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The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

I just finished The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which was recommended to me as one of the least bad Heinlein books.

Published in 1966, the book imagines a grimly realistic future of resource-starved overpopulation on Earth, and harsh living conditions on a penal lunar colony. The story is told by our first-person narrator, a lunar convict and computer technician who recollects the moon's rebellion and declaration of independence. The book is written entirely in his slightly tiresome but basically decipherable lunar street slang.

It's interesting to judge how Heinlein's half-century-old technological predictions hold up: reasonably well, actually, with the unsurprising exception of the computer technology. Heinlein overshoots on his portrayal of an artificial intelligence, which is a basically human-acting main character. And he undershoots on the ubiquity and decentralization of computing power, mobile computing, and networking. But most other technical elements related to space travel, orbital mechanics, radio communication, disease, and colony construction seemed pretty well-considered and interesting to this reader.

The social themes of the book, however, are comparatively outlandish. Heinlein largely romanticizes a lawless, decentralized, anarchistic lunar society featuring vigilante justice masquerading as chivalry. The main characters gleefully eschew peace between Earth and Luna, instead manipulating the colonists into violently gambling their lives through propaganda and misinformation. Heinlein assures us that this is all for the greater good, not even once entertaining questions of the ethics of these tactics. In only one or two places is it offhandedly mentioned that such a society has a roughly 50% mortality rate, and even that is romanticized as having darwinian merit. It's difficult to tell if Heinlein is advocating, cautioning, or merely predicting that in the future, individual human lives will have little value.

My main practical criticism of the book is that a lot of boring pages are spent examining the implausible computer tech at the beginning, before the story itself gets interesting. The tedious slang-speak is also an annoyance, since it can be frustrating to parse if you're reading sleepily before bed time.

But on the bright side, there is genuine suspense and action in the latter half of the book, which has entertainment value almost justifying its 400 page length. I would recommend this book if you're in the mood for some retro-future sci fi from one of the biggest, if not the best, pioneers of the genre.

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