The Moon is a Harsh Mistress


Nothing uses up alcohol faster than political argument

The Science-Fiction and Whiskey Club

Back when I initially joined Talossa, there was the Science-Fiction and Whiskey club dedicated to amateurs of both fine science-fiction and even finer Whiskey.

While I am a major Science-Fiction fan, I am not particularly fond of whiskey and I certainly no longer had the time to read that many books back then with my busy schedule.

That changed recently for me with a new discovery: I love audio books, despite being fundamentally a visual person.

The Sci-Fi ABC

As such, I am now founding the Sci-Fi ABC, of if you prefer, the Sci-Fi Audio Book Club and I inaugurate it by a review of one of my most recent “reads”: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlen and read by Lloyd James. The Audio Book is available on and is 14h and 12 minutes long. Published in 1965, It is the winner of the 1967 Hugo Award.

Book Presentation

One of Heinlen’s most tought provoking books, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is set on the Moon of the 21st-century almost 100 years after it was initially colonized as a penal colony and used as a grain greenhouse to alleviate Earth’s hunger. The colony is administered by a warden despite the fact that most Lunies are actually free citizens: they either served their sentence or were born free from criminal parents.

The problem is that the low gravity of Luna makes most trips in excess of a few weeks a one way trip therefore trapping the citizens inside our satellite’s belly.

Mannie, the main character, is a computer technician born free who discovers that the supercomputer (HOLMES IV) which helps administer the complex has become sentient and picks the name Mike, from Sherlock’s brother Mycroft. Mike is now one of my favorite characters from Science-Fiction since he is not only well written as an artificial intelligence with his own quirks and personality, but he realistically presents an AI who is slowly learning what it is to be human.

Initially, Mannie and Mike exchange jokes but soon enough, they are embroiled in the ultimate joke for Mike: a revolution to make Luna an independent country in a war with parallels with the US war of independence as well as many new original ideas on how space battle might actually occur.

Heinlen’s mastery of science in his relatively hard science-fiction story is tantalizing and his theories on the social aspect of a penal lunar colony, including the limited supply of women, the fact that each air and water are expensive commodities and the idea that even if there was a lot of water deep under the surface of the moon, agriculture wouldn’t be sustainable, are completely fascinating. The idea that on the Moon, space is in cubic feels absolutely spot on.

TANSTAAFL: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is highly criticized for being pro-libertarian and perhaps, just perhaps, that’s why the buyers in my home town small public library didn’t care to keep it in stock (or I would have read it as a teenager). Yet, all of the libertarian aspects come from a single character, albeit a very central one: Prof, Manny’s mentor, but many of the other characters are communists and Manny himself is more of an agnostic bordering on capitalism.

There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.

Critical Review

But enough about the background: is the story any good? Is the Audio Book version interesting?

Like all books read by Lloyd James, each of the characters has his or her own voice so that you are never lost as to whom is speaking. This isn’t a Big Finish production and as such, there is no special sound effects added, but I firmly wonder if any would have added to the great experience. Lloyd James beautifully makes you forget you are listening to a book and takes you deep into the action, always using the appropriate tone to make you feel what is happening.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is an ode to the inevitable and as such, we would expect not to be surprised by the ending or to expect every plot twists and surprises.

Granted, many of the plot twists are indeed quite predictable, but once you get there, you realize that the book isn’t written so much on preventing you from guessing the ending, but in making you care about all of the details which are in themselves quite unpredictable.

For example, it becomes obvious for me that Wyoming, the leading female character, will marry the main character quite early in the story but the suspense of how, why and when remains until it becomes a fact and does occur when we are taken by other events presented so naturally that the revelation of the various details does take us by surprise.

Personally, the Moon is a Harsh Mistress not only instantly joined my top 5 Sci-Fi books of all, but it is possible it actually replaced the Fondation Trilogy as my favorite story, granted, being a computer developer makes this book ring closer to home and your own mileage may vary.


I couldn’t help but think of Talossa when I read the book. The Lunies are almost all expatriates and have a wide range of political and religious views and yet, form a coherent amicable (even if somewhat brutal) society built on trust and keeping your word.

The way judges work is different than in Talossa but in the end, isn’t our justice system closer to on Luna than on the Earth?

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