Study Guide

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

by Robert A. Heinlein

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Heinlein received his fourth and final Hugo award for The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Though the work is a masterpiece in every way—scientific background, plot construction, setting, characterization—it is usually remembered for the brilliant characterization of “Mike,” the supercomputer that develops a personality. Though Mike receives the most attention, all the major figures are among Heinlein’s most completely realized characters. Mike’s first friend, the computer technician Manuel Garcia O’Kelly (“Mannie”), is the narrator of the novel. Born free, but the son of criminals transported to the moon when it was a prison colony, Mannie shows the cautious independence of an ex-con in a repressive system.

Mannie’s narration is a stylistic masterpiece in itself, for Heinlein has created, as he does in no other novel, a version of the streamlined language a moon colonist (or “Loony” as they proudly call themselves) might speak in the year 2076. Because, as Professor Leon Stover observes in his book-length study of Heinlein, there is little stylistic play in Heinlein’s fiction, it is worth looking closely at his only stylistic experiment in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. It is a fair extrapolation of what might someday be spoken on the moon, as it amalgamates Russian, Chinese, and Australian and American English. As all four nations are potential colonizers of the moon, one should not expect pure English among the settlers.

Even the English is mutated. Articles are used rarely, perhaps under the influence of Russian, and personal pronouns are often dropped when they appear as subjects. The expletive “there” is dropped in the phrase “there is”: In the opening paragraph of the novel, Mannie observes, “I see also is to be mass meeting tonight.” Many other words are dropped if they can be supplied by context. Thus, one finds Mannie saying, “Won’t worry about what can’t help,” and asking, “Matters whether you get answer in microsecond rather than millisecond as long as correct?”

Mike’s only other friends are a tall, beautiful, blond woman, Wyoming Knott, and Mannie’s old mentor, Professor Bernardo de la Paz. The professor is a typical Heinlein mentor character, yet his seemingly Marxist...

(The entire section is 932 words.)

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is the story of the revolt of the Lunar colonists, or Loonies, as they call themselves, against the Federated Nations of Terra, as told in a flashback by Mannie O’Kelly, one of the leaders of the rebellion. By 2075, Earth has established permanent settlements on the Moon and uses them as penal colonies for criminals, political prisoners, and assorted misfits from various nations. The original inhabitants and their descendants live underground in vast warrens away from the unshielded solar radiation on the Moon’s surface. As in most colonial societies, life in Luna is harsh and challenging, with few luxuries, but it is also simple and honest. Because of the lower gravity, people live longer, and sterilization procedures eliminate all diseases. Loonies are the most well-mannered people alive, since the dangers of Lunar existence require them to get along with one another or die. Many people engage in polyandries, clans, group marriages, and line families, such as the one of which Mannie is a member. The basic rule underlying all Lunar society is “tanstaafl,” or “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” All Loonies must pay in some way for what they have, including, as the novel demonstrates, their freedom.

As the novel begins, the apolitical Mannie is drawn into the growing Loonie revolutionary underground by his friends Wyoh and “Prof” de la Paz. He reveals to them that the Lunar Authority’s computer, which he services, is “alive.” He has named it Mike or Mycroft,...

(The entire section is 630 words.)