The science fiction novels which I have enjoyed the most often place greater emphasis on socio-political or cultural dynamics vis-à-vis technological advances or the extraterrestrial, and in this vein Robert A. Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” does a great job of describing the politics and society of future human societies on the Earth and the Moon. Of the three parts of the book, the first and third happen on the Moon, or Luna, which is used as a penal colony by the Earth, though most of the inhabitants – living in underground cities – are descendants of criminals or political exiles. The second part happens on Earth, where protagonists Mannie (who is also the narrator) and Professor de la Paz plead their case for Luna’s independence to the Federated Nations, after the overthrow of the Warden, the Lunar Authority’s Protector.
Most of these developments – overcoming the Lunar Authority’s military forces, the self-declaration of Luna’s independence, and their aforementioned diplomatic endeavours on Earth – are made possible by the authority’s master computer, HOLMES IV (High-Optional, Logical, Multi-Evaluating Supervisor, Mark IV). Mannie first discovers that the computer’s achievement of self-awareness, before befriending it, naming it “Mike”, and enlisting its support for the revolution. And as Mike gains sentience, the interactions between Mike, Mannie, and the Professor de la Paz shed further light on the Earth (which has been split into several large countries, joined together by the Federated Nations) and Luna (where the Lunar Authority exercised little real control in the first place, and where disputes are settled privately or by informal judges). The final part of the book, culminating in the inevitable clash between the Earth and Luna, is also titled “TANSTAAFL!” or “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch!”, a common expression on Luna.
“But Luna herself is a stern schoolmistress; those who have lived through her harsh lessons have no cause to feel ashamed”, and harsh lessons refer to that of physical and psychological adaptation. In addition to the stereotypes of the politics and geopolitics of the nations on Earth, the evolution of the revolution on Luna – from covert cells to revolutionaries to new governments – prompts reflection about how institutions and incentives are shaped in contemporary societies. “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” is therefore a fascinating read not only for these broader discussions, but also for the delightful storytelling and pace of action.