Review: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Book review
Written by Robert A Heinlein
Gollancz hardback
Release date Out now

Mannie is a computer engineer at an open prison colony on the moon. Along with Mike – a computer that has developed a consciousness – and revolutionaries Prof and Wyoh, he helps plot the overthrow of the oppressive Lunar Authority…

Robert A Heinlein was once considered one of the titans of SF literature along with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke, but these days (in the UK at least) he’s not held in quite the same regard. He’s best known to some genre fans for writing the original story behind Starship Troopers and is frequently pigeonholed as a militaristic, right wing writer.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, one of his key novels, is a reminder that Heinlein was a writer of vision and ambition, and also that his politics were actually very difficult to categorize. The characters in this novel are revolutionaries fighting against a police state, and as Mannie, Prof, Wyoh and Mike discuss tactics and what price victory, their debates often feel as if they’re ripped from a radical manifesto, with Heinlein taking cues from Marxism, anarchism and libertarianism: this novel is hardly a simplistic right wing treatise.

These political deliberations, along with the sometimes complex discussions of physics and engineering, means that The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is occasionally a dry, fact-heavy read (no simple pulpy thrills here). But as the revolutionaries’ plans start to kick in, their fight becomes increasingly gripping and is filled with interesting ethical dilemmas.

The story is narrated by the one-armed computer technician Mannie, a character who considers himself apolitical until he is placed in a situation where he can help overthrow the much-hated Authority. This narration, which cuts back on prepositions and is littered with the distinct vernacular of the lunar colonies (“dinkum thinkum”, “talk-talk”), does take a while to get used to, but Mannie soon becomes an engaging guide to the intricacies of lunar life. Matt McAllister

VERDICT: 8/10
An intelligent and riveting lunar drama.

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