The Moon is a Harsh Mistress — Silly Book Challenge, Part 1

I’ve been challenged by a friend on one of the walled garden social media sites to list seven (?) books so that identity thieves can get started figuring out the answers to my security questions. Maybe he’s getting a cut of the take. But I’m too loyal a friend to respond with utter fabrications. The books I list here will be 100% truthful. Trust me.

I’m not sure I understand what the rules for this game are, so (for the first seven books at least) I’ll only post works of fiction.

Number one is obvious. Like, nothing-else-comes-close obvious. To wit, Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

Naturally, no sooner did Kevin challenge me to this dumb contest than he stole my thunder, or tried to. Notice, however, that my cover is from a significantly older edition than his. I have an even older one (below), but I don’t read it, to protect the spine. I also have the hardcover, and the Audible book, and Kindle. I even have a PDF of Tim Minear’s script for a movie adaptation.

paperback, harcover, Audible, and Kindle editions.

I first read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in 9th grade. I almost didn’t. At first, I only read a couple of pages, because the protagonist narrates the book in some kind of weird more-or-less Russian. (Imagine if Lt. Chekov were to dictate all the Captain’s Log entries on Star Trek.) Reading that was work, and I’m opposed to doing that, so I nearly gave up. But my friend Daniel Henderson, who’d already read it, convinced me to make the effort, so I #persisted. And it was worth it.

In P.E., we were playing baseball, so Daniel and I would take positions way out in the outfield and talk about the book. Periodically one of the jocks in class would yell at us that a ball was headed toward the outfield and we’d have to stop and deal with the ball before going back to talking. I remember doing a book report on The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in an English class that year. I don’t remember how the teacher responded, but my grades that semester were 4 C’s and 2 D’s, so it must not have impressed my teacher.

By the time I got to college—which I did, eventually, despite a less than stellar 9th grade GPA—I had probably read it 20 times. I could hand the book to someone and ask them to open it at random and read a sentence, and I would respond with the next one. It’s that good. And I’m that much of a geek.

The technological details haven’t aged well, although they did influence my career. Long before I studied computer science, I had become skeptical of monolithic systems design; a natural alternative for me was the Unix philosophy of small sharp tools, and, later, distributed systems. But Heinlein was usually wrong about the science fiction. (To use Peter Thiel’s language, he was usually too bullish about atoms and, if not bearish then insufficiently bullish, about bits.)

What Heinlein got right was the politics. (I don’t want to spoil it, but TMIAHM is not, despite what you may have heard, or read on the cover of the hardcover edition above, the story of people who set up a libertarian paradise on the moon. Quite the contrary, they destroy one. Because it had to be done. Sigh.)

But Heinlein also raises non-political questions. I’ll mention just two. First, what is a marriage? What constitutes one, what is its purpose, and what support ought society give it? Second, what is a soul? Can an artificial intelligence be alive? If it did, would it have rights? Could it be noble?

If you don’t like this book then, sorry, we just can’t be friends. Have a nice life.