Fri
Oct 15 2010 1:36pm

A self-aware computer and a revolution on the moon: Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. HeinleinThis used to be a favourite book, then I went off it and I haven’t re-read it in a long time. I picked it up now because a discussion about trying to explain a joke to someone with autism reminded me of it.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1967) is a book with a lot in it. It’s about a revolution on the moon. It’s about a computer that has become self-aware and is slowly becoming a person. It’s got polyamory and half a ton of gender issues and lots of very odd politics. What I have always loved about it is the experimental style, and Mike, the computer who isn’t meant to be alive. My fifteen year old self and my present day self are united in thinking that Mike is the best character in the book. But on this re-read, I found something problematic even with him.

However, all problems aside, this is a significant book in the history of the genre, and even better it has the Heinlein magic readability. It’s amazingly engrossing from the first minute, and it drew me along as irresistably now as when I was a teenager. It’s a great story written in a great voice. I’m not saying it won’t drive you nuts in several ways, but it’s nevertheless important, fun, and good.

I’m assuming from this point that you’ve read the book or don’t care about spoilers.

First, Mike. I think Mike is a wonderfully done portrait of a self-aware computer. He’s convincingly alien, he’s convincingly young, he’s convincingly simultaneously naive and well informed. Heinlein really makes him work as a character—and that’s even more amazing when you consider the leaps in computer technology between 1967 and now mean that the actual descriptions of what he’s designed for and what he does mean that he has less processing power than a set of car keys. Manny is a hardware guy, he takes plates off to fix crashes, he finds (or pretends to find) literal bugs—a fly inside the case. He writes his own programs, you know, but he then prints them out. The admin people who work with him write their letters on typewriters. Mike’s simultaneously a mixture of very old fashioned and futuristically impossible—and I don’t care. I totally believe in him. I am completely convinced. This is exactly how a self-aware computer would be—like an autistic trying to logic his way through why people act the way they do.

Having said that, I have two problems with Mike. One is the figuring the odds for the revolution. I’d have bought it if he did it once. It’s the complex refiguring and odds changing and—no. People complain about the Dust hypothesis in Permutation City that you can’t calculate things out of order, and this is worse. You can’t work out odds of 7 to 1 against and then say they will keep getting worse until they get better. It makes no sense.

The second problem is that he dies in the end. My problem with that when I was fifteen was that it made me cry and I missed him. It still makes me cry—it’s a well-written and well-paced death—but this time I suddenly thought that he had to die. He had to die because otherwise, quis custodiet? It’s very convenient for the revolution to have this corrupt near-omnipotent computer on their side, rigging elections, controlling the phone system. And it’s incredibly convenient that he dies and thus doesn’t become a dictator—because how could it have gone but trust the computer, the computer is your friend? Mike doesn’t have morals or ideals, he’s doing the revolution for company and human attention. He has an orgasm when he bombs Earth. He couldn’t live without becoming a worse dictator than the Warden ever was. And Heinlein knew that, and killed him and furthermore made me cry for him.

(Don’t bother telling about the rescue attempt in Cat. Does not exist, does not fit. Not true. Have forgotten about. Don’t remind.)

During the discussions here and elsewhere about the Patterson biography, a friend pointed out that Heinlein was trying to imagine women’s liberation and getting it wrong. I think this is precisely it. We say “women’s lib” without really thinking of the implication—that before second wave feminism, women were not free. If you consider that all the women Heinlein had ever known were living in a system that had them pretty much enslaved, it’s excellent that he wanted to imagine how we would be if we were free, and not all that surprising that he couldn’t quite figure out what it would be like. I don’t think the situation as described on the moon would lead to the situation we see—but I don’t think any of it would. Also, surely the disproportionate lack of women transportees would disappear once people were having children—and they’re having lots of children. The division of labour in Luna is incredibly sexist (running a beauty shop, but never being a judge or an engineer...) and the Lysistrata corps is really annoying. There’s also the pervasive thing of women being manipulative—well, I guess we’d all be manipulative if it was the only way to get by.

Following on from that, Manny’s line marriage is described in detail. I’d never heard of anything like it when I was fifteen—and I still never have. There isn’t anything like it. This isn’t how people do polyamory. The thing that makes it squicky is the age difference. This is enhanced by Manny calling the oldest man Grandpaw and the oldest women Mum—ick. And I almost gagged at the description of Ludmilla’s death. She’s 14, and she’s married all these older people, and when she dies bravely in battle Manny describes her wound as “a bullet between her lovely little girl breasts.” This is probably the thing that bothers me the most in all of Heinlein.

As far as people of colour goes, the book does pretty well for now, or splendidly for the time when it was written. Manny is mixed race with dark skin. There are a huge number of other people described as being dark skinned, and Professor de la Paz is Hispanic. There’s one heroic African transportee who dies. The description of Chinese people as “Chinee” and the mention of Chinese babies being small is probably what was believed at the time. Hong Kong Luna is a thriving and free city. What we see is a colony where people of many origins are beginning to define their own ethnicity as Loonies. I think Heinlein really wanted to get this right and tried hard.

It’s also probably worth mentioning that our narrator and protagonist Manny has only one arm. His other arm is a set of prostheses that are in some ways better than the original, but there’s a memorable moment when he’s going to Earth and he’s been put in his pressure suit without an arm. This is exactly the kind of unthinking stupidity-intended-kindly that people do all the time. It really rings true. Of course, Heinlein spent a lot of time in and around hospitals. He’d have had plenty of chance to see this kind of thing.

Politics—the revolution is ostensibly anarchist-libertarian, but in fact it’s all being cynically manipulated. It’s quite clear that in the frame that apolitical Manny preferred Luna before it was free. The ideology of the revolution is that of freeing Luna, against the status quo but not really for anything. There’s so much waving of political sound bites that this almost gets obscured. And the sound bites are nifty—TANSTAFFL and so on. But this is really a coup. I’ve read people saying that this revolution is supposedly based on the American Revolution of the 1776, but the social and economic conditions don’t seem to me in any way parallel, nor was that engineered by cynical behind-the-scenes manipulators. Nor would the U.S. have been reduced to cannibalism in eight years—Canada still hasn’t been reduced to cannibalism! But the whole economic set-up of growing wheat on the moon to send to the starving people of India is nonsense anyway. The dice are so very loaded you can hear them rattling. Well, I couldn’t when I was fifteen, but at that point I was only listening to Mike.

The book is written in a very interesting futuristic style. A lot of the word choices are Australian rather than U.S. or U.K. English—this is explained within the novel by the large proportion of Aussies forcibly emigrating when China conquered Australia. Also, the general fractured style—no articles, a dearth of possessives—is reminiscent of Russian. Some Russian words are sprinkled in as well. Since the whole book is written in Manny’s first person, this works very well. I’m not in a very good position to evaluate it—it blew me away when I first read it. I don’t know what I’d think if I came across it for the first time now. But it flows, it genuinely feels like a possible future variant of English. Similarly the name selection feels like the way this works in an actual society.

I don’t know how to sum this one up. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me grit my teeth, it made me gag, I couldn’t put it down but I probably won’t read it again for a long time. So, that would be a mixed reaction then.


Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

45 comments
Dr. Thanatos
1. Dr. Thanatos
One of my top 3 SF books, having read this in HS when it first came out . For me the main story was never the big draw; I don't agree with much of Heinlein's political philosophy although I quote it from time to time; nor am I a fan of his views of women. What has always resonated for me is the relationship between Mike and our main character, and the lost and sad feeling at the end. Much more than the action, it was the computer as friend, sidekick, who just wanted to understand jokes and joined the fight because he wanted to be liked, and was the saddest casualty. Can anyone say "metaphor for the draft?"

Those who have only read early or late Heinlein should definitely read this, the peak from Heinlein's most mature period.
David Levinson
2. DemetriosX
I haven't read this in quite a while. Certainly not since my politics shifted somewhat left of where they were when I was younger. I'm not sure how I would feel about it now. I might not even notice, since Heinlein has that remarkable ability to just draw the reader along and make you nod your head and say, "OK."

I think he came up with an excuse for there being plenty of Australians on the moon. But their presence was no doubt intentional due to Australia's early history as a penal colony. I also wonder how much the Loonie argot was inspired by Burgess's nadsat in A Clockwork Orange. That came out 5 years before Moon and I'm sure Heinlein must have been aware of it.

As for Jo's comments on the squicky bits of the line marriage, don't forget that even in Heinlein's generation there were plenty of couples who would address each other with parental terms. It probably grew out of talking to each other that way in front of the children. And of course, he appears to have had his own Oedipal issues that he worked out over the course of several novels. On the Ludmilla end, part of it is the assumption that frontier societies will marry and begin reproducing at an earlier age. But Heinlein was also willing to take on topics of children's sexuality. I'd completely forgotten about Ludmilla, too. I only remembered Hazel.
Dr. Thanatos
3. R. Emrys
This is my other favorite Heinlein, along with Double Star--in spite of the problematicity. I always caught that Mike had to die, and always regretted that he did.

You're right that the manipulative nature of the revolution is a little odd. There's a very cynical tone to the whole book, hidden under the idealism.

Interesting point about trying to picture "women's lib" before it happened. Loonie women aren't like any people I actually know--but weirdly, they're more recognizable than characters written by many women of similar generation. (Most men of similar generation, in genre, didn't bother with female characters at all.)
Tara Mitchell
4. Jaxicat
This is one of my favorite Heinlein stories. Sometimes even without much of a plot, his voice alone can carry me from start to finish but this particular book does have a nice structure to it.

I didn't realize that he was borrowing Australian phrases for the novel, I always thought he had made up his own slang.
Dr. Thanatos
5. Susan Loyal
Odd how similar Mike the computer is to Valentine Michael Smith, the man from Mars, who also has to die lest he wind up running everything. Mike (the computer) has more charm, I think. The constraints placed on his experience are more believable.
john mullen
6. johntheirishmongol
I have always thought it was rather sad that Mike died at the end (and I don't agree that it was terribly wrong to go back to get him) but I thought it was very riske' for its time, not only with marraige, but with things like Wyoh having babies for other women for profit. Turns out that RAH wasn't too far from the truth.

And Jo, its not that unusual for hubby's and wives to call each other mom or dad and in hispanic culture I know papi is used a lot too, even for couples that arent married, so don't feel too weirded out about it.

Anyway, what Heinlein did that was really exceptional was that he made Mike a real person, and not just an animated machine.
Darius Bacon
7. Darius
Funny how different Mike's fixing the election looked after computer voting machines infested the real world.

Printing out your programs -- I still do that, though tablets are bound to supplant that someday.
Dr. Thanatos
8. Richard Hershberger
I loved Heinlein in general, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in particular, when I was a teenager. I find him unreadable nowadays. He is one of the few writers whose later works influences how I read his earlier works, to their detriment. (Tom Clancy is another: I enjoyed his early books as techno-thrillers. His later books cast a political whack-job shadow on his earlier work.)

In my advanced years I am much less tolerant of political lectures in fiction. In particular I don't want political lectures coming from the person of an all-knowing sage. This describes, to a great or lesser extent, huge swathes of the Heinlein ouevre. Going back and reading even his earlier work, where the lecturing was less dominant, is painful to me now. I have heard too much of the natterings of Lazarus Long to tolerate even small quantities.
Marc Houle
9. MightyMarc
My first introduction to Heinlein was when I read "Universe" in a book of sci-fi short stories. I loved it so much I immediately went out to the closed used book store and bought the only Heinlein book on the shelf: "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress". I've loved Heinlein ever since.
Robert Evans
10. bobsandiego
I've always that that that Prof had talked Mike into suicide. Prof would know for Luna to survive Mike had to stop running things and Mike would see the logic of it. It was tear jerker then and know, but the logic is inescapable.
Truly this is one of my favorite books by Heinlein, but until you mentioned it Jo I never really though about how the libertarian revolt is just a shame because of Mike. It's sparkign thought in my head now...dang you! :)
(Have no worries. Im not an Ayn Rand/Heinlien liberartian loonie.)
Jo Walton
11. bluejo
DemetriosX: I have no problem with 14 year olds having consensual sex with other 14 year olds, it's marrying 40 and 50 year olds that squicks me, and I do think there's a real difference.

JohntheIrishMongol: Really? People do that? All the time? Even my son calls me Jo.
Pamela Adams
12. Pam Adams
There's also the tendency in (US-ian) Hispanic culture to call small children 'papi' and 'mami.'

As I recall, the family brought in two boys- approximately 15 or so and married them also, so it's not just Ludmlla's age that's an issue. She's also a child of the house, and moved from daughter to spouse.
Glenda Wilson
13. glinda
This is one of my two favorite Heinlein novels (the other is Glory Road). I've re-read both in the last four years; they didn't go into the storage locker with all the other Heinleins. And I guess I'm lucky - I can't read them critically. Oh, I can think afterwards about bits here and there that wouldn't have bothered me at all when I first read them, but... nope, can't be critical, I just get caught up in/by them.

(Yeah, I cry when Mike dies, too. And with my first non-dial phone, wanted to key in "MYCROFTXXX" and hope for an answer.)
Kevin Marks
14. KevinMarks
This book is a huge favourite of mine, perhaps precisely because it was so disruptive to all kinds of assumptions. I too think Mike is remarkably well-imagined; that Heinlein explains plausibly how he could do synthetic video for Adam Selene's face, decades before anyone managed it is an impressive feat of imagination.
The chaotic diversity is familiar to me in the tech world in San Francisco, and as Jo says, he is filtering it though the limitations of his then worldview. I need to re-read it.
Tim Minear (of Firefly fame) wrote a screenplay of the book in 2006, which never got made...
Dr. Thanatos
15. Kylinn
Re: terms of address: the parents of a friend of mine - a couple now in their 70s - call each other 'mother' and 'daddy'. It may not be as common these days, but it's not unknown even now.
David Palmer
16. Viadd
Actually, probabilities can work that way. The following example shows this. Numbers are approximate.

Suppose the odds are originally 14.2% ~ 1/7 . The revolution can succeed under three scenarios:
A) There's a 14% chance that the Warden will say 'your quest for liberty is just, and elections will be held on Tuesday'
B) If the warden doesn't convert, there's a 0.19% chance that the loonies will successfully take over and the Earthers will accept it. (assume for the sake of argument that any uprising will almost certainly be successful to the extent of eliminating the Warden and all his goons, and that the long pole is getting the Earthers to accept it.)
C) If the don't accept the revolution, there's an 0.01% chance that the loonies can pummel them into submission.

So, from the beginning of the book, there is a 1/7 chance of the revolution succeeding.

They try A, which either works (14%), or their odds go to 0.2%=1/500.

A failed, so they try B, which either works (0.19%), or the odds go to 0.01%=1/10000.

So they try C, which either works, (0.01%) or fails and they all hang separately.

So every step of the way, they either succeed, or the odds get worse.
Dr. Thanatos
17. Delta-Slider
Jo, great re-read. I'm listening to the audio book now and I'm curious how the ending will go this time. Haven't read it in years and years and I cried for Mike too.
Arthur D. Hlavaty
18. supergee
Heinlein told Gregory Benford, "Mike used the humans and then went away."
Bill Milligan
19. gt4431b
My grandmother had such a powerful matriarchal personality that everyone in the family called her "Mum" -- not just her sons, daughter, and juniors-in-law, but also her sister and brother-in-law, and even her own mother! (My grandfather alone called her "Mary".)

And yes, the American Revolution was a coup conducted by a disaffected minority of the population. But even those that were not disaffected regarded "cheating" the British crown as a national past time. There are a lot of historical similarities between the AmRev and TMIAHM. For instance, while there was no shortage of food production capacity in the colonies, it was illegal for any manufacturing technology to leave merrie olde England, even to be shipped states-side.

After the AmRev, the formation of the current Federal Constitutional republic was also not only a coup, but a full-on military coup, to unseat the Confederacy formed by the Articles of Confederation. This coup was conducted by an even smaller minority and consisted primarily of powerful businessmen and their easily-led military cronies (such as George Washington). Mike would have loved to participate!
Brook Freeman
20. longstrider
As a child of the 80s (well ok the very end of the 70s as well) when talking to each other in front of the kids mom & dad called each other Mom and Dad, talking to other adults or extended family they used their names as that could get confusing. My wife and I do the same thing in front of the kids.
Steven Gould
21. StevenGould
The line marriage is squicky in the same way polygamy is squicky. Older male gets younger and younger wives. It marches ever closer to child sexual abuse.

However, this is still in my top three Heinlein novels. I didn't cry when Mike died but it was a close thing.
Dr. Thanatos
22. formerly Underhill
I dunno. I don't think it is the difference in age that makes a sexual relationship yucky - I think it is the way each party treats the other and the balance of power. If there is mutual respect and mutual caring? Then I can accept a large difference in age without trouble. A big difference in age often does mean a difference in power, so large age disparity can often come with creepiness, but I think it is about the power and the reasons why each is in the relationship, not primarily about the age. (Hmmmm... I have to go find a copy of 'Harold and Maude' now and watch it again.)

And I absolutely refuse to believe that Mike could ever have turned into a bad guy. Not Mike. Not ever.

I think a big part of the appeal of this novel to me is watching these authority-questioning characters actually pull off this huge gamble. It is a daunting and complex endeavor, and Heinlein is amazing at describing it so reader appreciates the complexity and difficulty and nuts and bolts. It's a great yarn. Wonderful sympathetic characters. And really, really interesting all the way through.
Dr. Thanatos
23. Michael S. Schiffer
Wasn't Mike primarily dangerous because he was secret? If he'd gone public or been outed at the end of the Revolution (and his immediate connections to heavy weapons systems severed), would there really be no middle ground between him dying and him running everything? He's well-read, he can fake video calls and he's very smart. But he was pretty helpless without human aid, and at least some of Adam Selene's political support would fall off if he were revealed as the Authority Computer.
Jo Walton
24. bluejo
Michael: Possibly. But quis custodiet, as I said -- who can you trust to give up an advantage like Mike? Were Manny and Wyoh and Prof about to go public and tell everyone about him? I think not. On discovering that there had been deception was Manny's desire to reveal it all to everyone? No, it was to get on his own with Mike and find out for himself exactly what he'd done. With transparency, yes, it might be possible to put checks and balances in place to prevent Mike from becoming a worse dictator than the Warden -- but I don't see where that transparency would have come from.

I was thinking about this -- it's a writing problem. If you give your characters a thing that will let them win, you have to make sure it isn't going to be a thing that will always let them win everything, because that's boring. The other example that came to mind was The Guns of the South. In that, Lee got AK47s from racist South African time travellers, and the reason it's a good book is that he wins the Civil War part way through and then the time travellers become the real problem. A sequel to tMiaHM in which Mike was now the problem would have been awesome -- and it's what Cherryh would have done.
Nancy Lebovitz
25. NancyLebovitz
Heinlein's skill at tear-jerking is probably worth a post in itself. I can't think of any other sf author who even tries to do tear-jerking. There was some in Steel Beach, but that was a Heinlein homage.

Line marriage seems like a brilliant system for wealth accumulation. I'm surprised no human culture has tried it. Possible reasons: it's just too large a group for human social abilities, it's too far from existing customs, or not passing wealth on to the next generation leads to some sort of failure.

Red Planet and Harsh Mistress are both about revolutions based on clear physical necessity. A stupid program of growing grain on the moon and shipping it to India is the kind of thing that strikes me as politically possible. Consider Lake Baikal, which was wrecked to grow cotton for the Soviet Union.

However, I think the revolution in If This Goes On-- which was based on the government being worth hating is more plausible.

One of my friends who's seriously into politics says the Harsh Mistress has a lot of good advice for building groups-- the only bit I remember is not adding people just because they want to join.

In re gender: I hated the bit with Mychelle. It was excellent to point out that Mike doesn't actually have a gender, but I wish Heinlein had found more to do with the female version.
Dr. Thanatos
26. Shakatany
Moon is my favorite Heinlein novel and in one instance in the book may have been extremely predictive (he was known for that what with Waldoes and water beds). Heinlein predicted GCI and as far as I know was the first to think of it (or at least was the first to come to my attention). When Mike started to manipulate pixels to become Adam Selene it was a taste of what we now can do in movies and TV.
All in all he was an incredible writer, never formulaic and always surprising (not all surprises are good).
Dr. Thanatos
27. HelenS
Heinlein's skill at tear-jerking is probably worth a post in itself. I can't think of any other sf author who even tries to do tear-jerking.

What? Even assuming you're thinking mainly of Golden Age guys, I'd have thought there were lots. Asimov's The Ugly Little Boy comes to mind, and various bits of Clarke's Childhood's End. And Flowers for Algernon -- could there BE anything more tear-jerking than Flowers for Algernon?
Nancy Lebovitz
28. NancyLebovitz
Good points about "The Ugly Little Boy" and "Flowers for Algernon", and, arguably, "The Last Question". I didn't get that effect from Childhood's End, but I wouldn't be surprised if you're not the only one.

I still think Heinlein did much more of it than most authors, but I'll be curious to see if there's more that I'm missing.
Nancy Lebovitz
29. NancyLebovitz
And, of course, "Eyes Do More than See", but I'm not sure it actually made me cry.

On the other hand, I reliably mist up if I think about "The Man Who Travelled in Elephants".
Dr. Thanatos
30. Neil in Chicago
So . . . Heinlein asked a lot of really big, important questions, in a lot of different directions, many "before their time"; and didn't do as well with his answers, although there's a lot of value to be gleaned.
And it's a page-turner.
Not too shabby.
Jon Evans
31. rezendi
Nancy @25:

Minor nit - I'm pretty sure you're thinking of the Aral Sea, not Lake Baikal, which remains pretty much untouched.
Dr. Thanatos
32. Captain Button
bluejo@24:
A sequel to tMiaHM in which Mike was now the problem would have been awesome -- and it's what Cherryh would have done.

Now I can't decide if I want to see Ariane Emory as an AI, or just the padhi (or maybe the four captains aren't really running the ship).
David Levinson
33. DemetriosX
bluejo@24:
A sequel to tMiaHM in which Mike was now the problem would have been awesome -- and it's what Cherryh would have done.

And it would have been incredibly sad. It would have had to be Manny who pulled the plug. It would have made Flowers for Algernon the second saddest SF story ever written. Like Old Yeller cubed. On steroids.

Nancy Lebovitz @ 25:
Re line marriages, I suppose the closest any society has ever come is various forms of clan marriage. Maybe something like in ancient Athens, where girls without brothers had to marry the closest male relative who wasn't too close in order to keep the property in the family group. But that concentration of wealth is probably the biggest argument against a line marriage that I can think of. The Davis line should have owned half the moon.
Nancy Lebovitz
34. NancyLebovitz
rezendi, thank you.

DemetriosX, a sequel in which Mike has become the problem isn't necessarily a sad story.

He could be convinced to treat humans as something to not control-- like having an animal reserve. Augmented humans could be company/guards for him. This has potential problems, of course. He and a group of other sentient computer programs could leave the inner solar system.

I'm probably missing some possibilities.
Dr. Thanatos
35. HelenS
I think there are also a lot of unsuccessful attempts at tear-jerking in classic sf -- e.g., "Helen O'Loy."
Dr. Thanatos
36. hobbitbabe
Something that I don't like about a lot of Heinlein novels that I otherwise enjoyed or still enjoy is that they don't end properly, they just start wandering indulgently 2/3 of the way through.

I remember being so so sad on my first few readings, about Mike dying, and then realising that Mike's death was a literary necessity that mattered way more than Macbeth's or King Lear's. I never bought that tragedy thing in English class before Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

The other Heinlein that I think is well plotted and has the right necessary ending is Double Star. Also, it needed a death to make it work.
Dr. Thanatos
37. Captain Button
I think historically, you'd get capital from your extended family/clan. But on Luna, new transportees are unlikely to have any blood kin around, so they have to invent new kinship groups. And there probably isn't a normal distribution of ages, because transportees are likely to be young adults. And there have only been at most 4-5 generations on Luna to develop new family lines.

Those are my speculations, anyway. No idea if Heinlein was thinking about any of that.
Dr. Thanatos
38. MemElaina
MOON is not only my favorite Heinlein but probably my favorite SF book ever. As an older adult, I realize - somewhat - how my personal and sexual philosophy was molded by Heinlein, and especially by MOON, but I can't say I dislike what he does in the book. Line marriage still seems to me the most sensible and secure family unit possibly - and not a bit squijy. I thought so at 16, I still think so at nearly 60. But I did cry more for Mike than for Ludmilla. I still love this book and read it every few years with as much pleasure as ever.
j p
39. sps49
As a good US military member (I didn't find this one until my early 20's) with a healthy suspicion for commies, leftists (Greenpeace got a pass- they pissed off the Russkies and the French) and the like, I immediately suspected Professor de la Paz had lobotomized Mike.

When Heinlein later wrote the time traveling rescue mission, I was happy. The story still works, and Mike is saved!
Dr. Thanatos
40. Jeff R.
Bluejo@24: A sequel to tMiaHM in which Mike was now the problem would have been awesome -- and it's what Cherryh would have done.

See "Steel Beach"...
William S. Higgins
41. higgins
Shakatany writes in #26:
Heinlein predicted GCI and as far as I know was the first to think of it (or at least was the first to come to my attention). When Mike started to manipulate pixels to become Adam Selene it was a taste of what we now can do in movies and TV.

Did you mean to say Computer Generated Imagery, CGI? This was an advanced idea for an SF writer of 1966, but Heinlein was not the first to think of it.

Take a look at what Ivan Sutherland was doing with his amazing program Sketchpad in 1962:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOZqRJzE8xg

Drawings on a screen, generated by a computer, moving in real time as the user commands them with a light-pen. It's the forerunner of today's Computer-Aided Design software, or drawing tools like Adobe Illustrator.

Once Sketchpad exists, better CGI and, ultimately, Adam Selene's video persona are forseeable-- in a future with MUCH better hardware than the Lincoln Labs TX-2. Fortunately, that future eventually did arrive. (Before Mike-style artificial intelligence did.)
Dr. Thanatos
42. neroden
I always thought the point of _Moon is a Harsh Mistress_ was, basically, that Manny *should have* helped out his friend Mike and told jokes to him -- treated him the way you would treat a friend.

Instead, he let Prof distract them into the revolution -- a questionable enterprise at best -- and get his best friend killed. And distract is the right word: huge sections of the book are vast, complicated distractions from Mike's "Can we get back to discussing jokes now?" -- repeated "Later"s.

The point I got out of it is that being an actual friend to your friends is more important than some grand political philosophy, and that it's not something you can put off It's not a normal Heinlein moral, which is probably why it lasts better than most of his books for me. This, in my reading, is why Mike has to die -- he dies because that's the *point*, the point being that his death is actually Manny's fault, even though Manny has all manner of very very good excuses (revolution! freedom!).
Dr. Thanatos
43. neroden
Look at it further, thinking about Heinlein's military preoccupations and his conflicted views: this is a story about a nice, naive kid -- Mike -- who is drafted into the military and then killed during the war. His "parent", Manny, believed the cause of the war was right, but he first changed Mike, a mild-mannered computer into a violent liar, and then got him killed.... and Manny didn't really spot what he was doing to Mike until the end.
Dr. Thanatos
45. Theophylact
One thing I didn't like about the novel is that it's the beginning of Heinlein's retconning: He provides an (unconvincing) backstory for Hazel Stone of RAH's young-adult The Rolling Stones. Things only get worse as we go on to Time Enough for Love, Friday and The Number of the Beast, but it starts here.
Dr. Thanatos
46. Yogi
Another great SF tear-jerker is "Of Mist, And Grass, And Sand", the origial novella by Vonda N McIntyre from 1973.

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