I read Heinlein a lot in my early teens. My dad was a big fan and I must have spent whole summers just reading Arthur C. Clarke’s space adventures and Heinlein more intellectual take on the future.

The Moon a Harsh Mistress (TMIAHM) is one of the few Heinlein I hadn’t read yet and it surprised me just how political it is. And how this grated on my nerves. The effect is similar to the one caused by The Chronicles of Narnia: I’m sure the religious metaphors would go over my head if I’d read them as a kid, but now they’re too obvious, there’s An Agenda behind it all.

This worries me. Although I’m assuming I wouldn’t notice the political and religious hints as a young reader, is that the same as not being influenced by them? Maybe this a non-question in the end. After all, books exist to mean something, to teach us about the world. Before I become a mother I have to figure how to deal with these issues…

TMIAHM is one of Heinlein’s most famous novels, the story of a revolution. Very much as the Heinlein I remembered, it’s not so much about battles and guns as it is about strategic decisions and planning. A sort of how-to guide.

In 2075 the moon is a mining colony of 3 million inhabitants called Luna. It’s tightly controlled by Earth through the Lunar Authority, that ensures the population remains poor, oppressed and under control. Most “Loonies” are criminals, exiles and their descendants. The colony has a horrible reputation on Earth, but because of the harsh conditions they live in, Loonies discovered they don’t really need a judicial system, or organized government for that matter. If you do harm, the community will shun you and more likely than not, you’ll be chucked in an air vent one night.

Luna is a hard place, where the “survival of the fittest” rules. Many newcomers don’t make it, either because they’re physically weak or because they don’t adjust to Luna’s unspoken rules, like women’s place at the top of the food chain (more on that later). Humans live in families or clans, that ensure the social protection a government would provide.

In TMIAHM, organized government is an evil only surpassed by (gasp!) taxes. Actually, the overall message of the book is: the freedom of the individual to direct his or her own life, no matter what. The lines below are spoken by the Professor, the “Rational Anarchist” of the small group who leads the revolution:

Mankind has not done well when saddling itself with governments.

I believe in capital punishment under some circumstances … with this difference. I would not ask a court; I would try, condemn, execute sentence myself, and accept full responsibility.

In terms of morals, there is no such thing as ‘state.’ Just men. Individuals. Each responsible for his own acts.

I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do” “You would not abide by a law that the majority felt was necessary?” “Tell me what law, dear lady, and I will tell you whether I will obey it.”

Comrades, I beg of you — do not resort to compulsory taxation. There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.

Well, you get the point. Luna’s society works perfectly on its own, without a pesky central government. Everyone sticks by the rules because that’s how you survive, not because they’re written somewhere. If someone does wrong, it’s not society in general that gives out punishment, but the family and friends of the victim. Swiftly, with no trial. What happens to a victim that’s friendless? No idea.

So, to preserve this way of life, Lunar Authority must go. Loonies had been talkin’ ’bout a revolution for a while, but it’s the meeting of three contrasting figures that really gets things going. Mannie, a computer technician, Wyoh, an enthusiastic-yet-naïve young female agitator, and the Professor, an elderly academic, become the leaders of the rebel movement. To support them there’s Mike, the supercomputer owned by Earth who controls all activities on Luna. Without Earth’s knowledge, Mike begins to gain a personality and become “alive”. The only person to realize this is Mannie, who recruits Mike to help the revolution.

The revolution is “libertarian” and “democratic” and Heinlein makes everything it sound so easy, so simple, almost like a mental puzzle. There’s almost no blood-shed and there’s no deviation from the plan. There’s no need for coercion,  concerns over funding, snitches and other nastiness. Mike, the supercomputer is there to help and become the plot device that avoids the inconsistencies in the authors’ ideas. Mike is able to finance the revolution through digital accountancy, he spies on Authority and any traitors of the revolution. He sets up a Luna-wide communications system that’s impossible to breach. He cannot be corrupted, bribed, threatened or tortured for information. He organizes a bombardment of Earth with accuracy to ensure that few human lives are lost. Revolution is fun! Democracy is easy!

The rebels win, although with Mike’s help that victory sounded lame. So what do the libertarians do right after they’re independent? They rig the first elections (with the use of Mike) and set up a “parliament” where they dump all those bothersome Loonies that question the power of the top cadres of the revolution.

So yes, I had a few problems with the political side of the book. Googling about Heinlein and remembering the stories I read as a kid, I realize he can be very heavy-handed when defending his “freedom of the individual” mantra, even more so in his later books.

Another of Heinlein’s favorite visions seems to be the benefits of polygamy over monogamy and how it makes adults happier and children safer. In Luna, the men to women ration is 2:1, which leads to polyandrous and polygamous marriage arrangements among the clans. From this Heinlein defends that in such a society, women are more valued.

Here we are, two million males, less than one million females. A physical fact, basic as rock or vacuum. Then add idea of tanstaafl [there is no such thing as a free lunch]. When thing is scarce, price goes up. Women are scarce; aren’t enough to go around – that makes them most valuable thing in Luna, more precious than ice or air, as men without women don’t care whether they stay alive or not. Except a Cyborg, if you regard him as a man, which I don’t.

His argument is that women are better treated in this scenario because they have the upper hand and the “right” to choose who to take home. It’s a miracle that under such circumstance, women don’t become sex slaves and breeding machines. Instead, men play fair and defer to women about their choices. To Heinlein, women are more valuable than ice or air, and for that they should be celebrated and protected – hurrah *confetti*.

Valued they may be, but in Luna women don’t should any power outside the home. Actually, in the only fight scene of the book, we know how bad things are because “even women” join the fight. In another scene someone asks our hero “Do you cook?” and he answers seriously “No, I’m married”. Wyoh, the one woman who’s part of the revolutionary leadership, although clearly smart and confident, is constantly being flirtatious and shown the naïvety of her believes.

I get it, it was the 60s. Heinlein is actually considered a feminist because, unlike other female sci-fi characters of the time, his women are part of events and influence them, they’re not technologically-challenged or afraid of a good fight. I just wished he had gone a little further and, for instance, made the Professor a woman.

I can appreciate what he did with Mannie. After all, it was the 60s and his hero was a disabled (one arm missing), mixed-race man who spoke like a Russian, with an unconventional marriage and with the power to bomb the US.

Just to end with a more positive note, here’s three things I did like (a lot!) about TMIAHM: 1) Mannie (for the reason above), 2) the discussions about the theory of compartmentalization and how to improve the traditional cell system in a revolution. How to make it as efficient and underground as possible, while still maintaining reliable communications. 3) every once in a while, Heinlein makes the reader stop and consider almost direct questions:

“Under what circumstances is it moral for a group to do that which is not moral for a member of that group to do alone?”

Uh… that’s a trick question.

It is the key question, dear Wyoming. A radical question that strikes to the root of the whole dilemma of government. Anyone who answers honestly and abides by all consequences knows where he stands – and what he will die for.”

***

Other thoughts: 50 Books Project, Becky’s Book Reviews, The Book Nest, unter randomonium, The Two Blessings, The Avid Reader, Dolce Belezza (yours?)


Advertisements