The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress Essay - Critical Essays

Robert A. Heinlein


Undoubtedly one of Robert Heinlein’s greatest achievements in this Hugo Award-winning novel is the creation of Mike, the supercomputer that comes alive. Heinlein realizes the character effectively through Mannie, who admits in chapter 15 that he understands machinery better than he understands people. By giving Mannie the sort of symbiotic relationship with computers that a good technician needs, Heinlein prepares the reader for the humanization of the computer. Furthermore, Mannie himself has a cybernetic element: Having lost his left arm in a mining accident, he is outfitted with mechanical prosthetics, making him part machine. While presenting Mannie’s rapport with machinery as extraordinary, Heinlein nevertheless universalizes Mannie by making him the narrator and by naming him Manuel. Mike shortens that to Man. To Mike, Mannie represents the human race as it could be in the technologically complex twenty-first century.

A second great achievement in the novel is Heinlein’s creation of a Lunar “dialect” of English, which is an amalgam of Russian with American and Australian slang. Although fellow science-fiction writer Alexei Panshin ridiculed it as “babu Russian,” it is a rare accomplishment: a language that is self-consistent and a logical extrapolation of the language Lunar colonists might speak, as well as being unobtrusive and intelligible to the reader. Its form is simple, with American speech patterns and Russian syntax—articles,...

(The entire section is 530 words.)