The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Robert A. Heinlein, 1966

Hugo Winner – 1967

Premise: Manuel “Manny” O'Kelly lives on the moon. A lot of people do, in fact. However, the moon is still being run like the prison colony it started out as, and there is talk, especially among people who were born there, about governing themselves. Manny doesn't intend to get involved in politics, but it turns out that he has the lynchpin necessary to make an idea of revolution a reality.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I mean, on the plot level, it was an interesting little piece about a moon-based revolution and a computer with a sense of humor. It heavily explores the idea that we'll re-play all our previous frontier problems in space. The lunar civilization bears more than a passing resemblance to early Australian colonies crossed with stories of the Wild West. The 'loonies' look after themselves and sometimes each other and have no problems enforcing brutal frontier justice to keep their home 'safe'.

On the other hand, Heinlein still can't write characters, in my opinion. The problem might be that I've read all four of his Hugo winners within a year. Certain male character types recur in his writing: the blue-collar pragmatist, the personal-freedoms intellectual with convenient buckets of cash, the inhuman learning to be human. I didn't find anything new or particularly compelling about any of the versions in this book. They are less annoying than the main characters in Stranger in a Strange Land, but that's more a matter of plot. His women are affable blanks; friendly, shallow creatures with interchangeable looks.

Even with that, I didn't hate this book. It wasn't unpleasant to read. The highly stylized language is interesting, the particulars of the plot sort of neat.

I understand, I think, why many people enjoy this book. It's got some neat parts, and like most of his work, I'm sure it inspired other writers who took some of the concepts much further. I do feel bad that I finished it and thought: “Yes! That's the last Hugo winner by Heinlein! DONE!”

His first winner, Double Star, I really enjoyed. But I guess his longer stuff just isn't for me.

3 Stars – A Good Book.

List of Hugo Winners


  1. I'd recommend giving Heinlein's "The Star Beast" a try. It's a lot of fun, and the characters are not altogether what you might expect. Who qualifies as the actual protagonist of this light hearted tale is up for grabs too. This was my first "grown-up" SF book (it's a Scribner's juvenile). I read it when I was seven or eight years old and five decades later can still enjoy a re-read.

  2. I liked Double Star but I'm not likely to return to Heinlein any time soon. There are too many other great books out there!


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