9 August 2015

Perspective: A Review of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein

Summers can be surprisingly anxious correlated to the grand orb of warmth, the sun. Will it shine, is it too strong, too bright; in Newfoundland the question of the season is where art thou dear summer, where art thou? When the local meteorologist is arrested on air for trafficking rain, drizzle and fog you know your impending holiday will be less beach and more cozy sofa. Although my shorts have seen the daylight twice on this trip to my nation's most easterly province, my complaints are few and far between. After all, it is August, albeit a foggy, steely grey version. 

And so, as I endeavour to read Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress the hopeful positivity I am directing to the season has spilled over to my reading adventures. Half-way through, I confess the book lays splayed open, accusingly taunting me as I forgo it for yet another whimsical murder/mystery. Can summer truly happen if an Agatha Christie has not been read? 

Known primarily for it's libertarian ideals, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress has been kicking around since the 60's. A story of revolt, it was originally released as a series in World of If  subsequently winning the Hugo of '67. Heinlein's 21st century is an Earth  of Federated Nations that repurposed the Moon as a penal colony; a modern Australia, if you will. Millions of outcasts bonded by geographical isolation and servitude live in cities deep under the strata. Left mainly to their own devices with Warden marking a cursory nod to the planets control, the Loonies have developed a uniquely avant-garde society. Highly developed polygamous relationships evolved from the necessities of a ratio of two men for every woman.

The story begins with Mannie, our hero, a free-lance computer tech who discovers that the Warden's thinkum dinkum is sentient with a fully engaged sense of humour. Intrigued, a precarious friendship develops with the mainframe being guided along the precarious path of humanity. This wonderfully attentive opening sequence quickly progresses from a first contact story-line to a developed portrayal of the mechanism, reaction and consequences of revolution. 

Reading the grandmasters takes some patience:  the reader has to actively visualize the times from which the novel was conceived.  The limited exposure to 50-60's SF has been more an exploration of the author's viewpoint constrained by his own societal barriers than a glimpse into the genesis of the genre. Beyond Foundation, I have yet to read an oldie but goodie that has struck me as good. With The Moon is a Harsh Mistress abandoned, seeping out guilt on my nightstand, the passing of the reading day leaves me less likely to ever read it through. Ultimately, the success of a novel lives and dies with connection. Unlike Asimov's Foundation, Heinlein lacks the every-man knack, even though he clearly attempted that very thing through the unique slant of the prose. Creating a sense of 'The Other' would not have been a new formula during Heinlein's era but I imagine his literary perspective would have been a refreshing change.  And while I admire those very abilities to create a very Luna speech pathology, it is extremely difficult to digest. Rather than invite me in, it pushes away distracting me from the plot, generating a heaviness to the tone. 

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is full with imaginative, engaging ideas. It deserves its place in the cannon of science fiction, unfortunately for this girl, the writing rather than the concepts served to distract. As I reach for yet another obscure murder from the Dame herself, I look to the rainy skies hoping not only for sun but a more positive experience with the grand-daddies of Science Fiction.