I am sad to say that most of the books I’ve read lately have been examples of disappointing science fiction. That in itself isn’t surprising. Loving sci-fi is like developing a craving for avocados. Yeah, it can be amazing in small doses, but you’d be amazed how quickly the green mush gets tiresome. See, there are only so many known recipes for sci-fi, and the best-known ones are the classics.
But sci-fi classics are perishable; great when new, but they don’t always age well. A few dated dishes will make your stomach churn.
Which leads me to the latest book on my sci-fi masters reading list – Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. It is on many lists of the best sci-fi works of all time, and likely it is. In fact, it’s considered by some to be Heinlein’s greatest work. Not by me, or those with a brain, but by some. It introduced a few new ideas, like the sentient computer stolen borrowed in 2001 a Space Odyssey.
On the other hand, it reintroduced an old idea – stupid, sexist bullshit. Sorry, I love Heinlein, but this book makes me hurl. Here’s the plot up to page 143:
Manuel O’Kelly is the best computer technician on Luna, the moon colony that has evolved from being solely a penal colony to one where most of its residents are free. Manny has been tasked with fixing the master computer that keeps the colony operating. However, Manny knows something no one else knows: Mike, the computer, has come “alive.” No one else knows about Mike because he has somehow decided they are all “stupid” and won’t talk to them.
Manny attends a meeting, which turns out to be a rally for a group of revolutionaries wanting freedom for the moon colony. There, he meets a woman revolutionary leader, and an anarchist professor. The police raid the rally, but somehow the cops are all killed and the three heroes escape. The three meet later and decide to form a full revolution. They enlist Mike’s help, and we learn all the important details of how they will structure their cells of revolutionaries so no one knows more than a few people involved, and how they will set up their phone communication.
Those two paragraphs took 143 freaking pages. Oh, there’s other stuff, like how the males show a female respect and appreciation for her beauty by looking her up and down and whistling (and she loves it, because women always love being lusted after by strangers), and how polyamorous marriages work (I think Manny’s senior wife is his mom – Ew). There’s also the fact that women seem to be for 1) sex, 2) looking pretty, and 3) leading groups without actually doing anything useful. It’s all very disappointing given his tendency for strong, independent female characters.
There’s nothing else in the book that didn’t either bore me or annoy me. It would have been fun watching Mike grow, but being a supercomputer, he grew in leaps. Mostly, it was like watching CSPAN. Too much of the book is basic libertarian bullshit. Government bad; Hulk smash. Yeah, we get it. There are also other themes, like a racially diverse moon society where prejudice based on race doesn’t exist. However, Heinlein, in 1966, couldn’t foresee a world where others didn’t think this a horrible idea. So in 2075 Earth, our hero meets the same old prejudices when he visits the home planet and they learn of his interracial lifestyle.
Heinlein should be credited for creating a world (in a twisted, Gene-Roddenberry-on-sinsemilla kind of way) free of some of the societal confines that existed in his time. However, the book still comes across as vaguely racist, strongly sexist, and overtly kinky. The thing about creating a new society is that you have to actually believe such a society can be stable and embrace the fact that most people living within the context of the story will accept the rules you create irrespective of how alien they might be. I would be hard-pressed to believe a society that discards judging people by color, religion, or ethnicity would value woman based on how well they switch their hips when they walk. (No, I’m not making that shit up.)
Here he’s created his libertarian utopia, but it’s oppressed by the rest of mundane society. And rightly so. Nothing happens in it, except a bunch of preachy people bemoaning society.
I’ve come to two conclusions. The first is that writers take their “intellect” way too seriously. I’ve also come to the conclusion that once anyone of influence tags a book important, few ever have the guts to object. Well, let me object: I’ve read a lot of Heinlein’s books and this is one of his worst.
So that’s two “master works” this month, if you’re keeping score: Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Boredom and Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Jiggly Ho. In them, we learn 1) the writers think thinking is more important than doing, and 2) if you make an intellectual book, no matter how boring, there are those who will love it, in order to feel superior to the “peons” who think books should be interesting, and 3) brilliance is perishable. Let’s hope that in 75 years, no one is teaching our great-grandkids why Twilight was the 21st century’s master work.
If you review a book, and it makes you think, but you’re secretly bored, don’t be ashamed to admit it. My name is Bill. I think for a living. I don’t want to think that hard when I’m off work. This book didn’t suck, but neither did my accounting text. It just wasn’t fun, although I wanted it to be.