the years, Heinlein
had gathered his short stories and published them in some half-dozen
In the middle 1960's only a handful remained unreprinted, including two
of no great interest to adults and several
stories from his earliest years like " 'My Object All Sublime' " that might
better be forgotten.
Moon Is a Harsh Mistress,
Heinlein's most recent novel, was serialized in
late 1965 and early 1966, and won him his fourth Hugo award for best
Line-by-line, it is fascinating reading. I suspect that Heinlein could
even write laundry lists that would be entertaining to read. Moreover,
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
is less flawed by sermons and constructional
weakness than the other books of his third period. I must admit,
however, that fascinating as I find it, I don't think
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
is a good or effective novel. It is, moreover,
almost as marked with symbols of resignation, doubt and defeat as
Station was mobbed and I had to push through to see what I assumed to be certain, that passport guards were either dead or fled. "Dead" it turned out, along with three Loonies. One was a boy not more than thirteen. He had died with his hands on a Dragoon's throat and his head still sporting a little red cap.This is effective writing. There is no question of that. It is also basically shoddy. I don't believe that in the entire history of the world a boy not more than thirteen has attacked a soldier with his bare hands and "died with his hands on a Dragoon's throat and his head still sporting a little red cap." If Heinlein had said the boy skulled a guard at thirty paces with a rock and got shot as a consequence, I'd believe that, but "Dragoons" and "little red caps" are the devices of propaganda.
The date of the story is deliberately chosen for resonance with the American Revolution. The Lunar Declaration of Independence is settled on the 2nd of July, 2076, and announced on the 4th. In one sense you can say that this was intelligent capitalization on historical sentiment by the Loonies, but in actual fact it is nothing more than Heinlein doing a bit of auctorial cheating. The sentiment being capitalized upon is not that of the North American Directorate in 2076 -- it is your sentiment now. The closer the similarity between one revolution and the other, the more obvious it is that Heinlein is trying to fife-and-drum us into accepting what we would not otherwise find moving, and when he says, "A dinkum comrade, Foo Moses Morris, co-signed much paper to keep us going -- and wound up broke and started over with a little tailoring shop in Kongville," he isn't talking about the Lunar Revolution at all. He's talking about Robert Morris, financier of the American Revolution, who died in poverty, and as a consequence I somehow just can't quite accept "Foo Moses Morris," who never appears again, as being real. Notice, too, that when Heinlein wants to jerk a tear he throws in the word "little." Not just a tailoring shop, but a "little" tailoring shop; not just a red cap, but a "little" red cap.
Heinlein also tries to give his story dramatic force by tying it onto the tail of another of his novels, The Rolling Stones. An important character in that book is Hazel Meade Stone, and a moderately prominent (but not important) one in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is a young girl named Hazel Meade, who eventually marries a young tough named Stone. Apparently your affection and interest in her earned in The Rolling Stones is supposed to pay Heinlein's way in this novel. The only trouble is that it is impossible for the Lunar society of The Rolling Stones to be derived from the supposedly previous society of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and it is impossible for the Hazel Meade Stone of one book to be the Hazel Meade Stone of the other. (See pages 184-185 and 190 of The Rolling Stones just to start.) Heinlein doesn't care about this -- he is interested only in the effect of the tag "Hazel Meade Stone."
The Lunar society that Heinlein creates doesn't seem completely self-consistent. For one thing, he states that half the newcomers to Luna die with reasonable immediacy: "Luna has only one way to deal with a new chum: Either he makes not one fatal mistake, in personal behavior or in coping with environment that will bite without warning . . . or he winds up as fertilizer in a tunnel farm." Yet he produces Lunar idiots and asses to suit his purposes, exactly the people one would think would make fatal mistakes. Moreover, he has a number of very idealistic marital systems that horrify North Americans, but which newcomers accept readily, the systems being based on the Heinlein-given fact of two million men and one million women on the Moon. But women are given as being protected and half of the newcomers die, so Heinlein says. One would think that would tend to balance things. Only five percent of the population, again according to Heinlein, is actually convict. One would think that, as with the Mormons who immediately attracted many more women than men, in a reasonably short period the natural balance of children would assert itself, and by the time free citizens made up ninety-five per cent of the population, the numbers would be approximately even again. The narrator of the book is a third-generation Loonie and the imbalance is still two to one. None of this seems to bear examination.
The most obvious device that Heinlein uses to manufacture suspense is patently artificial. One of the four members of the original cell, and the whole-hearted coordinator of the revolution, is the computer mentioned earlier, named Mike. The notion of a sentient computer is not particularly objectionable in itself, except for the consequent diminishing in stature of the human characters. However, at the beginning of the story the computer announces the odds against success are seven to one. Thereafter, at frequent intervals, new odds are announced, getting longer and longer until they eventually reach a hundred to one. Throughout, however, to our apparent view things are going exactly as planned. We have to take Heinlein's word that things are actually getting worse. One would think, too, that the initial odds would have taken into account all the necessary chances the revolution has to take, and that only the unexpected would materially affect the odds. The unexpected does not seem to happen, but the odds -- Heinlein's computer tells us -- keep getting longer and longer. The result is an altogether unreal sort of suspense that lacks the power to compel belief.
The most irritating device that Heinlein has used in the book, however, is the language it is told in. The narrator thinks and writes in a sort of babu-Russian in which the first-person pronouns and definite articles are all but missing. This is bothersome to read in itself, but it is also both artificial and irrelevant. First, it is not consistent either with itself or with actual Russian grammatical construction. (Buttonhole a passing Russian and check the book out with him.) Second, by 2075 one assumes that everybody will talk enough differently from the present to need translation into our terms. The future equivalent of "damn," expressed in present terms, is "damn." If one assumes that in 2075 English is spoken on the Moon with a Russian grammatical structure, it will not sound then like an ignorant present-day Russian trying to speak English. It will sound "normal," and therefore should be represented by normal English, with perhaps an odd word or two for flavor. Third, and reinforcing this point, it is a fact that the narrator is the only character in the whole book who speaks this artificial jargon. It would have better been dispensed with.
Part of the problem is that this main character is a cipher. The computer is much more alive and forceful. (Note, too, that the computer, like the main character of Stranger in a Strange Land, is named Mike, which -- as has already been pointed out -- means "who is like God," a point Heinlein is well aware of.) The only claims that the protagonist has to individuality are his one arm and his dialect. Other than that, he is faceless, even more so than the similar narrator of Starship Troopers, and where Rico of StarshipTroopers can act decisively, the present hero does not and cannot. Manuel does nothing throughout The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress but report the progress of the revolution. He is an observer, but he does not himself act. In fact, at the one point in the story at which he is called upon to act -- to initiate the defense of the Moon against a sneak attack in his capacity as Minister of Defense -- he is not present and not able, and the computer, which overshadows him throughout, imitates his voice and issues his orders for him. The narrator has no opinions of his own, no tastes, no individual will -- he is exactly the person to be replaced by a sentient computer.
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress has its interest, but it is not as a novel. It is as dramatized lecture.
Note: The print edition of
Heinlein in Dimension
is still available from Advent:Publishers, PO Box A3228, Chicago, IL 60690
$17 for a hardcover copy, $10 for a paperback. I charge for shipping
and handling, Advent doesn't.
Border courtesy of The Humble Bee