Book reviews / Science Fiction

Book review: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

I mostly read this book while driving down an ice-road!

The plot is basically revolution! There’s been a colony on the moon for a relatively long time, enough for several generations to be born on the moon. However, as they are decendents of convicts or new transportees, there’s a limited amount of freedoms and they are mostly beholden to ‘The Authority’. Because of unfair conditions and the aid of a supercomputer who becomes sentient (Mike), they stage a revolution and gain independence.

This was a really good book. It was a bit dull at the beginning but once the planning for the revolution starts, it gets very intersting. The main conspirators are the main characters: The Prof, Manuel, Wyoming and Mike, the computer (who I like the best).

Unlike Childhood’s End or The Forever War (which this novel sat between, written in 1966), it didn’t feel anachronistic and so didn’t take me out of the story too much. As well, Lunar society and some of the interesting marital arrangments was not so different to be distracting. Though, I still don’t really understand how Manuel’s line marriage works!

The main criticism I have of it, is that it does come across as relatively sexist in places.

So there is a 2-1 ration of men to women in Luna. So, as Manuel explains at one point, the women have all the power when it comes to chosing mates. There was apparently no rape in Luna because the men wouldn’t put up with it. No one would touch women inappropriately or hurt them as they (the men) could be easily discarded. This is all explained when Manuel befriends Stu, a Terran (someone from Earth). Manuel explains why when Stu put his arm around a woman in Luna, it was unexpected because unwanted attention like that simply doesn’t happen on Luna.

However, you would figure with this power, women would use it to their advantage, no? But this isn’t really the case. Women it seemed were still housewives (in Manuel’s family’s case) or weren’t able to help be soldiers or man the laser guns when it come later. They are somewhat empowered, and Wyoming creates the Lysistrata corps that help man the guns later (and some die for it) but it’s still an overall sexist kind of vibe.

There were also lines like these:

Lenore is a sensible fem and knows when to keep quiet.

Besides that, this time they’ll have female auxiliaries, the standard ten percent – no more rape complaints.

Because of course, the pivotal events that kicks off the revolution is someone (not a main character though) getting raped and killed by outside soldiers.

I don’t think it passes my test because while it does have several female characters, only Wyoming is really a main character. She is one of the main conspirators and I think holds rank with the Prof, Manunel and Mike. However the other female characters aren’t as important such as the other co-wives in Manuel’s family. The senior wife in Manuel’s family though is clearly a very strong, female character (and very competent and that comes across clealry).

But the sexism is not overtly obvious as some of the other books I’ve read and I don’t think it is misogynistic. It’s just unfortunate. I think if you had a modern edit of the book, not a whole lot would change. Just some of the lines that make it sexist could be removed and it would be fine. It’s sad because the worst offenders are such casual off-hand remarks that really don’t add to the story and so could be excised with ease. It’s also countered by how many women do heroic things – like a girl named Hazel who attacks soldiers in the beginning of the book. Or some of Manuel’s co-wives who are clever and good political organisers.

My favourite chracter though, has to be the computer Mike. Which makes the ending all the more sad. I like that he uses his sentience to help plan a revolution but also to research jokes. He is brilliant.

So I do recommend this book, it is very good. I really do enjoy the politics, the langauge and culture of Luna, the characters and the story. It is a solid read so I give it 4.5 out of 5. With a modern edit to remove the subtle sexism, it would definitely be a 5.

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