I’d have rated it higher forty years ago, but today it didn’t stir me the way it once did, and I’d give it only 3 stars. What, as a young man, struck me as brash and admirable just sounds bitter and angry to me now. Not that there’s not a lot about this novel that’s impressive – it did win a Hugo after all, and many people think it was Heinlein’s finest work.
In 1966, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” was classic science fiction – a realistic view of what life on the Moon might be like, with science and engineering that made sense. It was clever and innovative, and far more accurate from a predictive point of view than most works at the time. And in addition to being good science fiction, its negativity aside, it was socio-political allegory in the grand style of “Star Trek.” Luna’s struggle for independence was closely modeled after the American Revolution, even to the extent of issuing its Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July. The role of imperialist England is played by the Federation of Nations, but it’s clear that Heinlein’s ire is aimed squarely at the former USA, which is blinded by it’s own arrogance. None of Earth’s nations are spared Heinlein’s wrath, but countries like China and India can at least see that co-existence with Luna is in everyone’s best interest.
In the late sixties, during the heart of the Cold War, Heinlein chose to write this book in first person with the accent of a Russian speaking English. That seemed cute back then, but today I simply found it annoying, and I’m not sure what the point of it was. He was a very angry man when he wrote it, perhaps because he viewed our growing involvement in Vietnam as a betrayal of what our founding fathers intended America to be – I really don’t know.
Heinlein was well-known as a libertarian/anarchist and this book can be viewed as one long rant on the subject. From that point of view, giving the heroes of the book Russian personae seems to me nothing less than a directed insult. Did Heinlein think the Soviet Union was a freer place less fettered by laws and taxes than his homeland? That’s me shaking my head in wonderment.
If Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul collaborated on a science fiction novel, it might read a lot like “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. Maybe that’s what irks me about it. But ironically, as a friend recently pointed out, regardless of his intentions, Heinlein ultimately wound up demonstrating that a nation without a strong Government cannot survive. He continued to rail against taxation, and he repeated his tag line, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” at every opportunity, but the overriding conclusion from this book is that a society cannot depend solely on human nature and hoped-for good sense to survive. It must have rules, and its citizens must collectively sacrifice a degree of freedom for the common good.