A review by amandasupak
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

adventurous slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No


 2.5 stars 
Named characters: 111 (This is just far too many, that’s almost a new character every 3 pages) 

I read a lot of science fiction, and in the past year I’ve been trying to dive into some of the older and critically acclaimed gems of the past. The main question I want to answer is: “If you like modern sci fi, would I also still like some of the old stuff?” This book won the Hugo award in both 1966 and 1967 (somehow, I didn’t know that was possible?). Book 1 is actually very interesting, it has a lot of world building and lots of philosophical discussions. Book 2 is fine. It’s not bad, it’s not good. Book 3 is just straight up boring and I was dying for it to end. So the answer is complicated, but probably no. Sorry, but you are going to consider me a harsh mistress after you read my review. 

Let’s start with what I knew about the book before I even picked it up:

-          Heinlein won 4 hugo awards, and this book was considered his finest work 
-          He was considered the father of hard science fiction, aka science fiction where science is the backbone of the way the plot works. 
-          He was praised for having strong female characters. Let’s just say I think this is very overstated, but compared to some other sci fi at the time like the Foundation series, this is completely true. To be fair the bar is in hell though. 

What I liked about the book:

-          There were lots of big ideas in this book. How to overthrow a government, how to recruit people to your revolution, and how to use AI to win a war. 
-          He is very progressive in introducing alternative family structures like polyamory. Because the moon was originally set up many generations ago as a prison colony, the female to male ratio is very low.  With not enough women to marry, women end up being able to pick their husband(s) when forming their family.  There is also discussion of IVF (which had not successfully been done when this book was published), and surrogacy. 
-          This book is hard sci-fi, and for the most part he does a good job. He describes the AI character and their relationship was humorous.  You can talk to it in plain language which is very reminiscent of ChatGPT, but this was written over 60 years ago! 

Neutral observations:

-          There are some funny anachronisms because it’s so old. There is no concept of internet, so in order to talk to the AI you have to call it on a phone line. There are quite a few times when there is action happening, and characters will say to each other “make sure to stay close to a phone line!” and it cracked me up. There was also this concept called “bundling” which is the word he uses for sex. After doing some research it appears this was a term used in colonial America where two teenagers would lay next to each other in bed, they would be wrapped in sacks and a wooden board placed between them. The idea was that they could spend time talking and getting to know each other at night with a little bit of privacy from their parents, but that the bundling would prevent them from banging. Hilarious! If you want to read more about this: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-awkward-17thcentury-dating-practice-that-saw-teens-get-bundled-into-bags 

And now we can round this review out with the bad: 

-          I would say the style of writing in this book is really dry and boring. A lot of this book is the opposite of “show don’t tell”. It’s written in present tense, but it sounds like you are reading his thoughts on the events in his diary after everything is already over. All of the action seems to be rushed and written like he’s remembering it from the past and now writing it down. In some ways he rushes his writing in some areas, but then he also gets way too bogged down into the details in another section. It just ends up being really boring. 
-          The main character speaks in a lunar dialect that sounded in the audiobook like broken Russian….. For. The. Entire. BOOK! God help me that was annoying as hell. Imagine 300 pages of this: “Not fastest. At Bell Labs, Bueno Aires, down Earthside, […] But matters whether you get answer in microsecond rather than millisecond as long as correct?” or this “I slowly got through skull that I was only human who bothered to visit with him.” It just feels like gears grinding in my brain. 
-          I understand Heinlein’s female characters were progressive at the time, but it still reeks of sexism to a modern reader. The main female character (Wyoming or wyma/wyoh for short) is supposed to be equal in power the main character as they are collaborators in the plot, but yet she almost never allowed to take any actions to effect the plot at all. Instead Heinlein spends a great deal of time writing about how beautiful she is, and he reminds you about it quite a lot. We also get these lines in the book: 
She was gorgeous. When she undulated down a corridor, boys followed in swarms. 
I stopped three paces away to look her up and down and whistle. 
“Wyoming was wearing black shorts and pullover--practical for travel and effective on a blonde.” 
“Wyoh, you look like slot-machine sheila waiting for action” 
[Whyoming says], "I'm not crying! I'm just frightened silly that you won't come back!" 
-          Book 3 was a slog to get to. While I know this is a hard science fiction, he spent way too much time describing the details of things that don’t matter like
explaining every target they will hit on earth and why, all like 50 of them
. He gets super bogged down into the details and forgets he has a plot to run. There was also no tension or build up to the end. When there was about 10 minutes left in the audiobook, it didn’t even feel like the ending was coming up. 
-          This book is big on ideas like how to throw out a government, but terrible with character development. 
-          The main character Manuel does a lot of shady things to help win independence, so much so that I wondered if he was any better than the last government. Here are some examples
He steals money from all over luna to fund the revolution, he rigs the election so that his men get put into congress (a lot of whom were family members), and he bombs earth and kills thousands of people. 
-          Manuel creates a lot of ripples in the plot by doing a lot of things, but it feels pretty flat Because it’s only written from his point of view, and none of the other characters ever tell him how they feel about his actions, you never get a sense of how his actions effect others. 
-          There are just WAY too many characters. At one point at the end of the book, a named character dies and I had no emotional reaction to it because I could not remember who the hell they were. 
-          There is a substantial number of sections in this book that are just a few characters talking back and forth at a table. It’s unusual for a modern book to do this. It basically stops all the plot and you listen to very long political conversations at a table with a few characters.