I was surprised to see that The Moon (1966) was published a few years ahead of Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (1974), because it shares the motif of a moon which is an anarchist’s utopia. Discovering this happening once again made me think that Le Guin often presents ideas represented a few years earlier by another author. But this is a baseless assumption, considering that many of these authors knew each other, and I should move on.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a first person narrative from the perspective of an inhabitant of the Earth’s moon, in 2075. The moon has ceased to be solely a penal colony, and is instead a series of “warrens” inhabited by the sorts of persons you’d expect to find in early C19th Australia: loners, miners, current and former prisoners, soldiers of fortune. And strangely, a self-aware supercomputer.

It’s not a bad idea, but it’s not Heinlein’s greatest work. He invents a dialogue that is a mix of Aussie, cockney and Russian slang, similar to A Clockwork Orange, that while eventually intelligible is highly confusing at first, and partially obfuscates the story. Some of it is even downright racist, though I don’t think deliberately so.

Eventually the ideas start to come through, and the novel reveals itself to be a hearty piece of old-fashioned sci-fi, a welcome and long way from contemporary space opera. More interestingly, it also presents something of an operational model for the development of a terrorist network, while also appearing as a fictionalisation of the Soviet Revolution (an allegory that runs throughout the novel). You’d think the former could be enough to have the book banned if written in contemporary America!

In keeping with 1960s sci-fi themes the novel is intended as an exploration of alternate political systems, and “rational anarchism” is the way of things on the Moon. So if you’re a politics junky, then this could be an interesting read. If you’re into big talking spaceships and hyperdrives, then find some Iain M. Banks.

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