Fiction Reviews

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

(1966/2008) Robert Heinlein, Gollancz, 7.99, hrdbk, 382pp, ISBN 978-0-575-08241-0

(1966/2015) Robert Heinlein, Hodder, 9.99, pbk, 408pp, ISBN 978-1-473-61612-7


This is 1966 story is one of Robert Heinlein's classic SF novels and that was (2008) reprinted as part of Gollancz SF Masterwork series, and then more recently (2015) by Hodder.

It is the year 2075. On the Moon, in an open penal colony, a revolution is being plotted. The colony has been turned into a prison for political dissadents and so we get just a sense of what life is like on Earth even though all the book's plot takes place on the Moon.  With a steady supply of solar power, the Moon's tunnel farms have begun generate a sustainable source of food for Earth down in its gravity well. However there are constraints. With each shipment of food produce sent home, valuable water is transported one way to Earth. Losing water, in just a few years the colonists (whose lunar adjusted bodies can never withstand Earth's gravity) will be doomed.

An odd assortment of a jack-of-all-trades, his blonde girlfriend and the colonies main computer (that only one that the revolutionaries know is an artificial intelligence) plan the takeover of the century.  But not only do they have to confront the authorities, they have to live with the lunar conditions, and the Moon is, as they find out, an uncompromisingly harsh mistress.

This is classic authoritarian, meritocratic Heinlein; the politics is laid on with little subtlety. The novel is noted for turning 'TANSTAFL' (there aint no such thing as a free lunch) into a slogan, and for the concept that water ice might be found on the Moon sheltered beneath rock (lunar water ice was, in fact, only first remote-sensed in the late 1990s). The Moon is a Harsh Mistress won the Hugo for 'Best Novel' in 1967 as well as being voted into the Concatenation top 20 all-time favourite SF poll and as such a place in our guide Essential SF.

Special mention needs to be made of the 2008 Gollancz edition. It is part of Gollancz's SF Masterworks series but, importantly, the hardback run (as was its recent Dune) and at 7.99 is very good value. This has a laminated colour cover with the illustration printed as part of the cover board and not as a loose fly-sheet. Its size is A-format and so should fit on your normal paperback shelves. This hardback series is one of which every public librarian should be aware and every public library should have the complete run of now 72 titles if it to begin to capture the SF classics.

The more recent Hodder edition is in one sense less impressive with a more plain cover. It too is A-format, but -- and this is the good news -- being a paperback the cover does not stand proud of the text pages. This in turn means more room for words, and even more room with an extra 25 pages, so that the font size can be a little bigger: something that older readers whose eye were not quite what they once were will welcome.  The larger font size should also make it easier for older teenagers; well, not so much 'easier' but less intimidating. Make no mistake, though this was originally written for an adult readership, the SF tropes -- space travel, political dissent, cmputers etc -- are so familier to a young, early 21st century readership, that slightly younger readers will find the subject mattter straightforward. I, myself, first read this in my early twenties and I'm sure an older teenager today would just lap this up.

As said, Gollancz have this in their SF Masterwork series. Meanwhile Hodder are marketing their 2015 edition with the cover strap line 'The Science Fiction Classic'. Neither imprint is understating this book's stature within SF historical landscape.

Jonathan Cowie

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