I have read very little science fiction. I recall, when a teenager, reading some futuristic tales but these were usually the those in the intersection between science fiction and dystopian novels, such as Brave New World. I thought, therefore, as part of my New Year’s resolution that I would broaden my reading and dip my toes in the science fiction pond. After a short browse it was clear that Robert A. Heinlein was highly regarded and that “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” was considered one of his best. Hence it became my first novel of the year.
This prove to be a very wise choice as I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It works at many levels. Firstly there is a standard action-adventure story which is fast paced and rewarding. It was no surprise to hear that the film of the book is in the pipeline and if it remains faithful to the book it should be a success. But more than this it is also a work of science fiction and consequently it discusses broader philosophical points. One of the major themes is the development of sentience by computers and machines, will artificial intelligence cross this divide ? This is discussed interestingly and also with humour. Indeed, the biggest and most pleasant surprise reading this novel was the amount of comedy it contained. There are many genuinely funny scenes.
Heinlein describes himself as a “rational anarchist” and much of this novel is an exposition of his views. Sometimes this is done by giving his protagonsits moral questions to debate, such as .. ..
‘For example, under what circumstances may the State justly place its welfare above that of a citizen?’
“what circumstances is it moral for a group to do that which is not moral for a member of that group to do alone?”
while in other passages there are fairly straightforward explanations of his views .. ..
“a rational anarchist believes that concepts such as “state” and “society” and “government” have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals. He believes that it is impossible to shift blame, share blame, distribute blame … as blame, guilt, responsibility are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else. But being rational, he knows that not all individuals hold his evaluations, so he tries to live perfectly in an imperfect world …”
However, some of the best explanations of his desire for minarchy are seen in the whimsical advice his revolutionary leader offers to his fellow conspirators :-
‘I note one proposal to make this Congress a two-house body. Excellent – the more impediments to legislation the better. But, instead of following tradition, I suggest one house of legislators, another whose single duty is to repeal laws.’
This is an excellent piece of fiction, provocative, funny and exciting and one you can approach in many different ways. It is well worth anyone’s time and I have no doubt I’ll look back on it as my entry point into a wider range of reading.