Robert Heinlein’s classic 1966 novel, The moon is a hard mistress, explores the idea of a lunar colony declaring the independence of the Earth. Author of science fiction Antoni Ha found the book a fun and exciting read.
“All the details of how these different cells of the revolution came together; all this is really interesting, and it explains it so clearly, and it only has that real narrative impulse,” Ha says in episode 516 of the Geek Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “There are these big battles at the end, and I think he writes battles, no doubt, as well as any science fiction person. So the whole book reads incredibly fast.”
Geek Guide to the Galaxy Host David Barr Kirtley agrees that Heinlein is a natural narrator. “He’s a very attractive writer,” Kirtley says. “You can see why he took the pulp magazines by storm when he appeared. He attracted a lot of fans and acolytes, and I see it totally. I can see perfectly well why you would love his intelligence and talent.”
The moon is a tough mistress, which represents a lunar society without laws or government, has been an inspiration to many young libertarians. Political journalist Robby Soave enjoyed the book’s mix of science fiction and politics. “It seems to me that if you described it accurately as an instruction manual for building a cross catapult with a libertarian manifesto / selling argument, that would alienate everyone,” he says. “But the book is very good, despite dealing a lot with these two exact things. It’s a very fair introduction to our philosophy, with some very juicy sci-fi stuff.”
Unfortunately, one aspect of the novel that has gone wrong is its stereotypical view of gender roles. Science fiction teacher Lisa Yaszek was initially intrigued by the book’s female protagonist, Wyoming Knot, and was disappointed that the character played such a minor role in the story. “I don’t want to be a woman in this revolution, sitting down serving coffee,” Yaszek says. “It really makes you understand what women faced in the ’60s.”
Listen to the full interview with Anthony Ha, Robby Soave and Lisa Yaszek in episode 516 of Geek Guide to the Galaxy (on top). And look at some of the highlights of the discussion below.
Robby Soave on Robert Heinlein vs. Ayn Rand:
Ten years ago, most people who came to the libertarian movement came because of Ron Paul; then, 20 years or so before, it was from Ayn Rand’s reading. Certainly there was a period of time, probably all the way, where The moon is a tough mistress it was a front door. I mean, the teacher in many places is just giving an almost forced libertarian tone, in fact, in a way similar to what Rand does in his writings, where he just deviates from the plot to, “Okay, here there’s clearly what the author thinks about something, so let me get my manifesto in. Now Heinlein does it much, much more artistically than Ayn Rand, though that’s not a high bar to erase.
Anthony Ha forward The moon is a tough mistress vs. The Dispossessed:
The Dispossessed is pretty close to representing my political philosophy, and The moon is a tough mistress it’s not, so comparing the two, politically, I can see what it’s like: “Oh, I agree with this suspicion of the state, this suspicion of authority, and trying to have a much freer society is very interesting.” . … I believe that The Dispossessed allows for a little more argument, which I think is what many later Heinleins are missing. There seems to be an argument, but it’s actually just a character saying something that’s obviously wrong, and then they get lectured for many pages. I’m sure this happens The Dispossessedbut I think it’s less obvious, at least to me, when it does.
David Barr Kirtley on the conflict:
In the “Turkey City Lexicon” there is an entry called “The Cozy Catastrophe”, and this is where the world ends – it’s a post-apocalyptic thing – but the characters have a great time. They get cars and weapons, they can go to the mall and grab whatever they want, they get girls. So it’s this weird juxtaposition where the world is in this state of horror, but the characters are having a great time. And I feel like it [The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress] it is the equivalent of a revolution. It’s like “The Cozy Revolution.” This really makes a revolution seem like a good time, just a lot of fun. I read this book and said, “I want to start a revolution. That really sounds great.”
Lisa Yaszek on Artificial Intelligence:
Asimov is exploring [AI] in the robot stories of the 40’s and 50’s. At the end of his robot sequence he is imagining world computers that manage it even though they carefully manage humanity. Asimov always imagines herself as babysitters and nurses, who will take care of us, like kangaroos, like the best babysitters ever. But Mike [in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress] he’s a friend, and I think that’s different. He’s much more of a fully realized person, and that’s new to science fiction at the time. And he’s a good guy. He is not a devouring robot. … Asimov changes the tide, in the 40’s and 50’s, then you get a lot of good robots and AI approaching Mike. Then, of course, we get HAL, and then things start to go south again.
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