I read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress when I was a kid and I loved it but I thought it was science fiction. I did not realise there were political implications. What are those, why is it here?
Heinlein does two kinds of books. One is political and the other is weird sex. I thought he was a political activist because I was introduced to him through The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. It compares the flawed statist world to the freedom of the anarchist, utopian moon. So it has both utopia and dystopia available to you. It puts it into the distant future and it suggests progress and people gravitating towards liberty. There’s more liberty in the future – as opposed to the Marxist idea that we’re all inevitably moving to statism. I have read his other book, where everyone has to be a soldier to vote and they fight the bugs, Starship Troopers. That one is also political. It doesn’t have the line in it, but Heinlein is famous for the quote, ‘An armed society is a polite society’– you know, people don’t spit at other people.
And I suppose in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, if you’re not polite, you get thrown out into the vacuum.
Yes. It’s obviously a radical vision, but it has the theme that in a free society, volunteerism works. Remember, there are two kinds of science fiction. There’s the one that Asimov and Heinlein do, that is high-tech and in the future science fiction/the science of the future will make you more free. Then there is the other vision that is Brave New World, science in the service of the state, that it will make you a slave. So this is a counter to the idea that science in the hands of the state will lead to serfdom. Science in the hands of individuals will lead to freedom. I like this book because it does both – here’s the future that doesn’t work, the earth, here’s the future that does work, the moon. Similar to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, but it’s a different venue and therefore you don’t have to read turgid tracts…
What if someone says it’s not a conservative book, it’s an anarchist’s book? It’s revolution and not really a conservative vision of things.
It’s conservative in that the revolution on the moon takes place on 4 July 2076. I think there are many doors into modern Reagan Republican conservatism and this is a sort of a radical utopia, Atlas Shrugged kind of future. There are these people who argued, ‘Oh yeah, well, in the old days life was simpler, but now that life is more complicated the government has to run it all.’ Farmers could be free but not people who work in factories. I always thought it was a BS argument, but you heard it all the time, I remember hearing this from schoolteachers. So here was a future that was a utopian, free future, an optimistic future. I remember the Libertarian Party convention in 1980 wanted to have a science-fiction award for the person who uses science fiction to promote liberty most effectively. And there was this counter from the [Murray] Rothbard libertarian types who argued that bug-eaters have rights too. That we shouldn’t project the future as a high-tech future because some people may choose to live in caves. And I thought to myself, ‘For crying out loud! Yes of course people can live in caves if they want but that is probably not the future that most people would choose for themselves if there are other options.’Read full interview
Grover Norquist is founder and head of Americans for Tax Reform, an anti-tax group, and author of Leave Us Alone. He is also a leading conservative strategist. Since 1993 he has convened and run the Wednesday Meeting, a weekly gathering of conservative activists, politicians, and group leaders.
Next up is The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.
Robert A Heinlein is, quite seriously, the creator of modern science fiction, in the way that Jane Austen is sometimes said to be the creator of the modern novel. Where Austen gave us the third-person viewpoint with deep penetration into the mind of a single character – which is now the overwhelming standard for all English-language fiction – Heinlein taught us how to handle the expository burden that is inherent in speculative fiction. Sci-fi and fantasy take place in a world other than our own, and it is essential to explain exactly how things differ from our familiar reality. It used to be done with expository lumps: “As you know, Dr Smith, the ergonuclear flux in the argyle drive requires a steady flow of harmonized eta rays.” But these explanations stopped things cold.
Heinlein pioneered and demonstrated the method we all use today, of effortlessly dropping in details and clues that help the alert reader learn just how the world of the story differs from their own. For example: “Marcus stepped onto the slidewalk and manoeuvred up to the fast lanes – he wasn’t getting off for a long time, and he needed the 60-mile-per-hour speeds if he was going to get there in time.” No explanation of moving sidewalks. The word “slidewalk” is self-explanatory. The idea that there are lanes sliding along at 60 miles an hour does the rest. The character doesn’t notice or comment on this unusual thing, because it’s not unusual to him. He simply uses it.
I first encountered Heinlein with his juveniles, and one at least rewards rereading: Citizen of the Galaxy. But the book I’m going to point you towards, which I think of as his best, is The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. This account of a revolutionary struggle between lunar colonists – many of whom came there (or their parents did) as exiles and prisoners – and the exploitative government agency that controls their lives is, like Foundation, a working out of historical forces. But Heinlein sticks with a cast of a few main characters and, with a charmingly colloquial writing style, makes us care about them all.Read full interview
Orson Scott Card is an American author. He writes in several genres, but is best known for his science fiction. His 1985 novel Ender's Game and its sequel Speaker for the Dead both won Hugo and Nebula Awards, and he has also edited numerous anthologies of science fiction