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The Moon is a Harsh Mistress    by Robert A. Heinlein order for
Moon is a Harsh Mistress
by Robert A. Heinlein
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 1997 (1966)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

When I first read Hugo Award Winner The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, I was studying Automatic Theorem Proving, an early approach to the development of Artificial Intelligence. My interest in the possibility increased the appeal of Heinlein's sentient supercomputer Mike. It was clear then that Heinlein's AI was far in the future, if ever - which is a shame as he's a real charmer. Mike shares none of the sinister characteristics of Arthur C. Clarke's Hal, nor does he have anything in common with Harlan Ellison's horrific machine intelligence in his short story I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream - from the Loonie point of view anyway; Lunar Authority might see it differently.

Heinlein's 2075 Luna is modelled on Australia and Botany Bay; it's a dumping ground for Earth's criminals and dissidents ('the only open prison in history') that has evolved into a unique society. Despite the fact that there are now generations born free on Luna, it is still heavily exploited by Earth's Lunar Authority and its Warden, Mort the Wart. Language is economic and includes a mix of imported slang, with 'cobber' from the Aussies and 'Gospodin' and 'tovarishch' of Russian origin. The Loonie philosophy centers on Heinlein's famous TANSTAAFL 'there ain't no such thing as a free lunch' - especially true in an environment in which air and water must be purchased.

The Loonies are muddling along (not very well since Earthworms' exportation of their products are fast using up non-renewable resources) and the Warden and his finks keep a close eye on the somewhat amateur Sons of Revolution, when private computer contractor Manuel Garcia O'Kelly becomes aware that the 'dinkum thinkum' he works with 'woke up' and is self aware. The Holmes Four computer was nicknamed Mycroft (Mike for short) by his first human friend, whom he calls Man. Mannie realizes the computer's sentience when Mike asks 'Why is a laser beam like a goldfish?' after playing a practical joke on the Authority by issuing a janitor a pay cheque for $10,000,000,000,000,185.15 (the last 5 digits were correct).

Mannie lost his left arm in an accident and has a dozen specialized prosthetics, including one with 'micromanipulators as fine as those used by neurosurgeons'. This and his computer training, a rare skill on Luna, give him regular contract work requiring access to Mike. Man decides that he'd better teach Mike about humor before one of his pranks gets out of hand, and offers to introduce him to other humans, 'not-stupids' at Mike's request. Despite a dislike for the powers-that-be, Mannie is pragmatic and apolitical until he meets the blonde and beautiful Wyoming Knott at a protest meeting where he ends up serendipitously. Wyoh becomes the first not-stupid introduced to Mike.

Mannie is a disbeliever - though by no means a fan of Authority, he's cynical about the chances of its overthrow. However he slowly changes his mind. Man, his mentor Professor Bernardo de la Paz, Wyoh and Mike start plotting (Mike's coordination and communication skills providing the only hope of success). Heinlein lays out a blueprint for revolution, with heavy use of propaganda, and the telephone system subverted to spy on Authority officials. The conspirators develop a secret weapon; a catapult to throw rocks at Earth, which has every advantage in both numbers and technological superiority. It's fascinating to watch the plot unfold, and to take in the details of Heinlein's future society. These include marriage types like clans, groups, polyandries and Mannie's own very stable line marriage. Wyoh by the way, is a professional host-mother, something the author wrote about long before it became commonplace.

You might not agree with Heinlein's vision of the future and the philosophy that he preaches in stories like this one, but it makes great science fiction, with some useful life lessons thrown in ... 'when faced with a problem you do not understand, do any part of it you do understand, then look at it again.' I recently listened to an audiobook version from Recorded Books with George Wilson as narrator. He did a great job on Mannie and Mike, though some of the minor characters tended to sound the same. Although The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was not my favorite of Heinlein's works on first reading, it is the one that has stayed with me longest. It's a patriotic (if you're a Loonie) tale like Independence Day, but a better, much deeper story. And though Mannie develops through the tale and is an engaging protagonist, Mycroft Homes is its true hero.

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