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[Comments] (5) The Moon is a Harsh Mistress: I guess when you're a kid in a small town and you want good science fiction and there's no Internet, you're supposed to befriend an adult who knows about science fiction, and borrow it from them or get it via inter-library loan. But I didn't know of any such adults, or even about inter-library loan until it was almost too late, so when I was a kid there was not much science fiction for me to read.

There was an anemic selection of young adult science fiction at the middle school library. This selection was much bigger than it needed to be because only three of its books were worth reading: two whose titles I don't remember, and Robert Heinlein's classic juvenile novel Have Space Suit Will Travel. Man, that was a great book. So I started out very well-disposed towards Heinlein.

The Arvin library had about two bookshelves worth of science fiction, plus some in the paperback racks. It was mostly mediocre Star Trek novels, and now that I think about it, the remainder was also pretty mediocre, but I read it. I read some of Heinlein's later stuff like The Number of the Beast, which even at that age I could tell was lousy despite the gratuitous sex scenes added to throw me off the track.

My dad had a copy of Stranger in a Strange Land which I also read and found to be very boring. I later learned that it was a classic, so I read it again a couple years ago and found it to be very boring again. I realize this makes me an iconoclast. So I figured Heinlein's adult writing was a bust.

But for some reason (probably extreme low cost), I recently decided to buy a cheap copy of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I just read it and dang if that wasn't great. Good plot, funny humor, MacLeod-esque in its sardonic political one-liners. The computer science was abysmal but I didn't mind. I did mind the political hay made of the contigent fact that the computer science was so abysmal, but I say go with the flow. I think apart from Lem (who will probably forever be a special case) this is the earliest-published science fiction I've read that I didn't have to judge by the lowered set of expectations I usually use for old science fiction. Well, 1984 qualifies as well.

Also, while doing research for this entry I discovered Frank Key, who is kind of what you'd get if Olaf Stapledon wrote Fafblog.

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Posted by anonymous at Tue Nov 22 2005 04:24

It is generally considered that Heinlein's writing skill went to hell somewhere in the 1970s. Stuff he wrote before that is mostly very good (though some of it needs judging with that lowered set of expectations); stuff written after that is awful.

The drop-off point is The Number of the Beast plus or minus two novels, depending who you ask. (I personally am in the minus category, i.e. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is IMO the last good novel he wrote.)

Stranger in a Strange Land is well before this point, but you're not the only person who dislikes it.

Posted by anonymous at Tue Nov 22 2005 04:28

Also, do you know the funny story about the slide rules in one of his juvenile space rocket novels? It was the mid-eighties, and at a booksigning some kid asked Heinlein why the characters had to do all their navigational math with slide rules, couldn't the ship's computer do it for them? "Young man," said Heinlein, "that story was written in 1953."

I don't remember which novel it was, and may well have the date wrong.

Posted by Susie at Tue Nov 22 2005 10:12

I just looked up iconoclast. Rachel thinks it's sacrilege that I didn't like Casablance.

Posted by Leonard at Tue Nov 22 2005 12:37

Reminds me of those old rocket movies where the navigator's working out the course with a big compass and straightedge.

Posted by Rachel at Tue Nov 22 2005 15:24

And that you can't spell it. But I know several people who didn't like it, although most do, and even more who didn't like Great Gatsby, including myself.

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