Monday, August 8, 2011

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

The Moon Is a Harsh MistressWritten in the mid-60s, just before the U.S. successfully launched a Moon mission, Heinlein's book seems now overly optimistic about colonizing space. The Moon, "Luna", has been used as a penal colony, similar to the way Australia was used, and after about 100 years, there are many citizens of Luna who have never been criminals, per se, but who are still living under the thumb of the Warden and the Authority of Earth.

Manuel "Manny" Davis (did Heinlein intentionally recycle surnames, or was he just being lazy?) is one of these, an ice driller turned computerman when he lost his left arm in a laser accident. He is the only person trusted to work on the main computer in the Warden's complex, as he can generally get it working properly when no one else is able to. His secret is that he has recognized that at some point, the computer has become self-aware, and he treats it as a person, and named it Mycroft "Mike" after Sherlock Holmes' smarter brother. Mike has developed a primitive sense of humor, and occasionally plays practical jokes on the humans. Manny meets with Mike when he does odd things, and convinces him that they are either not funny or "funny once," so he shouldn't do them again.

Manny inadvertently attends a meeting of a cabal of rebels in Luna City one afternoon, and when the Warden's goons attempt to break it up, a riot results in the death of the goons, a few casualties among the Loonies, and Manny becoming part of the conspiracy to free Luna. He befriends Wyoming Knott, an agent provocateur from Hong Kong Luna, and hides her from the authorities. He also introduces her to Mike, and when he includes Professor Bernardo de la Paz in the computer's circle of friends, the revolution really gets under weigh. Mike's capabilities give them the advantage that they need to make the odds of success no worse than 10 to 1, against.

A quote about one of the qualities of a good teacher:

"I liked Prof (de la Paz). He would teach anything. Wouldn't matter that he knew nothing about it; if pupil wanted it, he would smile and set a price, locate materials, stay a few lessons ahead. Or barely even, if he found it tough."

Interesting, too, that Heinlein recycles a plot idea here. We have a computer named Mike who wants to learn how to be human, or to understand humans better. In Stranger in a Strange Land, we get a human raised by Martians who needs to learn how to be human.

Gawd, I'm such an old patriotic softie. When the Loonies meet to draft their Declaration of Independence from Earth, and sign their names to it, "pledging their lives, fortunes and sacred honor", I got all weepy.

A good quote on government:

"What I fear most are affirmative actions of sober and well-intentioned men, granting to government powers to do something that appears to need doing."

The usual Heinlein themes of adult novels continue here, various flavors of polygamy, religious relativism, and a political philosophy of rational anarchy. This one's definitely part of the canon of scripture a la RAH.

No comments: