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Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

A book by Robert A. Heinlein

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The Earth is a Harsh Mistress Now

  • Sep 25, 2011
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The Moon is a Harsh Mistress appeared in 1966.  I probably read it in my early high school years and certainly multiple times.  I always liked it and have never really forgotten the plot.  But I haven't read it in more than 20 years and I am sure I did not know about Peak Oil whenever that was.  Recently something clicked in my brain and caused me to connect some dots along a different route so I went back and read it again.

The fundamental driver of this story is that the Moon is running out of water, or ice if you want to be picky.  Of course in 1966 we had not gotten to the Moon and nobody knew if any water was there.  But anyway, the Earth is overpopulated in the year 2075 and wheat is being grown in the Moon and shipped back to Earth.  Of course wheat requires water, so in effect the Loonies are sending their water to Earth.

But the story actually starts with a computer repair man talking to an intelligent computer that has spontaneously become conscious.  We still don't have conscious computers which can comprehend reality, so this was a nice twist in 1966.  But the computer comes up with more accurate and frightening numbers for when the water is going to run out so something needs to be done pronto.  Thus Heinlein launches us into a semi-practical thought experiment about economics, politics and war driven by resource depletion.

Now the reason this book came to mind is that I finally made the connection between Peak Oil and running out of the fictional water in the Moon of this story.  That is why I decided to read it again.  Now this book is ballyhooed by Libertarians because of its economic philosophy but there are plenty of people who regard it as naive or even socially immoral and incompetent.  There are twice as many men in the Moon in this story as women so that makes for some strange social relations.  Or at least it does in the mind of Robert Heinlein.

I would rate this book as 9 out of 10 in part because of the social thought experiment it has presented us with in resource depletion and its consequences.  But many reviews of this book are quite strange.  Russ Allerby gave this book a 6 out of 10 in 2005. 


He makes no mention of the words ice, water, farm, wheat, or population so he never really explains the background and driving force of the entire story.  Starvation in seven years would tend to concentrate people's attention remarkably well.   Instead he complains about a computer that is too smart, the naive economics and Heinlein's absurd group marriages.

The future is not going to be what any science fiction writer imagines.  But that does not mean that lots of people can't get ideas about possible ways to create different futures if given some suggestions.  Because whatever it is, it is going to be different from what we have now so we need to be thinking about the possibilities, especially those we want to avoid.  But resource depletion forcing people into desperate situations is one of those possibilities, or even likely probabilities, in this century.  So that is a reason to read this book despite what some people may regard as its literary flaws.

Something I did not recall was that Heinlein mentioned Loglan in the book.  Loglan is an artificially created language and stands for Logical Language.  Naturally evolved languages tend to have logical flaws which resulted from their development during pre-scientific ages.  Like the word sunrise being about the Sun becoming visible due to the rotation of the Earth not the Sun actually rising.  Heinlein was among a number of science fiction writers interested in General Semantics and he attended meetings about the subject in the 1940s.  He also talks about neural networks in relation to computers.  I don't recall that being mentioned until the 80s in the computer field though I certainly was not at the heart of cybernetic research.  But for it to be used in a 1966 sci-fi book is a bit eyebrow raising.

Here are more reviews that do not think much of the tale:




But again there is no mention of the Lunatics running out of ice and starving.  Instead there are complaints about the prose.

I suppose  some people should not read REAL science fiction because they do not understand what it is really about.  It might make them think too much.
The Earth is a Harsh Mistress Now The Earth is a Harsh Mistress Now The Earth is a Harsh Mistress Now

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September 26, 2011
We must learn to utilize precious resources more wisely. Profit is a secondary consideration to preserving enough resources for future generations.
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In 2075, underground colonies are scattered across the Moon (Luna). Most "Loonies", as the residents are called, are criminals, political exiles or their descendants. Anyone who stays longer than a few months undergoes "irreversible physiological changes and can never again live in comfort and health in a gravitational field six times greater than that to which their bodies have become adjusted." Thus, transportees, having served their sentences, must remain. The total population is about three million, with men outnumbering women two to one. This has a profound effect on society. For example, polyandrous forms of marriage are the norm.

Although the Earth-appointed Protector of the Lunar Colonies (universally called the Warden and just as universally reviled) holds power, in practice there is little intervention in the loose Lunar society. There is work enough for anyone who wants it.

HOLMES IV (High-Optional, Logical, Multi-Evaluating Supervisor, Mark IV) is the Lunar Authority's master computer. It has gradually been given almost total control of Luna's facilities as a cost-saving measure; it is cheaper (though not as safe) to have a single main computer and expand its capacity than to have multiple independent systems.

The story is narrated by Manuel Garcia "Mannie" O'Kelly-Davis, a one-armed computer technician called in when HOLMES IV begins behaving oddly. He discovers it has become self-aware; the malfunctions are the result...

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Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Genre: Heinlein, Robert A., General, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Leadership

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