(review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com)
I've mentioned this before and I'll say it again: I'm so glad that I've joined these different online book clubs. It's pushed me to read titles I never would have picked up on my own, and so far, I've enjoyed pretty much every single one of them (save for one, which I haven't finished, but I think I will once I get through some other titles first.) I read this particular title for calico_reaction's Alphabet Soup book club, and I have to admit, I was not excited to read this one at all. I'm not sure WHY I felt this way though; for whatever reason, this book just didn't look like my cup of tea. I almost didn't read it at all, because it was out on loan at my local library until the 26th and I was leaving that day to go out of town for a few days. But then I decided to pop into the used book store really quick on the 26th before leaving and found for $3, saw that it was fairly slim, and decided "Why not?" and picked it up to read on the way to Toronto.
Well, I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself liking this title a lot more than I initially anticipated.
The first thing I found myself very enamored with was Mike. Mike is a super-computer that the main character Manuel discovers is sentient. He also discovers that Mike has the disposition of a genius toddler. Manuel befriends Mike because no one else talks to the lonely computer. I was surprised by how convinced I was of Manuel and Mike's friendship. I actually felt BAD for Mike; I really did get the impression that he was lonely, because no one but Manuel saw him as nothing but a machine. Heinlein also managed to give him human qualities, despite at his core, being a computer, but you also never quite forgot that he was a computer either. There was a good balance between to the two.
While i never grew quite as attached to any of the other characters, I still liked them in their own rights. Manuel is a character who is politically neutral, so even though he gets swept up into the Lunar Revolution, he rarely comes off as preachy (though I also attribute this to Manny's narrative voice, which I'll get to in a second.) He was a very down-to-earth kind of guy, and I also loved how much of a family man he was (families and marriage being *another* issue I will also address shortly.) Professor de la Par was very diplomatic and cool-headed and overall likable. Wyoming left a little to be desired; I found she was a little under-developed. However, she was still a strong-willed woman, and she fought for what she believed in and plays a very active role in the Lunar Revolution without falling into the "female-badass" or "man-with-boobs" tropes; she retains her femininity. On a whole, I liked these characters enough that I wanted to see them succeed.
The society that Heinlein created on the Moon I found was well fleshed out, despite having a lot of elements I've already seen in other novels. However, this book was published in '66, so I think a lot of these things might have been new and shocking when they were first published (but I'm not especially well-read in sci-fi, so I might be wrong about that.) One of these elements is the family structure found on Luna: there's a 1 to 2 ratio of women to men on the Moon, so pretty much all families have a polygamous structure. There just isn't enough women to go around. Manuel himself is married into a line family (just an aside; I never did understand the difference of being married into a line, and into a clan) meaning he has several wives and co-husbands. They're a very tight-knit group of people, and you could really tell they all loved each other a lot. I found the depiction of Manuel's family quite touching actually (I was actually *angry* at the scene on Earth when Manuel is arrested for polygamy after showing a picture of his family to a reporter.) What I didn't buy about these 'alternative lifestyles' though was that Manuel never mentions any kind of sexuality except heterosexuality. I find it hard to believe that even though people have no problem with polyamory, that there wouldn't be any homosexuality. I guess that would've been TOO radical for the readership of the '60s? There isn't any explicit mention of there NOT being any homosexuality either though. I don't know. Maybe I'm looking too much into it?
Another aspect of the society that I found interesting was the power women had. The Lunar society is by no means a matriarchal one, but because of the shortage of women, they have A LOT of power. For example: you do NOT flirt with a woman unless she flirts with you first. I was surprised to find this element written by a white man in the 60s (but again, I'm not super well-read in sci-fi, so maybe this isn't was't uncommon as I think it might've been.)
As much as I liked this book, there were still a few things that turned me off a bit:
1) Manuel's narrative voice: don't get me wrong, I really liked Manuel as a character, but his narration was so hard to get into at first. The style is very strange, because it's truncated. A lot of words are chopped, so the end result is that you're read a lot of fragmentary sentences. This made it very hard to get into a "rhythm" when reading and took me awhile to get use to, as I found myself having to re-read passages quite a bit. I also didn't really see the *point* to this style. At first I thought it was some kind of futuristic speech people adopted on Luna, but I don't remember any of the other characters talking quite in the same manner. Some did, a little, but not to same degree as Manuel. Now, it was a *relief* that not everyone spoke like he did, but the inconsistency made me wonder why Heinlein wrote it like that in the first place. It did feel like it "fit" Manny's character though; as mentioned before, he's very politically neutral, and this voice has a very neutral quality to it. Actually, I found it sounded more robotic at times than Mike ever does throughout the course of the novel.
2) A LOT of the book is dedicated to explaining, in detail, how Manuel, Wyoming, and de la Par manage and organize the Lunar Revolution. I found some of it legitimately interesting, because I was curious as to how they were going to do a lot of what they did, and Heinlein makes everything they do seem relatively realistic and do-able, but at the same time, it got to be a little much. I found my eyes glazing over after awhile, and I would start reading without really paying attention. It's a very political-driven novel, even more than it is character-driven, so if that's not your thing, stay far away from this one.
I don't want to talk about the politics in the novel too much, because honestly, I suck at talking about politics. It's a little embarrassing, but I don't know enough about politics to feel qualified to comment on them. I do feel qualified enough to say that I felt for the Lunar colony's plea, and think they were right to start a Revolution against Earth. I mean, they had it pretty good for the most part, but Earth was still kind of screwing with them, just because they were a penal colony, which wasn't exactly fair. I also thought the F.N. (the group on Earth who placed The Authority in charge of Luna) were JERKS and thought they had what was coming to them when they get "rocks" thrown at them. Just saying.
Final Verdict: Despite a few discrepancies, such as the strange, truncated narrative voice, and the drawn out political passages (which are unfortunately kind of necessary as this is a politically-driven novel), I found myself enjoying this novel a lot more than I thought I would. While the characters weren't completely fleshed out, they were likable enough that I wanted to see them succeed in their cause and I found myself quietly rooting for them. Heinlein's society on the Moon is interesting in the power that it places on women (without making it come off as a matriarchal society) and the family structure, which is based heavily, if not entirely, on polygamy. I also can't forget to mention Mike, who was probably my favorite character, despite being a computer. He could be legitimately funny in his ignorance of humanity, but still felt eerily human nonetheless. I would definitely recommend checking this out, unless you really hate novels that are politically-driven. The voice might also be a turn-off for some, but once you get used to it, it is a pretty good read, despite being quite old. Did I like it enough to check Heinlein's other works? Eehhh, not especially, but I might check out Starship Troopers, but only because my boyfriend already owns it.