Heinlein, Robert. A. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.

NY: Putnam, 1966.

From the late 1950s on, I always read Heinlein’s newest book within months of its publication, and this one was no exception. It got me to thinking for some time afterwards about political systems in general and the requirements of a revolution. And boy, does he have a lot to say.

It’s the not-too-distant future and the nations of Earth, now formed into the Federation of Nations (a much stronger successor to the UN, amounting to full one-world government), have spent several generations shipping not only their ordinary criminals but their political undesirables to a penal colony on the Moon. Conditions are such, however, that after a year or so as a “loonie,” there’s physically no way you can return to Earth, so even those whose sentences have been completed are stuck there. But there are also quite a few theoretically volunteer colonists, so Luna’s population is now heavily mixed. Luna Authority under “the Warden” (as everyone calls him) runs everything — there are no laws in Luna, only Authority regulations — and the colony has a quota of tunnel-grown grain to meet and ship earthside. But while costs always go up, the price paid for grain never changes.

There are going to be food riots in a very few years, as Professor Bernardo Paz, highly respected freelance teacher and political troublemaker, tells computerman Mannie O’Kelly-Davis. The permanent residents of Luna have a choice between famine and revolution. What the Prof doesn’t know is that Mannie has discovered that Mike — MYCROFT HOLMES, the massive computer system that runs practically everything in Luna — has become sentient. Mike has a childish sense of humor, too, and he’d love to be involved in a revolution.

The rest of the book is the story of how the lunar uprising is put together, how it comes off, and what happens next, and along the way the author provides a plethora of lessons on how these things work — or could work, given access to a computer that completely controls society. We also learn how lunar society itself works, including a complete absence of lawyers, taxes, and representative government, as well as the numerous alternate systems of marriage that have evolved to suit the circumstances.

This is one of the great examples of SF as the “literature of ideas.” It’s a great deal of fun, too. They just don’t write ’em like this anymore.


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