One of the best part of reading the Hugo award winning novels has been returning to book and authors that I have tried to read in the past and failed to enjoy in some way. Chief among those is Robert Heinlein. The only one of Heinlein’s books that I really enjoyed in the past was Starship Troopers and even that I remembered more because of the battle armor than the ideas. The moon is a Harsh Mistress is a book that I only got about two chapters into in the past. Just as well because I know that I would not have liked it then and it would have ruined the end of the book for me.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is, as are many Heinlein books, very much an excuse to examine human culture and how it might be improved. There is also, like many Heinlein books, a character who is effectively a mouthpiece for the author. In this case the professor who becomes the philosophical leader of the story. It even has some of the chauvinism that people complain about with Heinlein. Yet while all of these could be considered weaknesses the only one that really affected my enjoyment of the story for me was the last, and that only in minor ways as there was far more positive than negative in my opinion.
The story takes place almost entirely on the moon. In this future colonies have been started on the moon about a century before as a prison colony and prisoners are still being sent there though a vast majority of people have either served their sentence or were never criminals to begin with. Yet they cannot leave the moon and return to earth because of the gravity difference with the moon being only a sixth of earth gravity. This leaves them being treated largely like slave labor for earth that desperately needs the food they produce there and ship very inexpensively by simply shooting it into the air with what is effectively a cannon.
The main character is a one armed computer repair technician whose job it is to repair the massive supercomputer designed to help limit the amount of people who need to be sent to control the moon. This is important because being a guard on the moon is just as much a life sentence as being a prisoner. This computer is able to become sentient and takes on the name Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock Holmes brother.
Together these two characters, as well as the professor and Wyho become entangled in a rebellion of the moon from earth. A rebellion no one believes is possible and only becomes possible because of the massive supercomputer that can calculate every possibility and even then it is never likely until the very end when they finally reach a point where the odds are roughly even.
Throughout the story you see how the rebellion is built, how the government grows and is formed, how the actual war begins, the disinterest in the average person and a lot of character changes. You also get to learn a lot about the moon’s very strange culture. One in which almost everyone is male so that women are given far more respect and freedom in most ways than men and marriages rarely if ever take on the traditional one woman and one man form.
In the end the largest parts of this story are largely predictable but the smaller human parts of the story are far less so. That is to say that the rebellion as you expect succeeds, but the lives of the people in the story are far less easy to predict with people changing and becoming something far different than they were at the beginning of the story.
This is a very good book, but one that is not easy to read. There is a lot of made up slang in this book, a lot of political theory, ideas that are not always comfortable and even a few things that feel outdated. Because of that I recommend this to anyone who is up for a challenge but suggest that if you just want fun science fiction this might not be the best choice for you.