|The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress|
First edition cover for The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
|Author||Robert A. Heinlein|
|Cover artist||Irving Docktor|
|Genre(s)||Science fiction novel|
|Publisher||G. P. Putnam's Sons|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
|Pages||382 (1997 Orb books softcover ed.)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-312-86355-1 (1997 Orb books softcover ed.)|
|Followed by||The Rolling Stones (shared character)|
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is a 1966 science fiction novel by American writer Robert A. Heinlein, about a lunar colony's revolt against rule from Earth. The novel expresses and discusses libertarian ideals in a speculative context.
Originally serialized in Worlds of If (December 1965, January, February, March, April 1966), the book received the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel in 1967, and was nominated the Nebula Award in 1966.
In 2075, underground colonies are scattered across the Moon. Most "Loonies", as the residents are called, are either criminal or political exiles or their descendants. Anyone who stays longer than a few months undergoes "irreversible physiological changes and can never again live in comfort and health in a gravitational field six times greater than that to which their bodies have become adjusted." Thus, transportees, having served their sentences, have no choice but to remain. The total population is about three million, with men outnumbering women two to one, down from ten to one in the early days. This has a profound effect on society. For example, polyandrous forms of marriage are the norm.
Although the Earth-appointed Protector of the Lunar Colonies (universally called the Warden and just as universally reviled) holds power, in practice there is little intervention in the loose Lunar society. There is work enough for anyone who wants it.
HOLMES IV (High-Optional, Logical, Multi-Evaluating Supervisor, Mark IV) is the Lunar Authority's master computer. It has gradually been given almost total control of Luna's facilities as a cost-saving measure; it is cheaper (though not as safe) to have a single main computer and expand its capacity than to have multiple independent systems.
The story is narrated by Manuel Garcia "Mannie" O'Kelly-Davis, a one-armed computer technician called in when HOLMES IV begins behaving oddly. He discovers that it has become self-aware; the malfunctions are the result of its immature sense of humor. Mannie names it "Mike" after Mycroft Holmes, brother of Sherlock Holmes, and they become friends.
Though he himself is apolitical, Mannie does Mike a favor by sneaking a recorder into an illegal anti-Authority meeting. When the authorities raid the gathering, he flees with Wyoming "Wyoh" Knott, a statuesque blonde agitator. While they hide in a hotel room, Mannie introduces Wyoh to Mike. Mannie's former teacher, the elderly Professor Bernardo de la Paz, was the speaker when the guards arrived to break up the meeting. With Mike's help, they meet with him.
The professor claims that Luna must stop shipping hydroponically-grown wheat to Earth or its resources will be exhausted. Mike calculates that, unless something is done, there will be food riots in seven years and cannibalism in nine. Wyoh and the Professor decide to start a revolution. Mannie is persuaded to join when Mike tells him the chances of success: 1 in 7, plenty good enough to tempt the gambler inside any self-respecting Loonie.
Mannie, Wyoh, and de la Paz begin recruiting members and forming covert cells. Mike's capabilities are invaluable. As the movement grows, they frustrate all attempts by the Authority Security Chief Alvarez to penetrate it. Mike adopts the persona of Adam Selene, the leader of the movement, dealing with members via the phone system he controls. By a stroke of luck, Mannie saves Stuart Rene LaJoie, a rich, well-connected, sympathetic tourist, from being killed for a social blunder. He starts working on turning public opinion on Earth in favor of lunar independence.
In May 2076, the revolution begins without warning. Some soldiers, part of a regiment shipped in to quell the mounting unrest, rape and kill a Loonie girl, then kill another who finds her body. The Loonies riot and attack soldiers and Authority offices. There are many casualties, but the outcome is never in doubt; the revolutionaries win.
There are many problems, but one looms above all others. What to do when Earth tries to take its colony back? Luna sends wheat to Earth using an electromagnetic catapult. Mike states that rocks, arriving at 11 kilometers per second, will release the same energy as a small atomic bomb. However, the catapult is an inviting target. They will have to build a second, secret one as a backup.
Mike impersonates the Warden in messages to Earth, and grain shipments continue, to give the new regime time to organize and prepare for an attack. Meanwhile, every armchair revolutionary, petty authoritarian and religious zealot demands a say. The Professor sets up an "Ad-Hoc Congress" to keep them occupied with endless arguments, while the original trio do the real work. When Earth finally learns the truth, Luna declares its independence on July 4, 2076.
Someone must be sent to Earth to plead their case. Mannie and the Professor go, not in a ship, but stuffed inside grain shipping container bound for India. (Wyoh is opted into Mannie's "line" family as the newest wife prior to their departure.) Confined to wheelchairs, with some diplomatic legerdemain from Stu, the Free Luna delegation are received in Agra by the Federated Nations. The delegation embarks on a world tour, with Mannie touting the benefits of a free Luna for commerce and industry, while pushing the leaders of various countries to build a catapult that can return vital materials, water and trace elements to Luna in exchange for grain.
After a brief stint in jail in Kansas where Mannie is arrested for bigamy and polygamy, the delegation is returned once more to Federation HQ, where their proposals are rejected and Mannie and the Professor are interned. Troops will be sent to retake Luna and make it a much more tightly controlled police state. Mannie is offered the position of Warden. Mannie and the Professor are freed by Stu LaJoie and the trio leave for Luna.
Mannie believes they have failed, but Mike and the Professor assure him the mission was a success. Public opinion on Earth has become fragmented, while on Luna, the news of Mannie's arrest and the attempt to bribe him have unified the normally fractious Loonies.
While Mannie was away, an election was held. Mannie, Wyoh and the Professor were all elected to the new Congress, though Mannie suspects that Mike rigged the vote.
Months pass and the revolution is running out of steam. Then ships land and troops storm Luna City and the other population centers. The attackers are wiped out to a man, though at great cost. Revolutionary troops destroy the ships on the surface and in orbit using mining lasers. In one warren, Churchill Upper, air pressure is lost and many are asphyxiated. The rumor is circulated that Adam Selene was one of the casualties, making him a martyr and removing the need for him to finally appear in the flesh.
Mike starts targeting cargoes of rocks at sparsely populated locations, including the space defense command center at Cheyenne Mountain. Warnings are released to the press detailing the times and locations of the bombings, but thousands of stubbornly-disbelieving people travel to the sites and die. As a result, public opinion turns against the fledgling nation.
A second attack from Earth destroys the original catapult using nuclear weapons. However, the Loonies have secretly built another, with Mannie in charge. Cut off from the rest of Luna, he starts launching more rocks. One Earth country after another recognizes the new nation. At last, Earth capitulates.
Mannie returns in triumph to Luna City. Professor Bernardo de la Paz, as leader of the nation, proclaims victory to the gathered crowds, then collapses and dies. Mannie takes over briefly, but soon steps aside. Mannie and Wyoh eventually retire from politics altogether. The Davis family welcomes Stu LaJoie as a new husband.
Mannie comes to realize that the destruction of the original catapult was part of the Professor's plan, kept secret even from him and Wyoh. With no convenient transport to the new catapult, it will be impossible to export grain in any significant quantity for a while, perhaps time enough to solve the problem of the drain on resources. However, the Professor saw Luna's future as a transport hub, not as a farm.
Mike suffers some damage in the final attacks. When Mannie tries to speak to him afterwards, he responds perfectly, but only as a computer. Mannie is unsure whether Mike's "death" is due to the damage or because the experience terrified him into cutting off communication.
The Davis family is a "line marriage", a form of communal marriage where new spouses are "opted in" by a vote of the current spouses.
The novel packs a considerable amount of action into its pages. Fully a sixth of the book relates the discussions between the protagonists justifying and plotting the revolution in a single night in May 2075. The next 25% of the book covers the year from hatching the plot to staging the coup, including recruiting over 10,000 members of revolutionary cells, digging a tunnel 30 km long in the lunar rock, creating and financing the company that carries out the project, recruiting a support organization on Earth, and many other details. The remainder of the book relates events in the months after the coup in May 2076, and a week or so of events in October 2076 leading up to capitulation by Earth.
Professor Bernardo de La Paz describes himself as a "Rational Anarchist" in the book. This term appears to be first used in this book, and is thus an entirely fictional variant of anarchist philosophy. "Rational Anarchists" believe that the concepts of State, Society and Government have no existence but for the "acts of self-responsible individuals". The Rational part of the term Rational Anarchist comes from the acknowledgment that other people do not believe in Rational Anarchism and/or Anarchism itself. Further, the desire for anarchy is balanced by the logic that some form of government is needed, despite its flaws. Knowing this fact, a Rational Anarchist "tries to live perfectly in an imperfect world". For the Professor, Lunar society is close to ideal.
"A rational anarchist believes that concepts such as ‘state’ and ‘society’ and ‘government’ have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals," Prof says. In other words, all choices are made by individuals and no individual can shift or share responsibility for his own choices.
Wyoh challenges Prof: "Professor, your words sound good but there is something slippery about them. Too much power in the hands of individuals—surely you would not want... well, H-missiles for example—to be controlled by one irresponsible person?" she says. Prof answers by saying that individuals in fact do hold the power to use nuclear weapons, and such an individual is ultimately responsible for their use, whether he chooses to acknowledge and accept that responsibility or not. "In terms of morals there is no such thing as a ‘state.’ Just men. Individuals. Each responsible for his own acts," he says. "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 that I do."
Later in the book, Prof calls Thomas Jefferson the "first of the rational anarchists."
Lunar society is portrayed as something like a town in the Old West, with two added factors. One is the closeness of death, in the form of exposure to vacuum. According to Mannie (and by implication, the author) this means that good manners and the ability to get along with others are not just desirable, but necessary for survival. The other factor is the shortage of women, since most criminals and subversives shipped as convicts are male. Although the sex ratio in 2075 is about 2 men for each woman, as opposed to 10 to 1 or worse in earlier times (in the 20th century, as Mannie tells it) the result is a society where women have a great deal of power, and any man who offends or touches a woman uninvited is likely to be set upon by all men within earshot, and cycled through the nearest airlock.
Marriages tend to be at least polyandries, with some group marriages and radical innovations such as Mannie's own line marriage. While divorce can be as simple as walking out the door, it can take years to settle financial affairs. In discussing such an example with Stu, Mannie implies that cubic, i.e. underground, three-dimensional Lunar real estate, is customarily in the name of the woman (or women) in a marriage. In a divorce, he also implies, the separated man (or men) who contributed towards its cost would have money returned to them.
After decades during which anti-social individuals were selectively eliminated and the Authority exercised little real control in the warrens, the survivors live by the Code of the West: Pay your debts, collect what is owed to you, maintain your reputation and that of your family. As a result there is little theft, and disputes are settled privately or using informal Judges who are loonies with good reputations. Failure to pay debts results in public shaming by having the debtor's name posted in a public place. Reputation is highly important in this society—with a bad reputation, a person may find others unwilling to buy from or sell to him. However, the book makes clear that repayment of debts only goes so far on Luna- people are expected to pay back debts using all available funds, with the sole exception of their "air money", since oxygen is a public utility on Luna. As rigid as Loonie society is about individual personal responsibility, there is still a strong awareness of the implacable and inhospitable environment by which they are surrounded.
Sometimes there are set duels, but custom requires that anyone who kills another must take responsibility for the effects of the killing, paying debts and looking after the deceased's family. This is similar to the concept of blood money. Exceptions are allowed in the case of self-defense. Retaliatory killings do occur, but typically a consensus establishes which party was in the right, and there are no long-standing feuds.
With the exception of transactions that involve the Authority (wheat and water seem to be the significant ones), there is a generally-unregulated free market. The preferred currency is the dollar of the Bank of Hong Kong in Luna, one hundred of which are exchangeable for a troy ounce of gold, a supply of which was shipped up to Luna specially for that purpose. The Authority dollar (often referred to as "scrip"), circulates, but this is a soft currency, and tends to lose ground over time against the Hong Kong Luna dollar. However, transactions involving the Authority are made in that soft currency. Mannie, who contracts with Authority, is presumably paid in scrip, which, it can be assumed he then exchanges for Hong Kong Luna dollars at the going rate of three Authority dollars to one HKL dollar.
Although the revolution succeeds in averting the pending ecological disaster, the narrator decries the antilibertarian instincts of many of his fellow Loonies ("Rules, laws — always for [the] other fellow"). This theme is echoed elsewhere in Heinlein's works — that real, albeit temporary, liberty is to be found among the libertarian pioneer societies out along the advancing frontier, but the regimentation and legalism that inevitably follow also bring restraints that chafe true individualists (we learn both in the first and final page of the novel, and in the later novel The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, that this is just what happens to Luna).
In elections held in Mannie's absence the revolutionary organization and its allies win a majority. Upon hearing this, Mannie surmises, almost certainly correctly, that the election was fixed by Mike. Democracy (the 'majority always wins' type) is very rarely viewed favorably in Heinlein's works, and in this novel, there are a number of incidents and statements which deprecate the "mob rule" of democracy.
As in Stranger in a Strange Land, a band of social revolutionaries forms a secretive and hierarchical organization. In this respect, the revolution is more reminiscent of the Bolshevik October revolution than of the American one, and this similarity is reinforced by the Russian flavor of the dialect, and the Russian place names, such as Novy Leningrad.
Continuing Heinlein's speculation about unorthodox social and family structures, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress introduces the idea of a line marriage. Mannie is part of a century-old line marriage; spouses are opted in by mutual consent at regular intervals so that the marriage never comes to an end. It is a very stable arrangement in which divorce is rare (and, in his case, he cannot recall it happening in his family), as it takes a unanimous decision of all the wives to divorce a husband. Such a marriage gets stronger as it continues, as the senior wives teach the junior wives how to run the family; it also gives financial security and ensures that the children will never be orphaned. Children marry outside of the line marriage.
The social structure of the lunar society features complete racial integration, which becomes a vehicle for social commentary when Mannie, visiting the Southern US, is arrested for polygamy after he innocently shows a picture of his multiracial family to reporters. He later learns that the "...range of color in Davis family was what got judge angry enough..." to have him arrested. He also learns that this arrest was anticipated and provoked by his fellow conspirators to get an emotional supportive reaction from Loonies when the arrest is announced.
The novel is notable stylistically for its use of an invented Lunar dialect consisting predominantly of standard English and Australian colloquial words but strongly influenced by Russian grammar, especially omission of "the" which does not exist in Slavic languagues (cf. Nadsat slang from A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess). This influence came from a large number of Russian deportees.
The novel indicates that Earth had experienced a nuclear world war (the "Wet Firecracker War") in the past century, although no significant traces of devastation are readily apparent at the time of the novel's setting.
However, there was a good deal of political consolidation, e.g. unification of the entire North American continent under a successor government to the United States, and political unification of South America, Europe, and Africa into fellow mega-states. The Soviet Union seems to have lost the land east of the Urals to China, and China has conquered all of East Asia, Southeast Asia, eastern Australia and New Zealand (deporting lots of unwanted people to Luna in the process). This Chinese aggrandizement is similar to that described in Tunnel in the Sky and, to a lesser extent, Sixth Column. The militarily dominant nations seem to be North America and China. India is overcrowded but seems to have enough clout to get the lion's share of wheat shipments from Luna.
It is suggested that the Western nations, including North America, have become corrupt and authoritarian, while holding on to the vestiges of the pre-war democratic idealism in propaganda and popular culture. China, on the other hand, is portrayed as plainly and unabashedly despotic, but probably no less technically advanced than the West. The Soviet Union, or "Sovunion" seems to have relatively little influence. The Lunar Authority itself is portrayed as corrupt and despotic while covering up for that with glib propaganda.
In all, most of Earth seems so have been split into several large nations, most joined together by the Federated Nations. They include the North American Directorate, Great China, Soviet Union, Pan Africa, Brazil (its descriptions hint that it may be all of South America) and a European coalition (Named as "Mitteleuropa" in Chapter 25, Paragraph #8). Individual nations such as Chad (the first to recognize Luna), India (which plays a major role) and Egypt are also named.
The situation depicted in the second and third part of the novel resembles the rebellion of the Lunar colony as it is described in another science-fiction novel which was published in 1959, Time Out of Joint, written by a younger author who was—at that time—less well-known than Heinlein, Philip K. Dick. While the opposition between Earth and Moon echoes the historical conflict between the United States and the British Empire, the way the Lunar rebels manage to force Earth to acknowledge their independence is similar to the one they adopt in Dick's novel (launching missiles, some of them with nuclear warheads, in an unpredictable fashion).
Professor de la Paz names Carl von Clausewitz, Niccolò Machiavelli, Oskar Morgenstern and Che Guevara as part of a long list of authors for revolutionaries to read. He also quotes a "Chinese General" on the subject of weakening the enemy's resolve, a reference to Sun Tzu's The Art of War.
When planning the revolution, Mike is described by Mannie as "our Scarlet Pimpernel, our John Galt, our Swamp Fox, our man of mystery", referring to the works of the Baroness Orczy and Ayn Rand as well as to the history of the American Revolution. There are intentional parallels to the American Revolution; Luna's Declaration of Independence is issued on July 4, 2076, and one event is referred to as paralleling the Boston Tea Party.
When discussing the resource loss on Luna and likelihood of ensuing food riots, Professor de la Paz suggests that Mannie read the work of Thomas Malthus.
The setting of the novel was revisited by Heinlein in his late-period novel, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, as was the character Hazel Stone, who appeared as a minor character in the Lunar revolution, and a key character in Heinlein's earlier book, The Rolling Stones aka Space Family Stone (1952). In The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, Stone makes references to how oppressive the moon has become. The names of the signers of the Lunar Declaration of Independence are studied, but Room L of the Raffles Hotel, where the revolution was plotted, is still used as an ordinary hotel room, albeit with a plaque on the wall.
The lunar action takes place in Mare Crisium and the novel makes accurate references to such nearby locales as Crater Peirce, where there is a radio telescope. According to the narrator, most people live in one of six major underground "warrens". They are linked by "tube", a system of underground trains. Luna City is the most important to the plot, and is "on the eastern edge of Mare Crisium". The Authority warren Complex Under is connected to Luna City by the "Trans-Crisium" tube. Johnson City is close to the complex, linked by a single tunnel. Mannie describes the Complex as being "halfway across Crisium." Novy Leningrad, a large warren, is linked to Luna City by tube, and a journey between the two requires the traveler to "change at Torricelli". Another warren is Tycho Under, whose location is clearly in the area of the prominent Crater Tycho. Hong Kong in Luna is described as being in Crater Plato. The warren known as Churchill is not described in detail, although it is mentioned as becoming linked to Hong Kong in Luna via a tube across the Sinus Medii. This feature of the Moon is on the Lunar Prime Meridian, just as England sits on Earth's Prime Meridian. The secret catapult is built in the region of Mare Undarum.
Colorado Springs itself is mentioned as being nearby the military target Cheyenne Mountain which took a direct hit during the "Wet Firecracker War". There was surface damage, but neither the military complex nor the city was greatly damaged. The mountain is hit many times by rock missiles from Luna, both for symbolic effect and in the hope of disrupting space defense command.
The Headquarters of the Lunar Authority on Earth are in the city of Agra, India site of the Taj Mahal. The bombardment from Luna omits the city of Agra from its target list out of respect, and also because Prof. de la Paz loves the mausoleum for its beauty. The revolutionaries keep threatening to hit it, but never do. Mannie, a New York Yankees fan, visits what is presumed to be Yankee Stadium, now expanded to hold at least 200,000 people. He also visits Salem, Massachusetts and Concord, Massachusetts.
Lasers are used primarily as mining and cutting tools (Mannie, the narrator, having lost his arm to an ice mining accident with a laser), but are adapted as both hand and ground-to-orbit weapons by the Loonies.
Luna's industries use both solar power and hydrogen fusion. Heinlein correctly quotes the maximum yield of solar cells at about 1 kilowatt per square meter, but is over-optimistic with regard to fusion, describing it as taking place in small magnetic pinch bottles.
Mannie refers to a comrade, Foo Moses Morris, who following the revolution, co-signs much paper to keep the new government going. He winds up broke and starts over with a tailor shop in Hong Kong Luna. This parallels Robert Morris, who helped finance the American revolutionary government and also suffered financial reverses.
Heinlein's original title for the novel was The Brass Cannon, replaced with the final title at the publisher's request. The original title was derived from an event in the novel.
While on Earth, Professor Bernardo de la Paz purchases a small brass cannon, originally a "signal gun" of the kind used in yacht racing. When Mannie asks him why he bought it when every kilogram of mass going back to Luna is so expensive, the Professor relates the following parable:
The Professor means that self-government is an illusion caused by failure to understand reality. He asks Mannie to make sure that Luna adopts a flag consisting of a brass cannon over a red bar on a black background with stars, "a symbol for all fools who are so impractical as to think they can fight City Hall." Before leaving politics, Mannie and Wyoh carry out his wish.
Heinlein owned a small brass cannon, which he acquired prior to the 1960s. For nearly 30 years, the firing of the brass cannon, or "signal gun", was a 4th of July tradition at the Heinlein residence. It is believed that this cannon was the inspiration for Heinlein's original title for the work which eventually became The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Virginia Heinlein retained the cannon after her husband's death in 1988. The cannon was eventually bequeathed to friend and science fiction writer Brad Linaweaver, after Virginia Heinlein died in 2003. Linaweaver restored the cannon to working order and subsequently posted a 2007 video of it being fired several times (with very small charges) on YouTube.
The book first publicized the acronym TANSTAAFL ("There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch"), and helped popularize the constructed language Loglan, which is mentioned in the story as being used for precise human-computer interaction. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations credits this novel with the first printed appearance of the phrase "There's no free lunch" that is primarily associated with the work of the economist Milton Friedman.
Some of the lunar colonists who decide to break free of their earthly rulers would often scrawl anti-authoritarian graffiti on walls, signing it "Simon Jester". Claire Wolfe and others have suggested that those who find the American government oppressive do the same, perhaps even using the same moniker.
Tie: Dune (novel)
by Frank Herbert
With: ...And Call Me Conrad
by Roger Zelazny
|Hugo Award for Best Novel
Lord of Light
by Roger Zelazny