Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - New Wave Science Fiction Classic

In the history of science fiction series, we are looking at the New Wave which took off in the 1960s and 70s. Many authors prominent earlier continued to be successful by adapting their style. We highlighted three classics. Last week we looked at Robert A Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (1961). This week is Robert A Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966), and Isaac Asimov's The Gods Themselves (1972) will be next week. Here is the plot outline.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

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. It is respected for its credible presentation of a comprehensively imagined future human society on both the Earth and the moon.

Originally serialized in Worlds of If (December 1965, January, February, March, April 1966), the book was nominated for the Nebula Award in 1966. It received the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel in 1967.

At the time of the story, 2075, the Moon (Luna) is used as a penal colony by Earth's government, with the inhabitants living in underground cities. Most inhabitants (called "Loonies") are criminals, political exiles, or descendants thereof. The total population is about three million, with men outnumbering women two to one, so that polyandry is the norm. Although Earth's Protector of the Lunar Colonies (called the "Warden") holds power, in practice there is little intervention in the loose Lunar society.

HOLMES IV ("High-Optional, Logical, Multi-Evaluating Supervisor, Mark IV") is the Lunar Authority's master computer, having almost total control of Luna's machinery on the grounds that a single computer is cheaper than (though not as safe as) multiple independent systems.

The story is narrated by Manuel Garcia "Mannie" O'Kelly-Davis, a computer technician who discovers that HOLMES IV has achieved self-awareness and has developed a sense of humor. Mannie names it "Mike" after Mycroft Holmes, brother of Sherlock Holmes, and they become friends. It is arranged in three books: 1 That Dinkum Thinkum, 2 A Rabble in Arms, 3 TAANSTAAFL (The title is an acronym for There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!)

The elderly Professor Bernardo de la Paz claims that Luna must stop exporting hydroponic wheat to Earth or its limited water resources will be exhausted. In connection with this, Mike calculates that if no prevention occurs, there will be food riots in seven years and cannibalism in nine. Wyoh and the Professor decide to start a revolution, which Mannie is persuaded to join after Mike calculates that it has a 1 in 7 chance of success.

The Loonies overcome military opposition and overthrow the Lunar Authority's Protector, called "the Warden." When Earth tries to reclaim the colony, the revolutionaries plan to use in defense a smaller duplicate of the electromagnetic catapult used to export wheat.When Earth finally learns the truth, Luna declares its independence on July 4, 2076, the 300th anniversary of the United States' Declaration of Independence.

Mannie and the Professor go to Earth to plead Luna's case, where their proposals are rejected and they are imprisoned; but they are freed by Stuart LaJoie and returned, with him, to Luna. An election is held in which Mannie, Wyoh, and the Professor are elected (possibly by the intervention of Mike).The Federated Nations on Earth send armies to destroy the Lunar revolution, but these are vanquished, with great loss of life, by the revolutionaries.

When Mike launches rocks at sparsely populated locations on Earth, warnings are released to the press detailing the times and locations of the bombings—but disbelieving people, as well as people on religious pilgrimages, travel to the sites and die. As a result, public opinion turns against the fledgling nation. The Loonies continue to attack Earth until it concedes Luna's independence.

Professor Bernardo de la Paz, as leader of the nation, proclaims victory to the gathered crowds, but collapses and dies. Mannie takes control, but he and Wyoh eventually withdraw from politics altogether, and find that the new government falls short of their expectations.

When Mannie tries to speak to Mike afterwards, he finds out that the computer has lost its self-awareness and its human-like qualities.

[adapted from Wikipedia and other online sources]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at

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