Headscratchers / The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

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  • Artistic License - Economics: No, not the Lunar anarcho-capitalism championed by the author's various mouthpieces. Reasonable minds can (demonstrably) disagree about the workability of that. But the premise of the central conflict in the book, that control over Luna is economically important to Earth because it produces foodstuffs, makes completely no sense at all. Since the technology exists to drill tunnels in rock and grow large amounts of food in said tunnels under artificial lighting, why not drill some farming cubic in the Himalayas, much closer to home and easier to police? We're told that Luna has lots of solar power, but also that practical fusion power exists in this universe. Why go to the moon at all?
    • lack of space? The earth's population is 11 billion in the book, and the moon's biggest customer was India.
      • The Earth's land area is still bigger than the Moon's.
      • Yes, but as Prof points out in the book, Loonies don't live on the Moon, but in it. They measure in cubic, not area.
      • One 11-billionth of the crustal bedrock under India alone is several times the (above-ground) volume of the Pentagon. You need to leave some rock in place for structural support, but how much cubic do you need to to feed a man?
      • More importantly, how do you power it? The Loonies use vast amounts of solar power, with some fusion as back up. It's implied fusion isn't cost efficient enough to use alone to supply the moon, instead almost everyone has vast acres of solar panels that in other Heinlein stories are implied to be 90+% efficient.
      • Fusion may be too inefficient to supply the moon, because hydrogen is a scarce resource there. But Earth has oceans, which are 6% hydrogen by weight. Once you get fusion up and running at all, its efficiency becomes a non-issue, because your fuel supply is essentially unlimited. (The cost of liberating the hydrogen from water molecules is negligible compared to the payoff from fusing it).
      • The moon actually has reserves of Helium-3, which is (in theory) a really good resource for fusion because it has less waste. It's one of the main reasons for mining/colonizing the moon, and given the other technologies in the book (the electromagnetic launcher in particular), it is probably developed well enough to use as a power source.
    • Considering the leaders of the world they probably refused to tunnel under the the Earth, each country fighting because their land is "special", they couldn't possibly deface it in such a way. Much easier to force others to do the dirty work on a rock no one cares about.
      • It may be impossible. There is no guarantee the mining techniques used on the moon could be replicated on Earth with 6x gravity.
      • It probably has a lot more to do with the political system on Earth—it's a "Planned Democracy." If they grew the food on Earth, it would be confiscated under the Federated Nations Charter, or perhaps sold on the black market. By growing food on Luna, it comes in through an FA agency, and can passed on to politically connected constituencies in the FN, particularly in India. Remember, parts of FN undergo planned famines as part of their political process—presumably these punish groups that won't play ball with the managers. Take a good look at the parts where Manny and Prof are on Earth, and see what you think.
      • It is never really stated how much food Luna produces. According to one newspaper, it feeds "a hundred million Hindus" but, as Mannie points out, this grain only "makes the difference between malnutrition and starvation" so really, this grain is probably less than that provided by the Midwestern United States, but imagine if they tried to secede, and slapped an embargo on America? People would starve.
    • Because you'd have to keep reboring the holes (gravity on the ground above tends to shrink them), and you'd have to figure out a way to keep the lights powered continuously (no clouds on the moon, and very long days)
      • Long days mean long nights. If the rock's got rotation, it'll come out even half-day, half-night, regardless of rate. What you don't have on the moon is surface development (cities, roads, the like), so literal solar farms would have a place to be. Though, solar might be hard on upkeep. No atmosphere to burn up small asteroids. Equipment could get wrecked. It is mentioned in the book that maintenance and repair on solar equipment is part and parcel of being a farmer in the Moon.
    • The Himalayas are still seismically active. Moonquakes are real, but nowhere near as severe as earthquakes, so it would take much less work to stabilize a farming tunnel on (technically in) Luna than one drilled on Earth.
  • I think the main point being missed here is that it's stated IN THE BOOK that the lunar colonies DON'T produce any significant chunk of Earth's food supply. The reason they have to rebel by force is because the earth governments don't want convicts running around free.
    • And because they'll die very soon if they don't. Mike estimates at the beginning that Luna has only seven years until the starvation and food riots begin, and cannibalism comes in two years after that.
    • They make enough to be valuable, give the Lunar Authority importance beyond being a dumping ground. But they don't feed the planet or even India. But they do produce more efficiently because Heinlein envisions very high efficiency solar cells and batteries able to produce near perfect growing conditions.
    • My take on this was that FN and the Lunar Authority claim that Luna produces a large portion of the Earth's food as a way to keep a stranglehold on the Loonies. As the book points out several times, earthworms aren't going to take kindly to Loonies setting up their own government if it means they lose their gravy train.
    • As an example, the opposite occurs in the Isaac Asimov novella "The Martian Way". A demagogue on Earth was claiming that water shipments to Mars were detrimental to Earth, despite the fact that at the current rate of consumption, it would take millions of years for Mars shipments to make even a dent in the Earth's water supply. Something similar could have been going on in this book.

The Odds

  • Mike keeps updating the odds against the rebellion to be worse and worse, even though the rebellion is going perfectly according to the plan they intended before it started. This doesn't make any sense. If things need to happen at the beginning of a plan for it to all work out, and they do happen as planned, then the odds that the plan will succeed should get progressively better. If they don't, then those weren't the real odds of success in the first place.
    • The thing is: the Loonies have no way to prevail militarily, and they know that (Earth needs is a single spaceship with six bombs to exterminate them, and the only reason the Loonies had a fighting chance was that the Federated Nations wanted to reconquer the Moon). Those aren't the odds of defeating the Federated Nations, those are the odds of convincing the Federated Nations constituents to give up.
      • You're not understanding what the entry is talking about. The loonies have a plan with a sequence of steps that all need to be successful for the plan to succeed. With each step closer to the goal, Mike says that the odds get worse because there are "more opportunities for failure." This is wrong. The odds for each step should have been calculated from the beginning. To illustrate, if I gamble that I can roll a one on a six-sided die as well as a one on a ten-sided die, my odds are 1 in 60 of winning the bet in one try. If I do manage to roll a one on the six-sided die, my odds improve to 1 in 10. By Mike's logic, my odds are now worse, because there are "more opportunities for failure" when rolling a ten-sided die. Mathematically, even if each step of a plan gets progressively less likely, the more steps you get into the plan, the more likely the plan becomes of succeeding.
      • That still doesn't change the underlying issue. Heck, the odds actually should have improved on several occasions because they managed to convince quite a few people to do just that before fighting started.
      • It makes sense to me; every success meant a larger, more powerful organization - which means more things that can go wrong - which means a higher chance of the authorities getting nervous enough to employ overkill. Secrecy was their primary (initially their only) advantage, and every success reduced their level of secrecy: the odds started improving again the moment they had Earth-wide news coverage and could start using public opinion, rather than secrecy, as their principal weapon. Actuary tables sometimes have similar counter-intuitive phenomena.
      • Again, Mike knew that the later stages of the plan were bigger long-shots than the early phases right from the beginning. He was calculating the plan's success correctly, those odds would already be factoring in the odds he gave at the beginning.
    • Mike's original odds were based on his own admittedly insufficient knowledge. As the story progresses, and Mike collects more data, he's able to calculate a more accurate probability.
      • I never saw that explanation in the story. The only explanation I saw Mike give for decreasing the odds was that their current step was a bigger long-shot then their previous step, which is not how you calculate the odds as a whole.
    • Another possibility—not supported by anything in the story, I'm pulling it out of my butt—is that Mike is falsely giving worse probability estimates to produce a desired emotional effect (perhaps so that he can drastically improve morale later on by giving better estimates). If so, he'd almost certainly be doing it on de la Paz's instructions, since it doesn't seem likely he'd understand human psychology well enough to be sure of the outcome.
    • No, this actually makes sense. When Mike gives the initial estimate, he asks if he should solve it optimistically, pessimistically, along a curve, etc. Mannie tells him just to give an answer, explaining that he doesn't go through fancy wishing or rolling practices before throwing a die and getting an answer. When Mike was asked to figure out how long it would take Luna to run into trouble in its current economic state, he said "Seven years", when the real answer was a range of numbers that started with twenty. In another estimate of "fifty years", since he did not say "on the close order", he meant between five and five hundred. So when Mike says "One in seven", he's picking a possibility out of a number of possible answers, and so the actual number keeps getting refined as time goes on and fewer factors are variable.

Loonie marriages

  • What exactly is the difference between line marriages and clan marriages? Line marriages are well explained, every man is married to every woman and the marriage never ends because new spouses are periodically brought in. But all we know about clan marriages is that they have even stronger safeguards against incest, typically that no two relatives of any degree can join the same clan as spouses, while in a line marriage or a regular polyandrous marriage relatives can sometimes join as long as they are not genetically related to any spouse they could be expected to have sexual relations with. But none of this explains what the basic dynamic of a clan marriage is. Who is married to who in a clan? Who can join and how? Are spouses held in common (shared) or is it done some other way?
    • Judging from what little I could gather from Heinlein's other books and similar situations in reality, I believe the difference is that a clan marriage is a polygamous arrangement among a group of people roughly the same age, while a line marriage keeps bringing in young folk as the older spouses age. So a 6-person clan marriage may have a 25-year-old woman, a 28-year-old woman, a 30-year-old man, a 35-year-old man, and a 27-year-old man, while a 6-person line marriage may have a 60-year-old woman, a 72-year-old man, a 42-year-old man, a 30-year-old woman, and a 19-year-old man. The spouses in a clan marriage would age and then die, ending the marriage (probably passing the property on to their children), while the line marriage never technically ends.
      • This seems closer to what the book calls a group marriage. The distinguishing characteristic of both line and clan marriages is that they never end. Clan marriages are probably similar to the marriage customs of many primitive societies, where all the offspring of one gender (usually male) remain in the clan as adults and inherit the property while all the offspring of the other gender (usually female) are sent to other clans to seek spouses. Since this is Heinlein, spouses are probably shared within a clan, or at least within the same generational cohort.