The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein


Title: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Published: 1966Hugo Award 1967

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“The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” is possibly Heinlein’s most Heinlein-y novel, which makes it among his greatest. Good hard SF, cutting edge (for it’s time) social and political ideas, a fast-paced plot, and a charismatic “man’s man” to carry it all on his broad shoulders.

Heinlein obviously had an enormous respect for the practical engineer, the jack-of-all-trades, the blue collar guy who can fix his own fridge, build a chicken coop from scrap lumber, and keep his buddy’s space suit functioning for a critical extra five minutes. Manny is a perfect example of this character genre and what makes this novel so intriguing and polular over the decades is how the circumstances he faces pushes him far out of his comfort zone.

Although I would not generally describe outstanding characterization as one of Heinlein’s strengths, there is no question that he did a spectacular job in this case. We watch Manny push beyond his natural limits, grow emotionally through his relationship with Mike and yet still stay true to himself and his character. At the end of the novel, Manny comes back to where he started, through revolution, personal upheaval, and loss, a subtly changed man. One of the more touching character developments seen in science fiction.

If there is one flaw in “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” it’s the same flaw seen in the vast majority of Heinlein’s novels – the total lack of depth in every female character in the story. One wonders how a man who remained married to the same woman for four decades, one even described as intelligent and fiercely independant, could have written so very many weak female characters. But that is an article for another time.*

Overall, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” is a classic of both Heinlein and science fiction generally. It is the book that I give to people who have never read sci fi or Heinlein as it exemplifies so well what can be created by a master in our often maligned and stereotyped genre.

Lisa K. Dec. 12, 2012

* The huge exception to the weak female rule is “Friday”. This novel, written in 1982 and among his last, features the title character as one of SF’s more interesting individuals, male or female. It has always been my private theory that she was an apology for his often lack lustre and stereotyped female characters over 40 years of writing.

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