 - 382 pp.)

It's December in an even-numbered year, so you know what that means. More Heinlein!* (Completely coincidentally, as you can see from this being October's book.)

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is among the most reviewed books in science fiction history. A plot summary is here. As with the other popular books I write about on this blog, I'll write more about my reading experience.

My edition says, on the front, "His classic, Hugo Award-winning novel of libertarian revolution". The aforementioned revolution figures prominently, especially in the second and third parts of the book. The parts that appealed to me the most were the oddly human interactions between our Robocop-style protagonist Manuel O'Kelly Davis and Mike/Michelle/Adam Selene/whatever you want to call the most powerful computer in the Solar System. "That Dinkum Thinkum", the book's first part, explores this relationship before the later two books conclude that an all-knowing computer is best used to topple the corrupt Lunar government. Mike "knew almost every book on Luna, could read at least a thousand times as fast as we could and never forget anything unless he chose to erase, how he could reason with perfect logic, or make shrewd guesses from insufficient data... and yet not know anything about how to be 'alive'." (57) This juxtaposition of the human-ness Mike assumes throughout the book with his sheer inhuman-ness is what makes The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress great to me.

Political, legal and economic fiction is what I write. I love analyzing these themes from their "what if?" origins, toward their more serious or more entertaining directions. It's interesting to read Heinlein, an engineer noted for his intentionally outlandish settings,** take up the reins. Certain passages, like the mishmash "the classic 'Pearl Harbor' maneuver of game theory, a great advantage in Weltpolitick" (287) make my university days spin in their graves. Others, like the frequent satires of American politics I won't expand upon further in order to avoid spoiling the plot, had me in stitches. One of my favourite lines in the whole book is when O'Kelly Davis angrily notes, "I don't know how much to tell. Can't tell all, but stuff in history books is so wrong!" (296)

A few anachronisms take away from the action. The use of gigantic, mountain-mounted catapults to transport materiel from the Earth to the Moon recalls "The Brick Moon" more than it does the space craze of the '60s. In a post-Sputnik world, couldn't the transportation method have been more Sputnik-like and less like ancient warfare? Similarly, although the story is set in 2075-76, the characters' social attitudes feel uncomfortably Mad Men-era. Whether it's Mannie forcibly rescuing his platoonmate/fellow Cabinet member/love interest Wyoming "Why Not?" Knott, including a not-too-hard push on the buttocks, (35) or the bizarre judging of a capital case of flirting with the wrong woman, (159) I don't feel the future.

One of the best things The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress does is what it doesn't do. Wyoming is apparently very attractive. Everyone has multiple wives and husbands. The book has the word "mistress" in the title. Not once is a sex scene even plausible, though. There are times when it could possibly happen offscreen, such as any of the times Wyoming puts Mannie "to bed", but it is as though the political and social events these characters endure are so grandiose they make the seemingly all-important sex irrelevant.

Current pop culture nod: It's a shame Heinlein didn't live to see the release of Black Mirror. He probably would have been invited to write an episode.

Ease of Reading: 5
Educational Content: 4

*My forays into Heinlein:
December 2012: Stranger in a Strange Land, the last book of the venerable Book a Week
December 2014: WWII-era stories: "-And He Built a Crooked House" and "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag"
September 2016: Quora post referencing "-And He Built a Crooked House"

**See the aforementioned "-And He Built a Crooked House", as well as the fact that The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress takes place on a polygamous, grain-importing Moon.

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