the Little Red Reviewer

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein

Posted on: January 10, 2012

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlien

published in 1966

where I got it: own a very well loved copy

why I read it: tanstaafl









The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is my absolute favorite Heinlein. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it. So this review will surely jump the shark into fangirl gushing eventually. Or at least into in-joke territory.  The quick version of this review is “go read this book”.

In this near future story, the Moon has become a penal colony – Earth’s dumping ground for it’s undesirebles. Referred to as Luna by it’s “guests”, it’s residents are known as Loonies. It’s been about a hundred years since prisoners were first sent up, and although all children born on Luna are born free, few of them can ever hope to return to Earth due to irreversible physiological changes that occur in humans that spend too much time in low gravity.  Luna is managed by the prison Authority, who have placed their Warden in charge of all Loonies. With a population of over three million, and most of them “free”, the population of Luna is still required to do business through Authority: sell their hydroponic crops, buy water and ice, buy air to breathe. Is only game in town.

As Manuel Garcia’s grandfather liked to say “Luna was only open prison in history. No bars, no guards, no rules – and no need for them”. The moon isn’t any place for bravado or machismo. You learn how to use your p-suit and live civilly with others or you have an accident.

I think readers will either love or hate the main character of the story, Manuel Garcia O’Kelly Davis. The story is told from his point of view, and boy does he have an interesting point of view. Not to mention one hell of slang filled article-dropping dialect. Right away I thought his dialect was the most endearing, cutest thing ever, and I bet you’ll get used to it as well.

Having lost an arm due to accident or perhaps fighting, Manny now makes his living as a computer programmer. He spends a lot of time with the main Authority computer. You see, Manny, and the main computer, known as “Mike”, are very good friends.  It’s been about a year since Mike woke up, and developed a sense of humor.  Mike is lonely. He plays pranks on people to get attention.  If Manuel doesn’t get Mike to start behaving, the poor guy is gonna get unplugged.

(Yes, a lonely computer who acts like a child and plays jokes on people to get attention. What is world coming to, I ask you!)

Through no fault of his own, Manuel ends up at an underground revolutionary meeting. The Loonies want to be truly free, to live in the country of Luna, not “Luna under Authority”. They want free trade with Earth, respect, citizenship. They want Loonies who were born free to live free. Manny could care less about “Free Luna”, but he can’t take his eyes off the beautiful revolutionary speaker Wyoming Knott. When a riot breaks out, Manuel helps Wyoh escape and go into hiding.  Manuel stashing a beautiful woman in a hotel room, what would his wives think?

Let it be known that Manuel Garcia O’Kelly Davis is the worst possibly choice to be a revolutionary. His family long ago mastered the art of stealing from Authority, he knows Luna is a closed system when it comes to water, air, and other needed resources.  He’s pretty indifferent to the whole situation.  The revolution doesn’t need people like him. It needs people who are tireless, fearless, knowledgable, intelligent. The Revolution needs people like Mike.

To simplify matters greatly, the book is divided into three parts: preparing for the revolution, the revolution itself, and the aftermath. But revolutions are never simple, and this is not a simple book.

If you’ve read Heinlein, you’ve probably already guessed that Wyoming is a babe. And wow is she. But modest Manuel, he’s not sure if he should be flirting with you. Not only is he married, but this is Luna. And men just don’t go around flirting willy nilly with anyone who strikes their fancy.

Wait, what?  I thought in these old skool scifi book, women were all useless ‘n stuff?  a ha, not so, says this Heinlein defender.  When Luna was first set up as a penal colony, there were hardly any women, so Bride Ships of (in)voluntary women were sent up. Male Loonies could have handled this one of two ways: fight over the women and hoard and hide them, or make their women the societies most valued possessions. They went with the 2nd option. On Luna, women have all the rights when it comes to relationships.  Who to marry, who to sleep with, who to father a child with, where to live and when to go. It’s the women who make the first move here, and then men who stand back as wallflowers.  If Wyoming starts flirting with Manuel, sure, he’ll flirt back, but not until then.  And don’t even get me started on Heinlein’s brilliant concept of “line marriage”.

Flirtations and family invitations aside, the revolution continues. Manuel gets dragged further in by Professor de la Paz (experienced revolutionary extraordinaire), who instructs Manuel and Wyoming on what to do when, and how to put a new government together when the time comes.  Even if you’re not interested in political science fiction about the future (read: next year), or vehemently disagree with the politics of this book, Prof’s conversations regarding how to start a revolution, get propaganda on your side, and what to do afterwards are pure genius.  And it all works too, thanks to Mike, who thinks he’s just playing the biggest game ever with his human friends.

Like I said, this is my favorite Heinlein novel. Sure, the middle gets a little draggy, but it picks up again pretty quickly.  And with everything happening so fast at the end, you might not even realize all the subtle foreshadowing from the beginnings. Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a pleasure to read, even though by now I know portions of it by heart.

And then there is the end.  I know what happens. I know that it has to happen, and that it was probably planned out ahead of time.  But I still cry every time.  I still read those sentences over and over again, hoping they will change.  They never do. You don’t get through a revolution without sacrifice.  Tanstaafl.

Please visit Geeky Daddy’s audiobook review, and I’ll be posting a Heinlein bio tomorrow so we can all talk about our experiences reading him and what our favorite titles are.


16 Responses to "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein"

So…you like the book then?

This is one that I need to give another go. To be honest the dialect was not to my liking and thus it was easy for me to put it aside for something else. But as I do consider myself a Heinlein fan and as the critical opinion of this book is really high, I do need to work past that and try again. I was liking the other details of the story, just wasn’t digging the guys’ language. I am more and more convinced that all of the masters of science fiction had one of these in them, some need to write a character with a strange dialect. Odd.

At any rate, I will give the book another try at some point in the future, maybe sooner rather than later given your great affection for it. If there is one thing I respect it is passion for classic science fiction, because I share that passion myself.


Au contraire, cobber — a polyglot penal colony would certainly not be speaking standard English in a hundred years. Bolshoi props to Heinlein for a dinkum projection, thanks to Little Red Reviewer for the pleasure of discussing it, and apologies to both for this self-indulgent talktalk.


Rams wins this week’s award for best comment EVER.


I thought that it was funny that I actually know somebody named Adan Selen. I do not think I will be able to look at him without thinking of this work of

You did a marvelous job reviewing this book. The thing that threw me through a loop was the concept of line marriage. It saddens me as well thinking of end of this book..:( after reading this one I will be picking up another Heinlein book.


This was my second Heinlein, and it took me longer to get into than my first (Stranger in a Strange Land), but it definitely is the funnier of the two!


I love Heinlein! My favorite is Job: A Comedy of Errors, but I loved The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as well. I think I need to get him moved up in my to-read list, thanks to this reminder. 🙂


Job: A Comedy of Errors is SO good! I laugh my butt off every time I read that. and the end is just incredible! In fact, I think I need to get a new copy, as the one we have is nearly falling apart.


I really need to read this! And more classic SF in general, to be honest, though I have a HG Wells beckoning right now. It sounds great, to be honest – I’ve heard that some of Heinlein’s other novels aren’t as good, but so far I’ve heard only praise for this one.


That is a great review! You really do love that book. It probably sounds a bit too ‘sci fi’ for me – being a bit of a newbie but who knows – I might eventually get there. (Although, and I know this is soft, I don’t like sad endings). 😀


It’s a little “Sci-fi” – colony on the moon, artificial intelligence, but Heinlein doesn’t focus on the sciency bits. Sure, the sciency bits he does present are as accurate as he could make them, but this story is primarily about relationships, and revolution.


Great review, Red! I re-read and reviewed it on my site a while back. Love your 31 days of classics! So many of these have been on my shelves for years, loved like velveteen rabbits.


I’ve having a good time with it too! and it’s decided, 31 days is NOT enough time to read 14 classics.


You know, I’ve read a little bit of Heinlein and it hasn’t really clicked. But you make this book sound REALLY good. I might have to give the dude another chance.


Been a long time since I read any Heinlein, but this one is clearly my favorite of his works. Thanks for bringing it back to mind.


Well, you certainly seem to like this book! I will have to read it one of these days…


I own this book, but haven’t read it yet… Your review has definitely bumped it up in the ranks of my TBR list! 🙂


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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