Book Review Number One: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
In my last entry, I offered up a little bit of my rationale for why I wanted to start writing book reviews. Books and knitting have always been all mixed together for me, but that’s only part of it.
In my mind, all kinds of inspiration come from other kinds of artistic creation. I love knitting patterns that are derived from representations of other things. I downloaded a sock pattern inspired by Smaug from the Hobbit, and I could not be more excited to actually make it and try to tease out where each design feature came from. I have some yarn whose colors were inspired by one of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who.
I guess what I’m saying is that inspiration can come from any number of places, even if things seem completely unrelated. And I think that we need to make sure that we aren’t limiting our thinking to any one creative pursuit exclusively. I, also, want to become a better writer by figuring out what works for great writers, and learning how to use those tactics and possibly develop my own.
Now that I’ve pontificated a bit, on to the review. A bit of back story, I read Stranger in a Strange Land quite a few years ago, and absolutely adored it. It helped me to see a world where humans could avoid their genetic programming, and experience the sublime. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is not like that.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a phenomenal book. I’ve read some criticisms of it, that Heinlein doesn’t delve too deeply into the philosophy behind his character’s actions, but I don’t think that’s the point of the work. It’s more about making you do that for yourself. This book is about a revolution. All the characters are descendants of criminals that were shipped off to a penal colony on the Moon, and because of how the colony started, the people have few rights. In addition, once your body becomes acclimated to conditions on the moon, it is difficult if not impossible to return to Earth, so essentially you are stuck there. The colonists (nicknamed “Loonies,” since throughout the book the moon is referred to as Luna) are essentially controlled by a corporation that uses them as slave labor, because they have no alternative. The culture is extremely varied and different from anything on earth, due to the fact that the conditions are extremely unique. So far so good. Things are pretty bad, but not bad enough that anyone really wants to do anything about them. The story really starts when four people, (or rather, three people and a superintelligent AI) decide to scientifically bring about a revolution. Now, I find this entire concept fascinating, and Heinlein does it justice with the execution. As odd as the behavior of the characters might seem, you get the sense that their behavior makes complete sense in the context of their environment, it’s just, to us, culturally irrelevant. I loved that. It forced me to think in ways that I don’t normally have to, to think more about the adaptability of the human species. My training is in psychology, and it seems to me like most psychologists spend all their time trying to ascertain what is, rather than what could be. This book completely turned my ideas on their heads just because of how plausible everything was (while at the same time being unpredictable and exciting.) Thinking about how to properly apply influence and manipulate events to bring about a revolution was fun too, because the issue wasn’t politicized at all, really. That’s one thing I love about fiction, you can really play with ideas that in real life would get people all hot and bothered, but instead it’s just a fun philosophical exercise. Also, Heinlein was clever with his writing, but not too clever. He let his ideas speak for themselves, rather than relying too heavily on clever little details that a lot of writers seem to add in to pat themselves on the back for being so cute and clever. That may sound cranky of me, but I don’t like it when you can tell how impressed a writer is with himself.
Now, I’m trying not to spoil too much of the plot, because I think everyone should read the book, but I will make a few closing remarks to attempt to tie everything together. You should definitely read this book. It’s not just cheesy space fiction, it’s a thought experiment about life (literally) in a vacuum, politically, morally, and socially. In addition, there are some extremely well written characters. My favorite was the AI Mike, because you can see how a consciousness develops without a body, and Heinlein manages to do this superbly. The character is winsome and hyperintelligent and yet oddly naive and amoral, and heartbreakingly lonely. For the character of Mike alone, the book deserves 5 stars, but there’s much more to it than that. The plot is excellent, the dialogue snappy, the supporting characters memorable and complementary. I really cannot say enough good things about it. Read it! You won’t be sorry.