This will be the first in a series of posts where I review the media that I consume. These will differ a bit from your standard critques in that I’d like to use them as a forum for documenting techniques to use in my own work. Without further ado…
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
by Robert A. Heinlein
Novel / Science Fiction / 1966
First and foremost, TMiaHM is a book about politics. It chronicles the revolutionary action of a group of colonists living on Earth’s moon, which had previously been established as a penal colony, although has since evolved into something more since the original convicts have procreated. It happens to take place on the moon, and this is the fact that puts it squarely in the realm of science fiction, but if you changed locales, I’d argue that the core of the book, and much of it’s merit, would still be very much in place.
This is a story that works as a thinly veiled metaphor for disenfranchised people anywhere. But it’s not necessarily a story that thrives on grandiose themes. Ideals like patriotism and government’s social contract with its constituents are certainly present, but they took a back seat to the details. For me, what made this book work was the meticulous care with which the plans of the revolutionaries were constructed. It almost read like a how-to manual at times. The way that these pragmatic plot elements were married with the loftier social/political/moral themes was exquisite.
I’d highly recommend this book not only to fans of science fiction, but to anyone interested in revolutionary political action, even in the more conventional sense.
+ While at first I found the terse dialect of the Lunar inhabitants irritating, it was natural enough to make for smooth reading once I became accustomed to it (versus something like A Clockwork Orange, ughh). I eventually found that the characterization it provided for the entire group of protagonists (they needed to speak quickly because they lived in such a dangerous place) far outweighed my initial queasiness with it. +1
+ Many of the fictional concepts were based on social or soft sciences, rather than purely embellishing on concepts of physics or technology (for example, marriage practices or the lack of a police force). I found this refreshing and it also made for a more accessible plot. It was easier to relate to the characters because they weren’t living in some far distant future that made their lives incredibly different than my own. They found ways to deal with their particular situation (living on the moon) that related more to human needs and nature than dreamy scientific concepts. +5
+ The lack of a focus on technology also helped to create a timeless quality. The book was written in the mid-60s, but there is very little to give that away (the focus on revolutionary politics notwithstanding). The best science fiction accomplishes this feat effortlessly (albeit it is easier to accomplish in print than with film). There’s nothing that can take you out of the narrative faster than reading about a distant future that seems far too rooted in the near past. +3
+ The political ideologies in the book were pushed more as ideas than ideals. While I suppose that the author’s ideological leanings were clear in the text, I never felt like they were being forced on me (*coughcough, Ayn Rand). Instead it felt like an open invitation to consider lots of different ideas. This may partially be based on my expectation that Heinlein was notorious for writing Rand-esque propaganda pieces. +2
+ Overall the themes were very humanist. How do people react to social/political pressures? How do you motivate those that are unhappy to take action? For that matter, what really makes people happy? Placed against the backdrop of the cold, inhospitable setting and especially contrasted/highlighted with one main character, who happens to be a thinking machine, these themes made for a compelling read. +4
- I found the overall plot structure lacking. The interest curve seemed to peak too early and drop off too soon (i.e. I found the best parts were in the middle of the story). The climax was a bit of a let down (relative to the rising action) and the denouement was protracted. -4
- The character development left a little to be desired. It didn’t bother me tremendously, but I felt that the characterization of groups of people left individual characters out in the cold more often than not. Many of even the core group of characters felt somewhat hollow and redundant. It wasn’t as critical an error as it would be in other novels, however, since the narrative focused more on the plight of the masses and ideological matters than any individual threads. -½
11½ Lunar Penal Colonies