The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress: Book of the Month October 2023

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress cover art against a bold geometrical background
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress cover art against a bold geometrical background

This month’s book of the month is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein.

Many of us are drawn to utopia because of problems we see with the prevailing consumer capitalist culture. As a result, many utopias (and utopians) are left-leaning. They explore societies that function without capital, without traditional family structures and within ecological boundaries. This bias has been noted, and as a corrective this month’s book is a right wing utopia.

In Heinlein’s novel, the moon is a penal colony. Its inhabitants mine ice from below the surface and grow grain in underground farms, which is exported back to Earth. The prices are fixed by the Authority, a kind of worldwide mega-State, and paid in Authority scrip. The ‘Loonies’ (lunar colony) want the freedom to set the price of their grain exports and use a more valuable currency.

The book tells the story of the lunar rebellion in retrospect. The rebels are assisted greatly by a sentient computer, who is probably the most interesting character in the book. Another point of interest is the marriage customs on the moon. Due mostly to a shortage of women, polygamy is common. The protagonist is member of a multi-generational marriage going back over a 100 years since the original husband and wife. New spouses, both male and female, are ‘opted-in’ to the family with the agreement of the existing husbands and wives. However, within this structure heteronormative values prevail, with straight partnerships and traditional gender roles.

Why read The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress?

The objective of choosing The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is twofold. Firstly, to mix things up for the left-leaning utopians and give us something different to talk about. Secondly, to invite along any utopians who have been put off by all the queer, socialist stuff to give us someone different to talk to. The idea of utopia is to challenge our ways of thinking and confront us with different ways of being. So perhaps if we’re too happy with our utopias, we need to at least consider someone else’s.

If you’re free on Monday 6th November, and in Bristol, UK, join the Bristol Utopian Book Collective to discuss this book in person. Find out more here.