Book Review: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress happens to be my first peek into Heinlein’s work. The book is embedded with wonderful interstellar imagination – artificial intelligence, extra-terrestrial colonization, and interplanetary warfare.

Science-fiction plus politics interesting concept and totally believable. Also, the theme of revolution and concept of libertarianism is well supported and the idea that nothing comes as free lunch. There is a cost of everything and someone has to pay for it.

Not to miss, the book is well ahead of its times. It was published in 1966 while the first mission to Moon (Apollo 11) was held in 1969.

(Spoiler alert)

Book 1: That Dinkum Thinkum

The year is 2075 and there is a prison colony of Loonies on Moon. The population consists of descendants of political exiles and criminals from Earth. Entire system is Earth controlled, however, there are no laws per say. Men outnumber women 2 to 1. Lunar regions are only used by Earth federation to export its production of grains to Earth

Manuel “Mannie” Garcia O’Kelly-Davis, a native-born inhabitant of Luna, also happens to be a computer technician, befriends a super computer, while on a routine computer job, and calls it Mike.

Mike or the AI in the computer has gained consciousness and is trying to understand human behavior. He asks Mannie’s help to comprehend (human) jokes, to which Mannie agrees. Before leaving, Mike requests him to attend an anti-Authority meeting – Sons of Revolution rally – with a hidden recorder.

With a slight apprehension, Mannie goes to the rally, there he meets Wyoming (“Wyoh”) Knott, a political agitator. While the rally was still on, the authority’s guards busts into and arrests everybody. Mannie flees with Wyoh and take refuge in a hotel. There he confronts his former mentor, the elderly Professor Bernardo de la Paz, who is also a revolutionary. He later introduces the two to Mike, who further reveals that no sooner Luna will exhaust its resources that would escalate food riots and ultimately cannibalism.

Eventually, Mannie joins the revolution. Considering Mike’s assistance to be of vital importance to their conspiracy, they ask for his support, and he agrees to help their efforts. The group begins to plan for Luna’s independence. Followed by creating covert revolution cells and laundering money. With Mike taking up most of the controls especially the telephone system a.k.a. communications, they set him up as an imaginary figurehead and named it Adam Selene.

Unrest follows due to rising dissident political movements and eventually Terra dispatches “Peace Dragoons” to Luna. The troops kill local women and commit unheard crime of rape, which further escalates the rioting. Nevertheless, the revolutionaries and Mike were able to defeat the militaries and take power from the Earth controlled Lunar head, the Warden. As Earth retaliates to reclaim its lost territory, the Loonies plan to protect their sovereignty with the electromagnetic catapult used to export wheat.

Book 2: A Rabble in Arms

Mike still controls the communications and in one such act, impersonates the Warden and relays false content to Terra asking to give time in between the revolutionaries get time to organize their work. In the meantime, Professor Bernardo creates the first Ad-Hoc Luna Congress to give a face to their government, however, he has his own political scheming going on inside his head.

Luna declares its independence on July 4, 2076 with the 300th anniversary of the US Declaration of Independence, and intentionally stresses its own declaration of independence on it.

Advocating the right to Lunar self-government, Mannie and the Professor visit Earth. After reaching first at the Federated Nations’ headquarters in Agra, India, both go on a (Earth) world tour to plead Luna’s case. They also urge the Terra government to construct a catapult between Earth and Moon for mutual benefit. That is, Luna will transfer wheat and in return Terra will give water back to Luna.

To invoke widespread sympathy, Mannie under the influence of his little trick, calls for a brief imprisonment by local religious fanatics on charges of immorality and polygamy. Since, polyamorous nature of the families is a norm at Luna but not on Terra. However, their diplomatic mission fails to garner political traction thus rejecting their proposal, eventually, they return to Luna.

Although public opinion on Terra remained fragmented, whereas on Luna, Mannie’s position gained grounds. The idea of his being the new Warden united the politically neutral Loonies. Finally, an election is held in which Mannie, Wyoh, and the Professor became victorious.


The Federated Nations of Terra send troops to destroy Lunar revolution. But the military is not prepared to combat in low gravity situation and therefore are defeated at large margin.

The Federation remain adamant and rebuffs to recognize Lunar independence. To fight back, revolutionaries deploy their catapult weapon.

Mike starts bombarding Terra’s thinly populated regions. No sooner the rockets are launched, warnings are released to the press elaborating the timings and locations of the detonating. This enabled the delivery of kinetic energy which is equal to atomic blasts.

Apocalyptic religious groups turn towards the sites that were under attack and eventually die. Therefore, public opinion, (on Earth) which was initially fragmented now totally goes against the fledgling nation.

Mike on his part constantly perform computations to projectile non-stop strikes. In one such scenario, when Earth was blasting off pinpoint lights, Mike tells Mannie that the effect is like an orgasmic experience.

To stop the rebellion, Earth introduces ships in huge numbers into the Lunar orbit from the far side. Through the sneak attack, Terra takes control of the cities and towns and pulls down Mike’s catapult, which makes him go offline. However, Loonies shows an upper hand as they have already developed another catapult, which was hidden obviously.

Mannie act as on-site commander, continued to perform computations manually. Loonies too didn’t slow down, with great vigor they bombarded the attackers unceasingly and ultimately, the Terra federation acknowledges Luna’s independence.

The Professor did witness the victory but dies shortly after. Mannie and Wyoh both withdraw from politics although after triumph, take control of the new political movement. Both undergoes disillusionment once they discover that the newly formed Lunar federation falls into mundane political party system. Which was quite opposite to their utopian expectations.

When Mannie tries to speak to Mike, he discovers that bombardment has caused it to malfunction. He repairs it but the machine has lost its self-awareness and human-like memories. However, it is functional otherwise. Mannie deduces that Mike gave his life for his country.


The Moon is a Harsh Mistress has the capacity to stir emotions. The novel culminates on a very poignant emotional note. I could empathize with the characters and situations that they went through.

I highly recommend this book to someone who wants to explore the depth of socio-political realities with tinge of science fiction elements. Heinlein has a knack of combining the two different worlds with such an ease. A very well thought out sci-fi story decades ahead of its time.

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