Reading Mistress reminded me just how similar Asimov’s characters spoke in The Gods Themselves (and generally with his other works as well), because nothing could be further from the truth in Mistress. The first chapter took a little getting used to because of the broken sentences, colloquialisms and poor grammar – all because the narrator, Mannie, was strictly a blue collar working class man caught up in leading a revolution to free the Moon. The setting is fantastic. Luna feels like a real place and most of the story takes place there. The year is 2075 and there are three million people on the moon. A small percentage are criminals serving out their sentence, but most are free citizens, either having completed their sentence, or immigrated or born there. It is a place of anarchy, though not disorder. There are no laws and men outnumber women. As a result an interesting “frontier” culture has emerged where everyone behaves because problems are sorted out quickly and permanently. Family structures are different (line marriage) as well since polyandry is common. Women are highly respected and any mistreatment of them is severely regarded.
Apart from Mannie the narrator (the story reads as his account of events long afterwards), the other main characters and comrades in arms are Wyoh, the Professor and Mike (a sentient computer that only they are aware of). Together they form the executive cell of the revolution that culminates a year later in lunar sovereignty. Due to the slavic sentence structure, Russian influenced names for places (Novy Leningrad), the building revolution definitely had a Bolshevik feel to it.
The big idea in Mistress is liberty and what it means. This theme is delivered through Professor La Paz since Mannie himself is apolitical.
Professor Bernardo de La Paz describes himself as a “Rational Anarchist”; a name probably invented in the text itself. “Rational Anarchists” believe that the concepts of State, Society and Government have no existence but for the “acts of self-responsible individuals”, but concede that this is not a universal belief. The desire for anarchy is balanced by the logic that some form of government is needed, despite its flaws. Knowing this fact, a Rational Anarchist “tries to live perfectly in an imperfect world”. When challenged by Wyoh, Professor de la Paz replies “In terms of morals there is no such thing as a ‘state.’ Just men. Individuals. Each responsible for his own acts. 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 that I do”.
I enjoyed this book. The style in which it was written is unique and memorable. The characters all likeable. There was a poignancy when the Prof passed away due to a heart attack in the last few pages of the book while delivering a victory speech at the podium. This was believable because there always seemed to be that background risk throughout the book. And the passing of Mike, the computer who had masqueraded as Simon Jester the political satirist and Adam Selene, the chairman of the revolution himself. The loss of Mike at the end allowed the book to neatly wrap up.
I remember thinking just before reading the final chapter how the death of a major character and tying up loose ends with Mike (otherwise how do you explain an ongoing emerging sentient machine and its key role in a very-human revolution for liberty) would make for a personally satisfying conclusion and that is exactly what Heinlein delivered.
(Amazon) The Moon is a Harsh Mistress