This review/essay is divided in three parts:
III. ALLTITMFRY (“At long last, this is the mother fucking review, y’all!”)
Ana: I am Brazilian, have had little to no contact with what can be described as Science Fiction “canon” until I moved to England 10 years ago. I have never read Heinlein before. Heck, I hadn’t even heard of Heinlein until very recently when his name started popping up here and there, always within a context that suggest divisiveness: from some corners, I hear that his place within Science Fiction canon as a “classic” seems to be a non-starter and more importantly, his influence in the field an indisputable fact. From other corners, I have seen the argument that most of his oeuvre is incredibly problematic, especially his take on women.
In many ways it was impossible for me to approach this book without certain things weighing on me. Two specially: 1) because I am not well-read when it comes to the usually accepted Science Fiction “canon”, I might not be able to actually tell by simply reading this book, what is supposed to be Heinlein’s influence in the field. 2) I will always approach any book from a perspective that attempts to examine topics that are important to me as a reader and as a reviewer but which might be ultimately unrelated to what makes the book “important.” So I might not have the tools and knowledge to be able to say anything at all about how this book influenced the field but I do have plenty of things to say how it went about creating its plot and putting forth its ideas.
That’s my bias.
Thea: My bias is a little bit different. I am an American, but like Ana I grew up overseas (Japan, Indonesia) and my exposure to American pop culture and certain SFF icons growing up was strangely specific – most of my English language stuff was centered around an annual summer visit to the States in which I would binge on book and VHS purchases and American TV. I discovered Heinlein as a teenager, following the movie release of Starship Troopers – I was living in Fukuoka at the time and watched that movie a few times in the theater. And, yeah, I freaking loved it. Naturally, I picked up the book as soon as I could…and was promptly disappointed and bored. I tried another Heinlein after that – Stranger in a Strange Land – and, though there are interesting ideas in both books, I was similarly lost and bored with the story. Worse, I remember being kinda offended with the story (of course, until very recently I basically thought something was wrong with me and my reading of the books).
That’s my background – having read certain classics and authors, but not ever being completely comfortable with my status as a fan or reviewer to actually voice displeasure with these storied tenets of SFF until fairly recently.
Just last week a new round of conversations about the importance of Heinlein within the field got going. It started with a post from Baen Books’ publisher Toni Weisskopf talking about Science Fiction, fandom and the place of Heinlein within fandom. Above all, the importance of reading Heinlein as a mark of “true” Science Fiction fan. Ana wrote a reply to that post called Smuggler’s Ponderings: History, Fandom and Masters of Science Fiction. Scalzi also chimed in with The Orthodox Church of Heinlein.
Coincidentally, just a few weeks before we had been told that the Hodderscape Review Project book for the month was…a Heinlein book. Talk about timing.
Hugo Award Winner The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was first published in 1966. In 2075, the Moon is a penal colony with a population that mixes criminals and political exiles and their descendants. The colony is under Earth’s rule but its day-to-day customs are mostly left to its inhabitants who rules themselves, based on “laws” that are “naturally” developed from those customs. Important: Men outnumber women 2 to 1. It is established at some point that the colony cannot continue to export its production of grains to Earth because it will not only eventually exhaust its resources but also because it is essentially a bad commercial deal for the colony.
This is the basis to start a revolution to break free from Earth’s rule. Said revolution is led by four characters – including the one viewpoint narrator Manuel – who engineer its development from start to finish with the help of a sentient computer called Mike.
(“At long last, this is the mother fucking review, y’all!”)
One thing to be said about this book is that its ideas and departing points are more than interesting and even surprised me in positive ways. One of the main characters is an incredibly strong female character called Wyoming, one of the main revolutionaries. The inhabitants of Luna are of a welcoming diverse ethnic background, most characters are mixed race, a lot of them (assuming from their names) with Latin American and Russian backgrounds (notably, the most out-of-place character here is a blond woman). The lunar society is also portrayed as one where women have a lot of power (a result of their lower numbers: it is always the woman’s choice). There is also a remarkable, positive portrayal of polyandry and polyamorous relationships.
Similarly, the idea of a sentient computer is not only fun in itself but also thought-provoking. “Mike” is portrayed as a lovable child that eventually matures and in doing so shows facets that might prove a problem for his human co-conspirators when he reaches full “adulthood”.
But then, when you really look at the details, everything – EVERYTHING – about this book falls apart.
First of all: considering that’s it’s about a revolution engineered by a sentient computer, in the future, on the Moon, this is one of the driest, most boring books I have ever read. The largest part of its narrative is dedicated to exposition after exposition about either life on the Moon or about the political theories sprouted by the characters. Apart from Mike (who is, unfortunately, absent from most of the book unless it is convenient to the plot that he is brought into the fold), there is hardly any character development.
Then you have the Big Ideas That Make No Sense. They need to get on with the revolution ASAP because otherwise…cannibalism (hum…WHAT?); the odds for them to “win” against the forces of Earth are calculated by Mike in a way that starts at 7:1 then GETS WORSE before it gets better (hum… WHAT?).
These would be enough to make The Moon is a Harsh Mistress a…not so good book. What makes it terrible? The fact that it is built on false advertisement. All of the seemingly progressive points about ethnicity, marriage and gender are only skin deep. Looking at those with any degree of careful consideration, there is a lot of problematic stuff to be found.
So for example, the book might have a positive portrayal of race diversity on the moon but not when talking about Africa: a place where “human life was never valued”. Or when talking about Chinese or Hindu people:
Could dump two Chinee down in one of our maria and they would get rich selling rocks to each other while raising twelve kids. Then a Hindu would sell retail stuff he got from them wholesale – below cost at fat profit.
The presentation of polyamory and line marriages are positive (which is obviously good) but the narrative never ever takes into consideration any relationship within those that is not heterosexual (there is mention of “men turning to men” when times are “bad”. But those relationships are no “substitutes for having sex with real women”). Not to mention the extremely irksome fact that the youngest wives in the line marriages are as young as 14. One of Manuel’s wives was in fact, a “daughter” who then “opted in” to become a wife. The words “opt in” imply consent but can a 14-year-old daughter, actually consent to become a wife?
It doesn’t stop there.
The main female character was fifteen when she married two twin brothers twice her age.
This is how the main character describes the DEATH of his child-wife:
an explosive bullet hit between her lovely, little-girl breasts.
This is how a 12 year-old girl is described:
She was possibly twelve, at stage when a fem shoots up just before blossoming out into rounded softness.
Of course, it’s only ever girls who encounter themselves in these situations. Never boys.
By far, the biggest lie the book sells is that this is a story that portrays women in power and in control. The female characters are portrayed in theory as independent and as the ones with the real power. In practice, the roles they play are relegated to sex, motherhood and to the household sphere. Women work at home, in beauty shops or as sex workers. Even Wyoming, who starts as a revolutionary, ends up married into Manuel’s line marriage and relegated to the background. She
started to learn farming but the male co-workers got too distracted then she had to go work on beauty shop.
This is how men throughout the book react to Wyoh:
I stopped three paces away to look her up and down and whistle.
A boy almost old enough to appreciate Wyoming stopped in front of us and gave her a happy whistle.
The professor looked Wyoh up and down, sucked air kimono style, and whistled.
IS SHE A DOG?
Not to mention that even though Wyoh is 1.80cm, many characters remark on her as “little” (little girl, little lady). Which is all the more troubling when you take into consideration the recurring topic of underage marriage.
The worst is when rape, consent, and female power are conflated in a really messy way:
A 14 year-old-girl is pawed by a tourist, newly arrived to the Moon. She screams, other boys come to her rescue. The tourist is put to trial: he gets away with a fine because he doesn’t know their “local customs”, made an “honest mistake”. The tourist is told that he had been unlucky because the girl might have said yes in other circumstances (read: if he had paid her) to which he asks “but isn’t that statutory rape” and is then further made aware that:
“No such thing. Women her age are married or ought to be. Stu, is no rape in Luna. None. Men won’t permit. If rape had been involved, they wouldn’t have bothered to find a judge and all men in earshot would have scrambled to help. But chance that a girl like that big is virgin is negligible.”
Excuse me, but there are certain feelings that only Picard can convey:
According to “natural laws” born of the fact there are two million men to one million women on Luna, the scarcity of women is what drives their importance and men dance to that tune. But that’s not because they are equal or because men respect women but because men are afraid to be driven insane by the scarcity. The inference here is that that’s what women are good for: their sexual importance, always in relation to men. Look at this piece of information about Luna:
touching a fem without her consent – plenty of lonely men to come to rescue
Look at the framing here; look at the word “lonely”: it is not a matter of justice, or right or wrong but a matter of usefulness to men.
Women ARE allowed to pick their sexual partners and their husbands but they are not allowed to have any other position of power. When the revolution comes, they cannot join the army or fight with actual guns. And how about the Lysistrata Corps? A division of women that function as cheerleaders to attract drillmen and keep them happy (because obviously: “most girls don’t have muscle to be a drillman”).
One can argue that those portrayals are all filtered through the eyes of the narrator and it could be restricted to the viewpoint of said character. However, the narrator is never challenged by the narrative. The narrative rewards him – over and over again. He is a benign, heroic figure within the plot and his views on women are shared by those around him. In fact, the Lunar society is shown as a perfect society, of perfectly developed natural laws. They are the heroes. They win.
This book is Science Fiction. This story is the world of the future. An imagined future when people are living on the Moon and where a computer gains sentience. But it also a future of men, by men and for men: just like Heinlein’s present was the present of men. That’s the greatest tragedy right there: that we cannot imagine better futures for women and children.
In the most elemental level (writing, narrative, storytelling, ideas, portrayal of female characters) The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is at best an outdated, passable story. In my opinion: it is not good at all. I am glad I’ve read it: now I know never to read Heinlein again.
Ah, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. There is so much to unpack in this book, I don’t quite know where to begin. How about with The Good? Because, believe it or not, there are some actual good things about the book that should be mentioned, for fairness and well-roundedness’s sake. I very much believed in the voice of the book, as the novel is narrated from protagonist Mannie’s first person perspective. An imagining of how Lunar dwellers would speak, the dialect spoken in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress drops possessives and definite articles, making for a clipped, abrupt cadence. It’s actually quite an effective writing technique, and the resulting narrative is believable and interesting at surface level to read. (Try reading a section aloud, for example, “I see also is to be mass meeting tonight to organize “Sons of Revolution” talk-talk.”) I also appreciated the idea of “line marriages” and the non-traditional breakdown of relationships, the institution of marriage, and the family unit itself. (It’s interesting in principal and likely unprecedented considering the time in which it was written – of course, barring the question of whether or not a child of 12-14-years old can really give his or her marital consent.)
For every good thing in this book, however, there are many more negatives. (Ana has enumerated many of these issues above, so I will try not to overlap too much.) While the Lunar colony’s racial background is actually diverse and multiethnic, the novel espouses a whole bunch of casual racism, especially towards people of Asian descent (see the part about “Chinee babies”). While women are “precious” on the Moon, and while rape is an unthinkable crime (even hitting on a woman too strongly without her consent is a punishable crime), there’s this bizarre, creepy obsession with “little” girls and rampant objectification of females through Mannie’s narrative. One of the things that always irritates me when I read certain thrillers and speculative fiction novels (usually authored by men) is how the story is usually framed in such a way that there’s a hardened male lead character who is out to Discover the Truth or Save the Day, and he’s usually accompanied by a beautiful or sexy female scientist/activist/secondary character. WHY must this female character always be qualified as beautiful? Do we know if the leading man is a stud? NO. Because it’s largely irrelevant to the actual story. To me, the beautiful qualifier is incredibly irritating because it objectifies and thus makes her lesser than her male counterpart. This is hardly something that’s unique to Heinlein, but this irritating objectification is in full force in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Wyoh is, in fact, an interesting character. She’s an activist and revolutionary and in many ways the catalyst that gets the juices of revolution flowing in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. But instead of any of those interesting things, Wyoh is an objectified bombshell whom Mannie disparages throughout his narrative (see Ana’s lengthy quotes above). Something else that grates: when Mannie thinks of Wyoh’s positive aspects, he qualifies those statements by saying things like, “Wyoh, my female friend,” or “Wyoming, if you were smart like you are beautiful,” or “any other woman would,” or “How many women apologize? But Wyoh was more man than woman some ways, despite eight Chinee babies.”
Sexism and racism aside, let’s talk about some of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress‘s other meaty issues, shall we? Let’s talk about politics, economics, and ultimately revolution.
I can forgive a certain number of things, especially when reading a much older book, provided that the story is engaging and the writing is solid. In the case of this novel, however, the pacing is excruciatingly slow and feels more like a lopsided vehicle for Heinlein to espouse pseudo-political armchair philosophy than an actual story. This is the book’s greatest failing, in my opinion: its dryness, its utterly calculated and frankly boring storyline, its lack of actually believable characters. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress has none of the hallmarks of a good story. It certainly brings up philosophical ideas and discusses them – at tedious length – via its two-dimensional stick-puppet characters, but there’s no actual soul or engagement with the philosophy. To me, the novel is reminiscent of Ayn Rand’s mind-numbing, indigestible tomes – full of iconoclastic puffballs monologuing for pages on end about political theory.
Of course, this is a matter of opinion. Plenty of other people cherish both Rand and Heinlein’s characters and storytelling. I vehemently disagree with them, but YCTIOLI. (You Can Take It Or Leave It – see what I did there!)
On the economic and technological front, I have a hard time buying into The Moon is a Harsh Mistress at all. Would the moon have been reduced to cannibalism in 9 years, given the exploitative practices of the Authority? Ok, sure, the Moon is a precarious colony in the vacuum of space. Would Earth really be reduced to relying so wholly on the Moon for its precious resources (which is… err… hydroponic wheat)? NO, because the Moon is a precarious colony in the vacuum of space. Let’s not even get into the technological aspects of the book, which involve catapults flinging things to and from the Moon (weapons, supplies, etc), or the utterly convenient nature of the world’s smartest – but not fastest – AI supercomputer being completely at narrator Mannie’s disposal.
Which brings me to the portrayal of Revolution in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. After all, this is the actual core thesis, the main thread of the book, right? Revolution agains the tyranny of The Authority, for the survival and independence of the Loonies forevermore.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is without a doubt the most boring, soulless, stacked revolution I’ve ever read. The people of the Moon – that is, actually THREE people on the moon (the Prof, Wyoh, and a reluctant Mannie) – decide one day to revolt when supercomputer Mike informs them that cannibalism will ensue in nine years should things progress down the same path. This is especially troubling in the context of modern reading, considering the many revolutions around the world that have and continue to happen today – these are powerful movements with drastic, often violent but always life-changing consequences. In contrast, Heinlein’s contained, sanitized revolution – planned and powered by the smartest AI computer everrrrr! – is so theoretical, so calculated, so utterly artificial that it loses any meaning. Is revolution the simplistic, quick, predictable thing that Heinlein creates in this frankly soulless book?
No. It’s not.
I have no doubt that Heinlein’s writing has inspired countless other SFF creators and fans in myriad ways over the years. I am glad that people read and discuss his work, if only because conversation is a good thing that makes speculative fiction fandom a better place. Ultimately, though, The Moon is A Harsh Mistress is not the kind of book that stands the test of time and it’s certainly not a book I would recommend.
Given this, combined with my experience with Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land, I think my sojourn with Heinlein is now done.
Are we real fans yet?
Paul (@princejvstin)March 19, 2014 at 11:40 am
I haven’t re-read Moon since I started reviewing and really seriously thinking about books. I wonder if the suck fairy would hit me hard, if I tried to, now. You both bring up very potent issues on sexism and racism that are hard to ignore or sweep under a rug.
KMontMarch 19, 2014 at 11:44 am
Had to stop for a sec to say that descriptions of female characters such as the ones quoted about the 15-yo “wife” and the 12-yo girl make my breakfast want to present itself to me again after consuming it, and then I just get mad.
“That’s the greatest tragedy right there: that we cannot imagine better futures for women and children.”
OK, so now I see why some are saying you can’t be a true fan unless you read this stuff. Spare me.
SL HuangMarch 19, 2014 at 12:35 pm
This is brilliant. I haven’t read TMIAHM, but I’ve read other Heinlein, and this is *so* spot on for how it made me feel. (I’ve gotten TMIAHM from the library twice now to read, feeling like it’s homework, and just could never get myself to start. After reading this, I think I won’t try again.)
I got the “you haven’t read HEINLEIN?!” in college, eagerly read Stranger in a Strange Land, and was distinctly underwhelmed. I read a few more, because, you know, HEINLEIN!!1, but after the third or so I remember putting him aside with a vague feeling of bored distaste that I couldn’t put a finger on. And though I appreciated the exploration of non-nuclear family structures the first few times, after a while the way he wrote them started to feel more like dirty-old-man wish fulfillment than a thought-provoking exploration of a variety of human relationships.
I think I shall release myself from feeling required to read TMIAHM, or any more Heinlein. There’s so much else out there to read, after all.
GMarch 19, 2014 at 1:25 pm
That’s an awesome, thoughtful and exhaustive (dual) review.
I read this book a long time ago, and came away from it feeling kind of iffy, though I expect if I re-read it now, I’d judge much more harshly.
In a sense, though, I think this review validates the notion that the process of reading and reviewing so-called “classic SF” has value–even, and perhaps especially, when the book in question is severely problematic.
Cynthia PorterMarch 19, 2014 at 1:26 pm
Growing up, I devoured Heinlein. With the exception of Stranger in a Strange Land, I *loved* them all! And TMIAHM was one of my favorites. I haven’t reread it in easily 12 years, which puts my reread dates for other Heinlein titles at nearly 2 decades. Obviously I am due to check in on some of them! I found both your reviews valuable. I remember those scenes, that language and attitude but the person I was never questioned them. Given that I was socially awkward enough to not understand the living people around me, I think not understanding these sexist, dated attitudes isn’t that surprising.
I also find quite a few canonical writers important for the reactions they inspired in the writers that followed. I can “see” how writers, particularly women writers, said “wait a minute, what about—” and new books emerged. A constant conversation between what was, what is, and what is to be.
Gerd D.March 19, 2014 at 2:07 pm
Hmm, dunno, have you read A. C. Clarke? 🙂
I’ve only ever read three of Heinlein’s juveniles (Star beast, Space Cadet & Rocketship Galileo), which I did enjoy reading. Although, it has to be said that Heinlein is American (as in uber-patriotic & militaristic) to the core. (Bad me, I know, and I’m really working on that attitude…)
Which is what by and large keeps me from reading his more mature stuff, though it didn’t keep me from reading “Space cadet” or his ‘Nazis on the Moon’ story.
Estara SwanbergMarch 19, 2014 at 2:22 pm
Answer: You already and always were.
So am I. I’m not touching more of the male sf grand masters with a bargepole. What I read of them when there wasn’t anything else available was quite enough.
chaosprimeMarch 19, 2014 at 3:50 pm
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was an infinitely better book when it was called Steel Beach and was written by John Varley.
Jess HainesMarch 19, 2014 at 3:59 pm
I haven’t read this story, but your review captures a lot of my feelings about some of Heinlein’s other works.
I did enjoy–not loved, but enjoyed–the novelization of Starship Troopers. I liked the movie better, too.
There is only one Heinlein story that I really did love (Goldfish Bowl), though for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you why. It’s grim and awful in a few ways, but thought provoking in others. If you’re curious, there’s a (caution: spoilerific) description of it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldfish_Bowl
Anyway. Thank you for the thoughtful review!
David Dyer-BennetMarch 19, 2014 at 5:28 pm
You can be real fans if you want to. Caring enough about SF books to read them and publish reviews is, I’m sure, not all you’ve done to show it, but basically being a fan is kind of like being an adult (see the discussion of that in Bujold’s A Civil Campaign): it’s not something you achieve by being a good enough child/reader/whatever, it’s something you take when the time is right.
Despite your appallingly slipshod and careless reading of the best SF novel ever written! 🙂
JBWoodfordMarch 19, 2014 at 6:19 pm
I love the way this is put, and the last sentence in particular sings.
WRT the book in question, I haven’t reread it for some time, and (like a number of others) I expect that if I do I will find that the Suck Fairy will have not only paid a visit but moved in and cosigned the lease.
MimsMarch 19, 2014 at 8:34 pm
I didn’t read adult SF as a kid. The only SF author I remember reading on a regular basis was H.M. Hoover and she wrote YA SF with female protagonists. When I was in my mid-twenties I decided to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Farenheit 451 to see what all the fuss was about. While there may have been good ideas in there I was too distracted by the portrayals of the women who were either nagging, emotionally unstable wives; young, innocent, beautiful naives in need of rescue or greedy, manipulative whores. If that is canon, no thanks; your SF isn’t big enough for me.
DEDMarch 19, 2014 at 8:43 pm
I’ll second what chaosprime wrote.
Thank you for two very thoughtful reviews. All I can think of to defend Heinlein (only in a Devil’s Advocate kind of way) is that his work reflects the time period when he wrote. Civil Rights? Women’s Rights? Neither really developed until long after Heinlein’s adult mindset was established (He was ~60 when this book was published). Sexism and racism in America back then were par for the course. The fact that there were non-white male characters at all was unheard of back then (1939-1958). By today’s standards, he’s a backward ogre. But in his time, he was forward thinking, which just goes to show how far we’ve come.
As for his writing being boring, well, that’s just inexcusable. 😉
Might I suggest Bradbury instead. 🙂
Susan EricksonMarch 19, 2014 at 10:07 pm
Reading Heinlein’s juveniles was among my earliest scifi experiences, and a few were those “pivotal” books all true readers reflect on, different ones for each of us.
That said all of his adult books are appalling. Stranger I read twice I think mostly because of the zeitgeist it was such a late sixties/early 70s hippie book, but even with that one I totally agree in the comparison of his writing style and political maverickness as only comparable to Ayn Rand. The first of his adult books that I read was Podkayne of Mars and for a supposedly “ground breaking” free love free thinking teen girl protagonist it shares many of the flaws that you describe about his treatment of women. The only redeeming thing I remember was the novel description of her visit to Venus where the alien culture there had no inhibitions about public sex or pooping in public, but were ashamed and hid behind curtains when they ate in an effort to show how “absurd” our mores are which was the main gist of Stranger. She was definitely a dirty old man’s fantasy, at least that’s how I read it at 16.
It was sad too, because his younger child book Red Planet was magical in illustrating a very alien race and culture based on gentleness was the beginning, then Stranger (who grew up among those aliens) then the repulsive Podkayne. I think even with Stranger it was much more popular among men who seemed to be attracted to the idea of sex without responsibility or “free love” while leaving women holding the cultural and family bag, unable to see how a life could be better for women, or lack of caring as the narrator and the story is always “a man” But this was the era of Mad Men.
With his kids books, for the most part, they were wonderful. My absolute favorite was Citizen of the Galaxy with its exploration of both what makes us human and what is freedom while it is the most action filled and least preachy perhaps of his books. I also loved Star Beast, with its anticolonialism messages and humor. Have Space Suit will Travel is also a simple adventure story on one level and taught me about the subtle correlation between waves and particles, oh and was an early establisher of the trope we see in so many movies of trying to justify our continued existence to a galactic advanced civilization, and while he doesn’t really afford a viable alternative his gentle humor of demonstrating from an outside microscope lens all of our various political ideologies are indistinguishable from each other and yet we kill for that.
Perhaps they are easier to stomach as they aren’t about sex, well except for the Star Beast’s breeding program (LOL but not really sex)
Susan EricksonMarch 19, 2014 at 10:09 pm
I meant Red planet, Stranger and Podkayne were sort of a loose Mars trilogy that he wrote at very different stages of his life
Susan EricksonMarch 19, 2014 at 10:30 pm
Oh, oh, I remembered one of his adult books I actually liked. Door Into Summer, although it is not free of a misogynistic tone as his wife plots to kill him which precipitates his waking up in the future. Heh, heh. However, it is maybe principally how the book got its name that sticks with me. His cat who all winter would go from one door to another to be let out, believing that one of them had to be (ba-da-dum) The Door Into Summer. Ah well.
KaffyrMarch 19, 2014 at 11:18 pm
I read Heinlein as a mid to late teen and enjoyed a lot of what he wrote, in terms of vignettes within larger stories, or imagery, but the economic libertarianism and only slightly softened Randian selfishness always felt wrong to me, although I couldn’t put that in words until later. And then I read Farnham’s Freehold and that kind of ended Heinlein for me.
His short stories and novellas seemed sometimes as if they’d come from the soul of a different writer. I still think The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag is one of the best, twistiest, scariest, most emotionally powerful pieces he ever did or I ever read. It’s hard to reconcile that with the sad failings of his longer writing.
drsMarch 20, 2014 at 12:21 am
Powerful review. I don’t remember all of that negative stuff from when I read it, but that was some years ago. I don’t remember that much from it, period.
I’ve read lots of SF since childhood, never much Heinlein. Of the big three I grew up on Asimov and Arthur Clarke. Of the big four, well, I never read much Ray Bradbury either. I certainly wouldn’t say you have to read any of them, but you might try them; they’ll at least have different flaws. For Asimov the obvious candidates are the original Foundation trilogy and the robot stories. For Clarke there’s his short stories in general, and maybe any of his novels, though Earthlight might be weaker. He’s notable for lots of “cozy future” books, peaceful futures without much conflict or violence. I’d say Imperial Earth and The Deep Range, to pick two I’ve re-read.
Neither’s going to be great on female characters, but I don’t think they’re as gross as Heinlein could be.
Selling point of old SF novels: they’re usually *short*.
Justine LarbalestierMarch 20, 2014 at 2:59 am
This is wonderful. I had to read quite a bit of classic sf for my PhD. (Like Ana I had read very little before then.) And I hated most of it. Asimov can’t write. Neither can Clarke. And they’re good compared to some of the other dreck I waded through. Heinlein seemed good comparatively because he can write sentences. But, wow, you could not pay me to read him again. For all the reasons you both expressed so eloquently. Though I did enjoy the schlocky delights of Puppet Masters. Also count me in as someone who adores the campy delights of Starship Troopers the movie, who was bored by the book.
IlyaMarch 20, 2014 at 9:59 am
In my teens and early twenties I used to love Heinlein. What spoiled his books for me was the realization that human beings do not act that way! Well, some do, but far too few to make Heinlein’s societies possible.
The most egregious example of such is “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.” When people are thrown together with no laws, they do not work like beavers to build productive businesses, respect each other’s rights and individuality, and fight together to preserve their freedom. What really happens is few strong ruthless and charismatic individuals emerge as leaders, and the rest join up with them for protection. IOW, they form gangs/tribes, most if not all of them open to outside influence and bribery.
When men greatly outnumber women, women are not placed on a pedestal, given complete control over their sexuality, and collectively protected by all the men. Instead, they become property. And in the above situation, women would become, essentially, prizes in gang warfare.
I do not know whether Heinlein realized the impossibility of TMIAHM society (and many others he created). He either never understood, or refused to accept that most human beings value security over freedom (Jefferson’s famous quote notwithstanding). A slightly different example is the pioneer society Lazarus Long reminesces about in “Time Enough For Love” — a planet at 19th Century technology level, periodically visited by a trading FTL starship. I can accept that among humanity spread through the Galaxy some would WANT to live with minimal technology. I can not accept that they would have anything worthwhile to trade with anyone who has technology far above our current one. And in fact TEFL never explains what that trade consists of. Such juxtaposition of spaceships and primitive living is not unique to Heinlein, but he really seemed to like it. I think he wanted self-reliant pioneer societies, but with (far enough) civilization to contrast them with. Unfortunately, “far enough” required space travel, often FTL. Again, I found such premises forced and unrealistic. When civilization can reach primitive societies at all, they do not stay primitive for long, even without any malice on civilization’s part.
Having said all that, I am rather puzzled by Ana’s criticism:
They need to get on with the revolution ASAP because otherwise…cannibalism (hum…WHAT?); the odds for them to “win” against the forces of Earth are calculated by Mike in a way that starts at 7:1 then GETS WORSE before it gets better (hum… WHAT?).
What’s so strange about this part? Mike knows how much organic matter exists on the Moon (hint: not a lot, and very large portion of it is already in human bodies), and at what rate it is being exported to Earth. Knowing that, it should be a child’s play to calculate when there won’t be enough not-in-human-bodies organic matter to eat. Calculating the odds of successful revolution is far more difficult, but still within realm of game theory. Military generals and political consultants do that sort of thing for a living. And as game progresses, odds CAN become worse if player makes a wrong move, or if some previously unknown factor enters into play. Likewise, they can become better. What’s so (hum… WHAT?) about Mike’s calculations?
hapaxMarch 20, 2014 at 11:14 am
I remember loving MIAHM as a teenager, even though something always nagged at me about the depiction of women. Although as an adult, studying societies in which women were severely outnumbered by men, I have to admit that the lip-service valorization of women (including the severe condemnation of rape not because of what it means for women, but how it affects *other* *men*), combined with the in-practice sexualization of children, restriction of women to motherhood and domestic duties, and valuation of them based on physical appearance, are pretty much spot on — alas.
But still, I found it compulsively readable, even re-readable; I think at the time I was mostly enchanted by Manny’s voice, the sentient computer, and the delightful conceit of the ultimate weapon being literally Throwing Rocks.
However, if you think Heinlein’s attitude towards women in bad here, do not even allow yourself in the same room with FRIDAY or TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE (summary of both: “I may be the most baddass creature in the universe, but no woman can be fully human until BABEES!!!”)
As for FARNHAM’S FREEHOLD… wtf I can’t even.
In my opinion, being able to knowledgeably discourse on Everything Wrong With Heinlein is one of the hallmarks of the Trufan ™ 🙂
MiriamMarch 20, 2014 at 12:26 pm
I’ve never read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and I never intend to. (Partly thanks to this review!) I tried reading Stranger in a Strange Land a couple of years ago but gave up about two thirds of the way in – I tried, I really did. But the sexism/ everything else was just so dreadful to be endured.
It scares me slightly that these are the “classics” of SF literature.
Sherwood SmithMarch 20, 2014 at 12:49 pm
aaaand your superb summation of all the problems is why I have avoided rereading Heinlein. I read his stuff as a teen because there wasn’t much else, but I had problems with it even then. The last time I tried to reread Stranger in a Strange Land, at age thirty, I couldn’t get past the first chapter.
NelCMarch 20, 2014 at 12:52 pm
Bad reason to read Heinlein: to prove that you’re a real SF fan. You’re an SF fan if you like something that’s labeled as ‘SF’, whether it’s old or new, written, filmed, or played on a tabletop. No-one has to validate your membership of the club; you like what you like, and what you like is great.
Good reasons to read Heinlein: Because you’re interested in how today’s SF and the SF community has got to the place it has. Because Heinlein, when he’s good, is a good storyteller, and you could do worse than emulate his techniques in your own writing. Because Heinlein, when he’s bad, is a stinker, and you could do a lot better than him in your own writing. Because you hate the politics of his characters. Because you want to.
AnaMarch 20, 2014 at 1:47 pm
Thanks for the comments everybody and for keeping the conversation going.
I could (should) probably have elaborated but I wanted to get to the parts of the book that truly made me uneasy.
It is not as much as Mike’s calculations but how they were put forth in the book in a way that made no sense to me. The idea that Luna’s situation would INEVITABLY lead to cannibalism seems greatly exacerbated. If it is “child’s play” then WHY OH WHY did Earth set a colony on the Moon in the first place. Would no one notice? No scientists? Considering the economic importance of the colony BECAUSE of those very resources it is seems unlikely that this would happen exactly like that and more than that: the mere idea was enough to get the trio going with their revolution. Seems like flimsy reasoning to me.
As for the odds part: I don’t think the narrative explained this well enough to start with but it seems incredibly risky to me that you would start out building up a revolutionary plan based on those types of odds. I DO understand that the characters had a SUPER COMPUTER on their side who said it was all possible. That it all went EXACTLY according to plan (clean, straight cut, no unknown factors) just shows that this is a ridiculous book (sorry).
That said, I do hope I made it clear that these were the least of my concerns with regards to the novel?
IlyaMarch 20, 2014 at 1:56 pm
If it is “child’s play” then WHY OH WHY did Earth set a colony on the Moon in the first place. Would no one notice?
Because if someone did, there would be no story. 🙂 Seriously. This is an example of forced worldbuilding — and TMIAHM has at least one other bit of forced worldbuilding — the fact that after few weeks in Moon gravity a person can never walk on Earth. Which we now know is totally false, but was at least plausible when Heinlein wrote the book.
Loonies’ inability to move to Earth, and nobody (except Professor) noticing that their biosphere is bleeding out, are both necessary for the plot to work. When I first read TMIAHM, I figured out the former, but not the latter.
IlyaMarch 20, 2014 at 1:57 pm
Also known as Idiot Plot
Scott LynchMarch 20, 2014 at 4:06 pm
Ah, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, in which we are expected to be upset that Lunar government might tax and regulate food vendors, but not that you can be quietly murdered without trial for annoying the people you work with. Heinlein bounced all over the political landscape, but at all times in his life he was some flavor of authoritarian, and here we see that in its full flowering. Lifeboat rules exalted once again, and firm approval of vigilante justice as a social foundation. I think it’s an important sf novel, an eminently argument-worthy sf novel, produced while Heinlein was still in his peak readable years, but yeah, yeesh, it’s got some issues.
Bernard PeekMarch 20, 2014 at 5:32 pm
They say the golden age of SF is 14 and that’s about the age I was when I read TMIaHM. I thought it was the best SF I’d ever read. I read it a few more times but it’s got to be 40 years since I last read it. I think I’ll preserve my illusions and not go back to it.
As has already been mentioned it’s worth noting that in some ways Heinlein’s work was considered progressive at the time it was written. That was about the same time that I was saying that the opening of our first McDonalds was a major step forward in British cuisine. Which it was. Both SF and British cuisine have advanced a lot since then.
DeMarch 20, 2014 at 10:35 pm
Reading this is something of a relief. I am one of those people who insists that authors, at least, should read the books in the genre they want to work in. That said, I’ve always hated Heinlein’s work and am sick to death of people putting it on a pedestal.
I listened to a lecture on SF by Michael Drout and he claimed that Heinlein had an open marriage and actually may have engaged in same-sex sex, but wiki doesn’t confirm this so I don’t feel right claiming it as fact here. Heinlein sounds like he was a more complex person than the people who say he was a militaristic authoritarian know. However, that doesn’t make his books any more enjoyable.
FarahMarch 21, 2014 at 5:57 am
I am a very big, but completely critical, eyes wide open, Heinlein fan. Like others he felt like a breath of fresh air when I read him as a kid in the 1980s. I still love his work, but as a historical artefact and this was a very good post indeed.
Brad GibsonMarch 21, 2014 at 9:45 am
You are reviewing a book from 1966 using cultural filters from 2014. Come on, that’s a gaff of enormous proportions. FOR ITS TIME it’s an amazing and wonderful, and yes, progressive, work of fiction.
IlyaMarch 21, 2014 at 9:47 am
I stand by my claim that human beings do not act like Heinlein’s characters — not in 1966, not in 2014.
williamMarch 21, 2014 at 9:48 am
Love ,love, love Heinlein….He can do no wrong. His novels will be around long after this review is forgotten…
IlyaMarch 21, 2014 at 10:10 am
At trolling, William fails.
Neil WMarch 21, 2014 at 12:54 pm
Heinlein is lurking in an odd period; not so far in the past that we can read him like, say, the Victorians and think “That’s awful, but frankly welcome to the 19th century”, but definitely not yet modern.
Having said that, it was last year that Spain increased the minimum age for marriage from 14 to 16. (Such marriages were not common unlike TMIAHM)
I do feel that the Earth short-sightedly draining the Moon colony of resources in a way that will undoubtedly cause disaster for both sounds pretty realistic to me. Out of character if there was a Heinlein-ian superman in charge of the operation though.
IlyaMarch 21, 2014 at 1:17 pm
It’s more than just the period.
Most SF writers prior to 1970 or so concentrated on technological changes and did not even try to figure out social changes. Thus we have Asimov’s “Foundation” where 100,000 (!) years in the future people still live in nuclear families with father working and mother raising kids, still have “tobacco growers” (and presumably tobacco field workers), and a tinpot dictator in a mutually hating political marriage to the daughter of Imperial Prefect. Today all of it seems quaint, but no worse than quaint. A modern reader realizes that’s how world (or rather Western world) was at the time, and generally accepts it along with other anachronisms.
Problem with Heinlein is that he really tried to extrapolate how technological changes would influence the way humans act — and almost invariably missed the boat so badly, the result comes across today as downright creepy.
chaosprimeMarch 21, 2014 at 1:51 pm
@Ilya: That seems to make Heinlein, who generally gets high marks for technical prognostication, interesting for what he was wrong about. That list would almost have to be an inventory of items that were so important to his worldview that he couldn’t bear to be right about them.
One thing that I’ve always found fascinating along those lines is that both Heinlein and Doc Smith considered the advent of any kind of elective mechanical augmentation of the human body to literally mark the imminent downfall of civilization. They considered this so obviously horrible, disgusting and wrong that nothing needed to be explained about it. Even when I was a wee child in the ’80s this struck me as tremendously odd.
(Incidentally, I doubt Heinlein’s hero-worship of Doc Smith did him any favors with regard to grasp of the human condition.)
Katy K.March 21, 2014 at 4:32 pm
I must have read Heinlein as a teen – I read through my parent’s stuffed sf bookcase, and can’t imagine that it wasn’t there. I can’t remember. I do remember having a very similar reaction to my Esteemed Great-Uncle John W. Campbell when I read him at the same age. Glad he did well for himself and by the genre for the time, don’t need to read more ever.
My love said, regarding Heinlein, that he feels Heinlein himself perfectly epitomizes Sturgeon’s law, and that one of his fandom friends had asked all of his friends about Heinlein. He could find one person who liked each of his books, but no person who liked even 50% of his total output.
Andrea KMarch 21, 2014 at 6:10 pm
“For it’s time” doesn’t fare much better. There are plenty of books from the 60s, the 50s, the 40s, the 30s that treat women better than Heinlein. Heck, there are books from the 1800s that treat women better.
And, small reminder, that the 1960s came AFTER ?
Justine LarbalestierMarch 21, 2014 at 8:06 pm
Brad Gibson: You are reviewing a book from 1966 using cultural filters from 2014.
And so are you. Pretty hard not to view a book from where you are in time. Not without a time machine.
Besides which Samuel R. Delany’s Babel 17 was published in 1966. And Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness only a few years later in 1969. Both books pee all over Heinlein’s for social extrapolation not to mention both are gorgeously written, evocative and read as well now as they did then.
Ian SalesMarch 22, 2014 at 5:30 am
I read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress for the first time last summer and came to pretty much the same conclusion as you – see here. I also reread Stranger in a Strange Land several years ago and that didn’t go very well either – see here. Heinlein’s novels, for all their reputation, simply don’t cut it in the 21st century.
SplicerMarch 22, 2014 at 8:08 am
I read it for the first time about fifteen years ago and although I liked it, I didn’t see it as the great book that some think it is. I feel that some of its “greatness” comes from the libertarians who latch-on to the political message. Let’s face it, it’s a better book than any of the garbage written by Ayn Rand. But like Rand, people who like the book gloss over the parts that don’t fit (like the “little girl breasts”) quote and focus on the parts they do like.
That said, I will admit that I really don’t care. The polyamory stuff was my introduction into thinking about that lifestyle — one that I now engage in. That’s what I got out of it. The rest? In the end, the story just didn’t feel complete to me. For me it had the structure: Something-Middle-Something rather than Beginning-Middle-End.
April Books & WineMarch 22, 2014 at 8:25 am
One time in high school, I read Stranger In A Strange Land to impress a boy and like all schemes that have to do with impressing boys, it totally was not my most brilliant moment. I remember reading it and being totally confused and bored and unable to understand what the BFD was.
I think I am going to keep that opinion and assessment in mind and not try Heinlein’s other books, my TBR just doesn’t have that kind of space or time.
And ugh, what even with that whole consent thing. WHAT EVEN.
Gerd D.March 22, 2014 at 8:35 am
This particular quote bugs me to no end now.
I can’t help it, but reading this is almost enough in and of itself to put Heinlein on my blacklist.
‘Even’ for ’66 this must have sounded terrible creepy.
Although Heinlein does inadvertently encapsule a hard truth about rape as a crime in there, that it’s all down to definition – and it’s not the victims definition that counts.
The last sentence stresses sexual availabilty, with the idea of consent not even considered – so no rape on luna?
Hell, he all but says in his first sentence that rape is practically a major make-up of this “perfect society”.
steve davidsonMarch 22, 2014 at 9:00 am
A very illuminating review, perhaps not so much about the book itself as the changing culture among fans.
I first read TMIAHM when the 60s culture was still very much a real thing. I found Heinlein’s portrayal of women to be illuminating and positive – especially considering the real world they could be compared to at the time. Our expectations of what real equality represents have evolved over time (still are). And I’m enough of a Heinlein fan to believe that were he writing today, his portrayal of women would be received by a contemporary audience as positive. Of course we’ll never know.
On the revolution/starvation critique: the whole thing is based on on the American Revolution, which was, at its heart, economic revolution. Royal taxes on the colonies were ruinous and would have led to their economic collapse. colonial powers often pillaged their colonies to such ruinous states, so I find this particular critique a bit wanting.
Regarding the age of women entering marriage in the colony. Perhaps Heinlein could have been a bit more forward thinking in this regard, but we’re not that far away from times when that kind of thing was pretty common (close enough it still exists in various places around the globe). I think RAH made a decent run at trying to create a society – a closed society – that remained somewhat sustainable. It didn’t descend into slavery or harems or some other dynamic that completely disempowered women. On the other hand, I can certainly see how his society can be criticized from a more modern perspective.
What I find most interesting of all is how a book that helped illustrate to me back in the 60s the importance of real equality – that women were as fully capable, intelligent, adventurous, fully rounded human beings as men – can be so roundly condemned for illustrating the opposite fifty years later.
Bob BloughMarch 22, 2014 at 6:07 pm
I have been reading SF since 1970 and at that time to read Heinlein was to read SF. I loved many of them because I was told that they were great and what did I know at age 12? There were still some I hated even back then – Farnham’s Freehold, Starship Troopers, Sixth Column and others but I loved three of his adult novels – Stranger in a Strange Land, Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Double Star.
I have reread all three of them recently. And I hgave come to the conclusion that anything Heinlein published after 1960 is filled with talk, talk, talk, talk. Preach, preach, preach and more. I got through Stranger but I through it down in disgust many times because the interesting ideas were there but covered by innumerable speeches that obviously were mouthpieces for Heinlein himself.
I couldn’t even get through Moon for the same reason.
I always thought his take on women was so twisted – many are powerful people who stand on their own but still were sex objects so I was confused. In reading Moon I realize that is not his portrayal of women it is his portrayal of male/female relationships that are the problem. He creates a powerful woman and then has all the men treat her like a sex kitten. It absolutely drives me crazy.
But, Double Star is still golden to me. Still some of the same problems but the men are not superior. I think it is the only Heinlein novel ( and I have read them all) where the man is a not perfect and grows up during the course of the novel.
Anyway, If you do love SF you should read some classics, because most of the ideas that are loved today were invented in these stories. They can be clunky and they can be sexist, but to really understand SF as a genre – they should be tasted.
If you are just reading what you like – great. No exploration of the roots of SF are needed. I do think though that to be well read in the genre is necessary for anyone who seeks to be a critic rather than a reviewer of SF.
Excellent review though. He was very important because of the positive things you mentioned in both reviews. Voice, the casualness of living in the future etc. Read Orphans of the Sky to get the first time the trope of generation starships was really explored. At the time (even still for me in the 70’s)it blew our minds. If you read it now, you will know right away what it is about – but at the time it was a real breakthrough.
I find some classics really are awful and some really are still quite good. But the classics are important to the evolution of the genre.
JDsgMarch 23, 2014 at 2:51 am
Regarding the treatment of women as a minority in MHM, you might wish to compare that to the wishful thinking by one of the women’s characters in Frank Herbert’s The White Plague after the plague has struck.
SteveKMarch 23, 2014 at 3:48 pm
Very interesting review, thanks. It amuses me that, whatever else you think about Heinlein, he still provokes controversy 25 years after his death and almost 50 years after MOON was published.
Many of the comments here, and some points in the review, appear to me to suffer from the phenomenon of “mistaking the narrator for the author.” Heinlein is not really a “militarist,” for example, by most formal definitions. In his books he spoke kindly and even persuasively about monarchy, democracy, libertarianism, socialism (he was a rabid socialist earlier in his life, working as a speechwriter for Upton Sinclair, and this is especially noticeable in BEYOND THIS HORIZON), and just about everything except Communism. By the same token, you cannot mistake the views of a first-person narrator raised in this society for Heinlein’s own.
Granted, Heinlein liked to lecture, and this permeates all his later books (this certainly being a major and legitimate criticism of his later work), meaning you can claim he WAS speaking to his own beliefs, especially, as critics Blish and Panshin noted, when speaking in the voice of the “Wise Old Man,” keeping in mind that Mañuel O’Kelly-Davis was NOT that character. But I further think he also honestly tried to extrapolate a society. This is a society resembling early Australia, where criminals (several violent offenders and murders were mentioned as ancestors and current inhabitants) and dissidents were dumped “to live or die,” and the idea that they came up with ANY kind of society on the Moon is remarkable enough, let alone that it was fairly civilized. It was largely composed of people at the fringes of society, mostly very ill-educated, and from cultures not widely known for lacking racism OR sexism. Why be surprised that Manny has a limited worldview, or that this culture allowed women AND MEN of early teenage years to have sex and marry — essentially as soon as they were able? (I’m not sure MANNY was older than 16 when he married the Davis family. If it’s wrong for Ludmilla, it’s wrong for Manny – and for that matter the future Stones couple, though the creepy incest theme is also present for her.)
If anything, I think the flaws in this society come from Heinlein trying to impose his own beliefs in an unrealistic manner rather than thoroughly working out how to make it happen logically. And God knows he’s hardly the only SF writer on any side of the political spectrum to start with a “just so” society.
Historically, at least, societies with this kind of sex-ratio imbalance become much, much uglier to women than this one. Heinlein wanted the women to “call the tune,” even if he undermined this intent in ways perhaps inevitable to a middle-class man of his age from Kansas, and forced it into the society.
And he does something common among people TRYING not to be racist in his day: he says what he thinks are positive things about the cultures he stereotypes, e.g., the Japanese, the Chinese, Indians, etc. Obnoxious by today’s standards, but let us not forget that his contemporary editor, the legendary and influential John W. Campbell, wrote OPENLY racist works assuming the “white man” was the pinnacle of humanity, and often forced his writers to incorporate similar themes. Give credit where credit is due: Heinlein made a point of creating a multiracial society where skin color was irrelevant and then made snarky comments about the US, which he notes (rightly) is obsessed with it.
At any rate, I think he liked trying to come up with things different from modern American culture to tweak people (Double Star being an excellent example), especially as regards sexuality. Even if he was not as gifted in his sociology and anthropology or even character creation as, say, LeGuin, he was far more popular in his day and thus had significant influence on a lot of people for themes that were outright astonishing in SF of the time, and provide a level for people to build from.
Having said all that, if you don’t like it, I respect that. I came to it much earlier, when some of Heinlein’s assumptions were not as well and publicly questioned as they are today, and I loved it. I still enjoy reading it, as I do “Doc” Smith, despite their obvious flaws, as many people enjoy the books they imprinted on as teenagers, though I am far more alert to those flaws than I was then, and when picking up a modern novel with these flaws, I find it unreadable.
Truthfully, as much as I love this novel, there are probably better choices for a modern audience if you feel compelled to try something else. In any case, I found your perspective quite intriguing and insightful.
Barbara Johnson-HaddadMarch 24, 2014 at 12:16 am
I liked Heinlein as a kid and still enjoy him, but consider the time he was writing. ‘Between Planets’ was one of the first identified-as-sf and ‘omg, this is a genre?’ that I encountered as a 10-year old. ‘Moon’ was a nifty new book to me in 1968 and I really enjoyed the society building he engaged in. Of course, I was 11, but it was really top-flight stuff -then-. I still enjoy the book, if only because of how I could feel my imagination respond to it.
Of course, when I was 12, I read ‘Stranger’ and totally missed the sex in it. When I reread it 5 years later, I was astonished at how much sex was a part of the book – and how it did not register on me at the time.
Heinlein was also a point of contact that I had with my dad. He saw me reading ‘Red Planet’ – suggested I read ‘Puppet Masters’ – saying that he enjoyed it. We were able to converse about science fiction [then fantasy, as I recommended ‘Lord of the Rings’ and Zelazny’s Amber series] – even when we were having problems with other aspects of life.
jennygadgetMarch 24, 2014 at 12:59 am
(apologies if this is derailing or off topic)
So, here’s my question whenever people make this argument: who gets to decide what counts as a “2014 filter” and what counts as a legit argument?
Because I may not have been alive in 1966, but my mother was. She was, in fact 17 – a teenager like many of the more problematic women/girls Heinlein was writing about. (But unlike people who read this book when they were first twelve, old enough to to understand the implications.) And I can’t really imagine that she would have ever read any of that and been like “well, that makes sense.” She may not have used the same words as we do to describe what we find disturbing about it, but I have a hard time believing she would not have been squicked out.
(To move onto to 1960’s views of hers that I don’t have to speculate about:) You can certainly argue that the people that told my mother, at 19 and in college, that she and her teammates were not sturdy enough to run the full basketball court without hurting themselves – simply because they were women – were nothing more than products of their time. But so was my mother. And she never thought the rule was anything but stupid. So was my father. And likewise. And quite frankly, I have a hard time believing that most of the people that didn’t have a problem with the rule actually thought that women would be harmed physically if they took it away. Like many such rules, what they actually thought would be harmed (how they thought women would be harmed) was something quite different.
That something was more accepted during particular time, or is seen as even more bullshit now than it was then, does not automatically make it not bullshit in the past. To argue otherwise is to make the past seem even more discriminatory and backwards than it was, and it erases a great many people. Many of whom were the ones who worked hard to make sure things changed.
And like the ridiculous rule about not running the full basketball court, very few people actually believed the surface excuses given for all this bullshit. Something that the people who talk about certain historical figures being “products of their time” never seem to acknowledge.
So are some of us using 2014 filters when we read sexist, racist books from 1966? Possibly. But I’m guessing that an even larger number of people are defending these works through filters that render the complexities and full diversity of the past invisible.
hapaxMarch 24, 2014 at 10:20 am
@jennygadget — You are absolutely spot on correct.
To be blunt, there WERE SFF authors in 1966 who did NOT write racist, sexist stories. Four of them are featured in this month’s Readalong Poll!
(They may have other problematic issues. But not the ones Heinlein exhibited)
So to excuse him as a “man of his times” demonstrates the kind of ignorance of genre history that all these soi-disant “Real Fans” should be beyond.
JacobMarch 25, 2014 at 2:05 pm
Yes, you are fans.
No, not all fans agree about everything. I’ve read plenty of Heinlein. I haven’t particularly cared for the sexism but otherwise have enjoyed his books.
Regarding age of consent, I don’t have all the numbers in front of me. However, I believe some US states had age of consent as low as 14 at the time the book was written. Rules and mores about sex, sexuality and marriage have changed quite a lot in the US in the past 50 years.
Fun note you might have missed but other people have remarked on in other posts about this book: for Mike to handle the creation of a convincing broadcast with visual and audio elements, it took a massive, astounding, unheard-of 10 megabits of data per second! Whoever would ever have access to that much processing power ever? 😛
IlyaMarch 25, 2014 at 2:16 pm
Perhaps nobody commented on “10 megabits per second” blooper because it was not unique to Heinlein — in fact, was universal. Golden Age SF writers ALWAYS underestimated development of computer hardware, and almost always overestimated development of software. In fact, this trend continued well past “Golden Age”; I think Rudy Rucker was the first writer to do the opposite, and that was in a novel he wrote in 1980.
IlyaMarch 25, 2014 at 2:18 pm
Never mind. I just checked, and Rudy Rucker’s “Ware” series is behind the times as far as Moore’s Law goes.
ScottMarch 25, 2014 at 6:19 pm
I want to defend Heinlein because I love his books and think they are the best sci-fi products from their time… but I must agree that a feminist will not find much to love there. I should say however, that his portrayals of women reflected his vision of the world. Are we to judge shakespeare next for his sexism and lack of female leads? How about Mark Twain and his views on race (forward for his time but backward today)?
To examine the plot of the book, I think many are missing the point when they pick holes in their plot of revolution. His main character is an almost autistic man living in a penal colony. His world is filtered through this vision as all good writing should be filtered. Could their plan succeed without Mike? No. Are their dreams of freedom fulfilled? No. In fact as soon as the revolution succeeds they are sidelined by more powerful figures that Manny never even considered.
Lastly,considering Wyoh a failure as a person for becoming a mother is nothing short of insulting to the millions of women who make that choice every year. I’ve seen strong, able, intelligent women make that choice just after getting their doctorate because it is what they wanted. That is what freedom is about, not demanding that all women must adhere to an artificial standard of living in your ‘Brave New World’ (yes, thats a baby making joke.)
TroyMarch 30, 2014 at 11:37 pm
Well, the first reviewer fails to grasp the basic situation of the book. Grain exportation = water failure = starvation = desperation = cannibalism. They spend a significant scene explaining this. The same with worsening odds with initial successes.
As for the rest, it’s not a modern view of powerful women. The book very much shows it’s age there, and a number of the more disagreeable points draw from even older social morals. A number of social conventions are drawn from historical settings similar to the moon colony, such as boom mining, fur, or logging camps. Blah, blah, regurgitate other comments.
Heinlien is slipping in popularity due to these things, like a great many other authors over history that had a significant effect on their genre but were then relegated to ‘This is an Important Classic!’ status because their impact was heavily grounded in their particular time. Changes in society rob him of his effect, impact, relevance, and even palatability. But this happens to all authors, just look at Scarlet Letter or The Great Gatsby (hated both).
Sharper Words » Read: March 2014April 1, 2014 at 4:52 pm
[…] reading a review on the Little Red Reviewer, and then a review of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress on Booksmugglers. I wanted to reevaluate a Heinlein novel for myself; I have a problematic relationship with his […]
debelJune 4, 2014 at 10:40 am
A very opinionated, feminist passive-agressive hate review. Maybe you should just give up reading SF and stick to “better genres”…
shaundukeJune 5, 2014 at 10:41 am
My god, debel. A review which is *opinionated*? What ever shall we do? No review should EVER offer an opinion. If reviews offered opinions, we would have to know what people think about books or movies or whatever. That’s the path to tyranny!
You say “feminist” as if that’s a bad thing. I find that hilarious.
Ian CarterSeptember 8, 2014 at 6:08 pm
What I enjoyed about the book was the development of the supersentient computer, the thought experiment of justice procedures in an anarchist society and the idea of how easily dominated earth is from space. That last one is really interesting with the current development of privatized space programs. In TMIAHM, moon dwellers discover that they can more or less drop massy items on earth with nuclear effects (targetting is still very difficult – but the AI magically handles that). The weaponization of space is probably the first biggest hurdle to dreams of interstellar economy even before the technological problem. Any nation or corporation developing the means for harvesting minerals from asteroids, for example, would have to be trusted with what is basically a greater-than-nuclear weapons platform (they could just drop the harvested mass on the planet below – or screw up complicated re-entry trajectories in such a way as to result in the same). It’s an interesting bottleneck to humankind’s destiny: we’re kind of stuck on this planet until we can all agree to move ahead together.
The ideas explored in TMIAHM were really cool and a lot of them are still really relevant. Yes, it’s laced with eurocentrism and patriarchy – it was written by an old white guy in a period that was probably the apex of white male power in the world. We should re-write it so that more people can participate in the ideas in it – but those were also the same ideas Ana found boring.
KenOctober 10, 2014 at 6:07 pm
What I found interesting in reading the reviews and most of the comments is how quickly and easily folks are offended. In my opinion, Heinlein raised some very interesting ideas and let some of those ideas play out in his created world. Some of the ideas he let loose support a more egalitarian society. You are trying to be treated equally, right?
Perhaps you cannot see past the author-vs-narrator and the lingering 50’s and 60’s influence on some of his descriptions. I personally found it refreshing to read an author who was directly questioning the same things you seem to be against in your reviews during a period of time when it was much, much less popular to do so. If you were to pause for a moment, you might see that he was on your side at the time of writing this piece.
Heinlein constructs a world (aren’t all worlds of SF constructed by their authors) and has to make a couple assumptions to get that world going. I say judge him on his plot and character development within the world he created. Judge him on whether he conveyed his ideas well.
[For the record, I judge TMIAHM as having an okay plot and just-barely-passable character development that Heinlein used very successfully to present his ideas.]
For example, he creates a Luna that has women in a real position of power. Whistling at women as they walk by in 2014 in the US is deemed wrong. It is wrong because most women deem it to be creepy and objectifying and disrespectful. Heinlein may not have made this case well enough for you to get it, but the case he is making, if logically consistent is this: Women in Luna were in a position of real power. In his Luna, the women not only tolerated the whistling, they authorized, and approved of it. If that were not the case, the whistler would have been eliminated or brought to trial as Stu was for his being to forward.
I don’t think Heinlein was trying to justify whistling at women. I think he was trying to help his readers wrestle with a totally different view of women greatly influencing the norms of male behavior toward them.
JamieNovember 6, 2014 at 1:40 pm
I have been reading The Moon is a Harsh Mistress — or rather, listening to it as an audiobook — and I agree with many aspects of this review. The abject sexism of Wyoh’s character in particular jumped out immediately, to such an extent that I was barely able to continue with the story. Unlike the reviewers, I do not consider Wyoh a “strong” or “interesting” character; she is a trivial rabble-rouser, more Pioneer Scout on the old Soviet model than a true revolutionary leader, utterly committed to a cause that she has barely thought out and with no real purpose. That said, I certainly agree on the sexism.
I also agree with the enormous triviality of the plot given the unprecedented and effectively bizarre total control that Mannie has over Mike the Computer. In some instances, the nature of his interactions is very believable in the context of a computer’s finite but inflexible rules; for instance, Mike is able to read the Security Chief’s “Special File Zebra” only when given the password externally and aloud, so Mannie asks him what the password is, Mike tells him, Mannie gives the password aloud, and Mike opens the file. This is genius; I daresay that many of us would be unable to solve the problem the way that he did. But the moments of genius are few and far between. Far more often, Mike’s omnipresent, omnipotent, infalliable, and (somehow) utterly invisible role allows the “Emergency Committee for a Free Luna” to do whatever it wants with total impunity. That may not be irrational, given the circumstances of the plot, but it makes for a dull, predictable tale.
There are numerous other aspects of the plot that do NOT make sense. Why, for instance, would Stu be allowed to see Mannie and the Prof alone while they are on Earth? Why should the Terran warships be so incapable of tracking the second catapult’s firing ports and destroying these with hydrogen bombs? Certainly, the trajectories could be tracked backwards by any mathematical plotter that knew their distance and speed as well as the effects of gravity associated with the particular orbit.
I will take a brief moment to disagree vehemently with Thea on two of her points — first, that there is nothing particularly odd about claiming that cannibalism would result if the Moon were to exhaust its food, because this has happened in various instances within human society; and second, that the “catapults” that she dismisses as silly are 1960s descriptions of what we now call mass drivers, quite realistic and workable according to people who concern themselves with such things — but I overall agree that this book is a difficult telling of a dull story. I did take away from it three things: it is better to execute rabble-rousers than exile them, there is much to be said for periodically wiping a computer and starting over, and revolutions are based far more on propaganda than principle. But Ana puts its best: “…Lunar society is shown as a perfect society, of perfectly developed natural laws…it also a future of men, by men and for men.”
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AnonymousApril 21, 2016 at 3:10 am
You bore me. Go through The works of Mark Twain, Faulkner, or name a hundred other great writers and pick a few cultural anachronisms that were still present in their woks because they were still present in society at the time of writing. So what? No need to throw out the baby with the bath water.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein – Paige Reviews BooksMay 16, 2017 at 6:01 pm
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