Robert Heinlein’s classic novel from 1966, The moon is a harsh mistress, explores the idea of a lunar colony declaring independence from Earth. Science fiction writer Anthony Ha found the book fun and exciting reading.
“All the details of how they actually put these different cells of the revolution together – all of that is really interesting, and he explains it just so clearly, and it just has this real narrative drive,” Ha says in section 516 of it The nerd’s guide to the galaxy podcast. “There are these big fights at the end, and I think he writes fights without a doubt just as well as everyone else in science fiction. So the whole book is read incredibly fast.”
The nerd’s guide to the galaxy host David Barr Kirtley agrees that Heinlein is a naturally born storyteller. “He’s a very appealing writer,” Kirtley says. “You can see why he took the pulp magazines by storm when he showed up. He attracted a lot of fans and helpers, and I can see that. I can see why you would be charmed by his intelligence and talent.”
The moon is a harsh mistress, which depicts a lunar society without laws or government, has been an inspiration to many young libertarians. Political journalist Robby Soave enjoyed the book’s mix of science fiction and politics. “I feel that if you described it – exactly – as an instruction manual for building a catapult crossed with a libertarian manifesto / sales speech, it would alienate everyone,” he says. “But the book is really good, despite the fact that it is very much about the two things. It’s a very fair introduction to our philosophy, with some really juicy sci-fi stuff. “
Unfortunately, one aspect of the novel that has dated poorly is its stereotypical view of gender roles. Science fiction professor Lisa Yaszek was initially fascinated by the book’s female lead Wyoming Knot, and was disappointed that the character plays such a small role in the story. “I do not want to be a woman in the revolution sitting and serving coffee,” Yaszek says. “It really makes you understand what women were upset about in the 1960s.”
Listen to the full interview with Anthony Ha, Robby Soave and Lisa Yaszek in episode 516 of The nerd’s guide to the galaxy (over). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Robby Soave about Robert Heinlein vs. Ayn Rand:
Ten years ago, most people who came to the libertarian movement came because of Ron Paul; so 20 years or more before, it was from reading Ayn Rand. There was certainly a period – probably all the way – where The moon is a harsh mistress was a gateway. I mean, in many places the professor just gives an almost forced libertarian pitch – in fact, in the same way that Rand does in his writings, where it just goes from plot to: “OK, here’s clearly what the author thinks about something, so let me just get my manifesto out there. ” Now Heinlein makes it much, much more artful than Ayn Rand does, though it’s not a high bar to handle at all.
Anthony Ha weider The moon is a harsh mistress vs. The displaced:
The displaced is quite close to representing my political philosophy, and The moon is a harsh mistress is not, so by comparing the two politically, I can sort of see, “Oh, I agree with this suspicion of the state, this suspicion of authority, and trying to have a much more free society is very interesting.” … I think The displaced allows for a little more argumentation, which I think is what is missing from a lot of later Heinlein. There’s something similar to an argument, but it’s really just one character saying something that’s obviously wrong, and then they’ll give lectures in many pages. I’m sure it happens in The displacedbut I think it’s less obvious, at least to me, when it does.
David Barr Kirtley on conflict:
In it “Turkish bylexicon” there’s a post called “The Cozy Catastrophe” and this is where the world ends – it’s this post-apocalyptic thing – but the characters have it great. They get cars and weapons, they can go to the mall and take whatever they want, they get girls. So it is this strange juxtaposition where the world is in this state of horror but the characters have a magnificent old time. And I feel like it [The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress] equivalent to that of a revolution. It’s like “The Cozy Revolution.” This really makes a revolution seem like a great time, just a lot of fun. I read this book and I think, “I want to start a revolution. It looks really amazing.”
Lisa Yaszek on artificial intelligence:
Asimov is exploring [AI] in the robot stories of the 40s and 50s. At the end of his robot sequence, he imagines world computers running everything and carefully controlling humanity. Asimov always imagines them as nanny and nurses that they will take care of us, just like babysitters – like the best babysitters ever. But Mike [in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress] is a friend and I think it’s different. He’s so much more of a fully realized person, and that’s new in science fiction at the time. And he’s a good guy. He’s not a raucous robot. … Asimov changes the tide, in the 40s and 50s, then you get a series of great robots and AIs that go up to around Mike. Then of course we get HALLand then it starts going south again.