The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein

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The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress


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I regard The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress as Heinlein’s finest novel. Whether you like hard science and practical technology applied to an alien environment, or extrapolation of social and economic trends, or adventure and intrigue in an exotic setting, or thought experiments in political philosophy, it’s all here.

I also like the characters, which include my favorite artificial intelligence in all SF.

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress   

Copyright © 1966 by Robert A. Heinlein

Book One
That Dinkum Thinkum

My old man taught me two things: “Mind own business” and “Always cut cards.”



Am not going to argue whether a machine can “really” be alive, “really” be self-aware. Is a virus self-aware? Nyet. How about oyster? I doubt it. A cat? Almost certainly. A human? Don’t know about you, tovarisch, but I am. Somewhere along evolutionary chain from macromolecule to human brain self-awareness crept in. Psychologists assert it happens automatically whenever a brain acquires certain very high number of associational paths. Can’t see it matters whether paths are protein or platinum.



 2 As it says in Bible, God fights on side of heaviest artillery.



 4 “Mannie, why shouldn’t a machine be alive? I’ve always felt they were. Some of them wait for a chance to savage you in a tender spot.”



 6 “A rational anarchist believes that concepts such as ‘state’ and ‘society’ and ‘government’ have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals. He believes that it is impossible to shift blame, share blame, distribute blame . . . as blame, guilt, responsibility are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else. But being rational, he knows that not all individuals hold his evaluations, so he tries to live perfectly in an imperfect world . . . aware that his effort will be less than perfect yet undismayed by self-knowledge of self-failure.”



“In terms of morals there is no such thing as ‘state.’ Just men. Individuals. Each responsible for his own acts.”



“But you don’t seem to want any rules!”

“True. But I will accept any rules that you feel necessary to your freedom. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”

“You would not abide by a law that the majority felt was necessary?”

“Tell me what law, dear lady, and I will tell you whether I will obey it.”



 7 [...] I have wondered about the subjective effect of ethanol on the human nervous system—I conjecture that it must be similar to a slight overvoltage.”



Don’t explain computers to laymen. Simpler to explain sex to a virgin.


Computer programming

“The thing to do with a spy is to let him breathe, encyst him with loyal comrades, and feed him harmless information to please his employers. These creatures will be taken into our organization. Don’t be shocked; they will be in very special cells. ‘Cages’ is a better word. But it would be the greatest waste to eliminate them—not only would each spy be replaced with someone new but also killing these traitors would tell the Warden that we have penetrated his secrets.”



10 “One might define adulthood as the age at which a person learns that he must die . . . and accepts his sentence undismayed.”




Book Two
A Rabble in Arms

My dinkum word, preparing a revolution isn’t as much huhu as having won it.

Prof thought we ought to send out a gentle warning not to eliminate so peremptorily. I opposed it and got my way; could see no better way to improve breed. Certain types of loudmouthism should be a capital offense among decent people.


Capital punishment

Must be a yearning deep in human heart to stop other people from doing as they please. Rules, laws—always for other fellow. A murky part of us, something we had before we came down out of trees, and failed to shuck when we stood up. Because not one of those people said: “Please pass this so that I won’t be able to do something I know I should stop.” Nyet, tovarishchee, was always something they hated to see neighbors doing. Stop them “for their own good”—not because speaker claimed to be harmed by it.



[...] Thomas Jefferson—first of the rational anarchists, my boy, and one who once almost managed to slip over his non-system through the most beautiful rhetoric ever written. But they caught him at it [...]
18 “Sovereign,” like “love,” means anything you want it to mean; it’s a word in dictionary between “sober” and “sozzled.”
“A managed democracy is a wonderful thing, Manuel, for the managers . . . and its greatest strength is a ‘free press’ when ‘free’ is defined as ‘responsible’ and the managers define what is ‘irresponsible.’ ”



“Manuel, once there was a man who held a political make-work job like so many here in this Directorate, shining brass cannon around a courthouse.”

“Why would courthouse have cannon?”

“Never mind. He did this for years. It fed him and let him save a bit, but he was not getting ahead in the world. So one day he quit his job, drew out his savings, bought a brass cannon—and went into business for himself.”



22 “There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.”
Book Three
30 Seems to be a deep instinct in human beings for making everything compulsory that isn’t forbidden.

text checked (see note) Feb 2005

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