The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
by Robert A. Heinlein
narrated by Lloyd James
I have mixed feelings about this book, which is why it’s taken me so long to write this review. First off, I DNF’d the book in January. I’m never sure whether I should write reviews for books I didn’t finish, because obviously I missed a portion of the book and so can’t review the ending or the book as a complete entity. On the other hand, I couldn’t finish the book, and that counts as something worthwhile for other potential readers to know, too. So: I didn’t finish this book, but I’m reviewing it anyway.
I read (well, listened to) the first 21% of this book. During that time, I was reminded of how well Heinlein writes. Technically, this is a good book. The subject is interesting, and in many ways it’s still as relevant as it was when it was written. The concept of a sentient computer is still used in modern sci-fi. A lunar colony is still something that features in current fiction and movies.
So, with all of this, why couldn’t I finish the book? In short, for all the topical relevance and technical skill, this book has not aged well.
The main character (Manny) speaks in very broken English. In the section I listened to, I didn’t notice anyone else with quite so drastic a “foreign” feel. This didn’t make sense to me, since the setting is a penal colony on the moon, where multiple of Earth’s nations have sent their convicts. To me, it only makes sense to have someone with so drastic an accent compared to everyone else if that person is brand-new to the setting… and yet, Manny was born on Luna. No excuse there. While the narrator did a good job of differentiating the voices, I couldn’t stand the way Manny’s speech patterns worked. Heinlein may have had a good reason for these patterns, but I got nearly a quarter of the way in to the book without understanding it, so I doubt an explanation was waiting for me.
There was also pervasive sexism in the book that I couldn’t take in today’s culture. Comments like “I would never hit a woman” might have seemed progressive when this was written, but they feel sexist to me. Also, there were just too many little things that didn’t age well in this regard for me. Things that implied only men did some jobs, or that women were more delicate. It’s hard to describe without having a hard copy of the book in front of me to quote from, and I didn’t write down any quotes as I was listening to the audio book. Still, it didn’t work for me.
Interestingly, race wasn’t portrayed with the same issues as gender. Skin tone was commented on, but people could buy body makeup which altered their skin tone convincingly enough to fool onlookers, and this wasn’t seen as a bad thing. It wasn’t portrayed as any different than dying one’s hair or wearing lipstick. That part was fascinating and refreshing. It wasn’t enough to keep me reading, though.
I didn’t have a problem with the narration, but I didn’t love it either. It fit the book nicely, but again: it wasn’t enough to keep me reading.
In the end, I put this book down because I didn’t care about it. I didn’t care what happened to the characters, how the plot advanced, whether any new relationships developed, etc. There was nothing in this book that I cared about, not even anything I hated. Frankly, it bored me. And there aren’t enough hours in the day to read boring books.