The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress

February 6th, 2008 | by Sqotty |

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is an interesting discourse on politics and revolution. Heinlein paints an interesting saga of a revolt on the moon against the Terran authorities who control all aspects of the lives of those living on the lunar colonies. It won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1967.

One of the basic political themes in the novel is that “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!” or “TANSTAAFL!” On the moon, you pay for what you need and use, whether it is food, water, or air. The Lunar Authority, which is the governing authority on the lunar penal colony, as that is how it was formed, controls all prices. It controls shipping lunar products to Earth, and what is paid to the producers for their products, then is able to reap the rewards by selling the products on Earth at significantly higher prices. Since the LA is in control of all aspects of the Lunar economy, they are able to keep the people, whether convicted felons or free born citizens, pretty well shackled to the system that it controls.

The story is written in the first person from the viewpoint of a reluctant revolutionary, Manuel (Mannie) O’Kelly Davis. He finds himself involved quite by accident when he attends a meeting of people who want to oust the current system. When the meeting is raided, and the people at the gathering break away to escape arrest, a lot of people, including the warden’s guards, are killed.

Heinlein uses the novel as a platform to expound on revolutionary principles and the formation of America, our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. It is heavily Libertarian in nature, and has several important points about governments in general and taxation in specific. When the Loonies finally succeed in their revolt and work to establish their own government, there is a great deal of discussion of different forms. One that I like is having a bi-cameral legislative branch, where it takes a two-third majority to pass a law in one house and a one-third majority to overturn that law in the other house. Makes for an interesting concept as, as Heinlein points out, if a law is so bad that two-thirds of one house don’t like it, it shouldn’t pass, and if it does, and one-third of the other house overturns it, it is still a bad law. It also would make for more grid-lock in government, but I for one think gridlock in the legislative process is a good thing as it slows down the growth of government.

When Mannie and the Prof, the two main characters, head to Earth to state their case before the Federated Nations, they are asked about paying back taxes to the FN as they have lived virtually tax free on the Moon. Mannie shot back by asking what they should pay taxes to the FN for as the FN does not provide anything to Luna. He elaborates that on Luna, the people pay only for that which they use: food, water, shelter, etc. Why should they be required to pay for that which they don’t use? A darn good question and a fine point in contemporary politics.

The Lunar colony is forced to go to war with the Federation, and hostilities reach a maximum when the FN sends several ships of troops to the Moon to secure the colonies and pacify the rebellion: it failed. The Loonies responded by using the catapult (mass driver) that had previously been used to ship grain to Earth to bombard the Earth with rock, resulting in small scale explosions similar to small nuclear bombs, minus the radioactive fallout.

Another theme that Heinlein touches on is various concepts of marriage that evolved on the Moon, specifically the Line Marriage of Mannie’s. One of the problems with the penal colony situation on Luna is that there is a drastic shortage of women, the current ration being approximately 2 men for every woman at the time Mannie tells his story; in the earlier days there were even fewer women than men. This has forced the evolution of certain social mores in regards to how women are treated. If a man forces himself on a woman, he may find himself being introduced to the outside of an airlock without the benefit of a pressure suit. It is also the driving force behind the development of the various polygamous marriages that dominate the Lunar culture.

Although Heinlein makes passing mention of other polygamous forms of marriage on the Moon, the Line Marriage is the only one fully explored.

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is definitely a political novel, with touches of sociology and hard science to provide realism to the setting of a Lunar rebellion. It is a fine read; Mannie’s distinctly Russian accent lends the story a distinctly foreign flavor all its own. Unlike Heinlein’s earlier treatise on politics and sociology, Starship Troopers, this is a novel for adults due to its examination of mores around sex and marriage.


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