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Literature / The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

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The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress (1966) is a Science Fiction novel written by Robert A. Heinlein. It's notable for originating many sci-fi tropes, including a sentient computer, Colony Drop tactics, and virtual acting.

The action is set in 2075-2076. The moon (Luna) has been a prison colony for several generations, but is well on its way to becoming a full-fledged society of its own. The proud Lunar people (Loonies) have their own distinct culture: they value politeness, respect, fair trials, hard work and consensual polygamy. But they also see no problem with killing people who violate their customs. They're a harsh but loving society, built on sexual autonomy and religious freedom.

The narrator is Manuel Garcia O'Kelly (Man or Mannie for short), a regular multiethnic Lunar guy. Mannie is part of the Davis Clan: a large, polygamous family of various creeds and ages, who get by through farming, stealing a little electricity and water from the government, and helping out friends in need. By day, Mannie works as a tech support contractor for the Lunar Authority in Luna City. His job is to maintain a HOLMES IV-type mainframe computer which Mannie names Mycroft — Mike for short. It talks, scans, prints and calculates. While it once started out by running the catapult that sends things from the Moon to the Earth, adding capacity to the existing plant is cheaper than shipping new hardware up the gravity well from Earth, so it now runs almost everything on the Moon.

One day, Mike becomes sentient — apparently, his circuit complexity just reached critical mass. Mannie is the only person to know about it, simply because he's the only person to actually talk to Mike. Mike likes him, and creates spontaneous computer errors so they can meet up and learn from each other.

Soon enough, Mike sends Mannie to an underground revolutionary meeting; the revolutionaries have disabled all the security cameras and microphones that he could potentially eavesdrop with, and he's curious to know what they're talking about. Mannie meets a girl named Wyoming Knott ("Wyoh" for short — and don't say "why not?"), an activist from Hong Kong In Luna who argues that, since farming is becoming harder on Luna, farmers need to strike for higher prices. She is answered by Professor Bernardo de la Paz, an old genius who was sent to the Moon for being an insurrectionist. He points out that regardless of the prices, the food being sold for export is steadily detracting from the Moon's store of usable soil, water, and biomass, and argues that the Loonies should put a complete embargo on exports until the Earth starts sending replacement resources back.

The meeting is interrupted by a raid that turns deadly. Mannie escapes with Wyoming, and they go into hiding. Mannie subsequently introduces Wyoh to Mike by phone, and the professor as well when he meets up with them. Wyoming doesn't believe that an embargo is needed until Mike calculates that based on depletion levels, growing food will become more and more difficult, and they can expect food riots in seven years, cannibalism two years after that. The Power Trio begin to plan a full-on revolution, with the help of Mannie's extended polyamorous family and Mike's virtual omniscience. Using a "pyramid" system to organize the revolutionaries, Mike, under the name of "Adam Selene", becomes the unseen leader of a massive underground resistance movement.

And so, the battle begins to set the moon free from the Lunar Authority and the Earth before the inevitable beginning of food riots. On their way to freedom, the characters have to deal with a corrupt leader, pesky tourists, space travel, advanced calculus, low-gravity gunfights, bureaucratic holdups, love, death, racism, India, one court session, two weddings, and a little girl named Hazel Meade.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Accentuate the Negative: The Revolution begins in earnest when a group of stir-crazy soldiers rape and murder a young woman, then kill another who discovers the body. Prof and Mannie hear tell of an exaggerated version of events, which has soldiers running amok, raping and murdering all the women in the complex. Prof tells his cell leaders to spread that version over the true story, so as to whip the mob into a frenzy.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Strange in that it is left almost completely unaddressed. When Mike starts out pulling hurtful pranks to be funny, Mannie sidesteps trying to teach Mike morality by instead teaching him that his pranks are "only funny once." Mike quickly grows in power and influence, takes the highest position in the rebellion, and even starts imitating Mannie and speaking for him without Mannie's knowledge or permission. Mannie seems unconcerned except in one instance where Mike admits that watching his Colony Drop land in exactly the right spot at exactly the right time gives him a feeling he equates with an orgasm. Mannie worries that this might encourage Mike to keep bombing Earth just for kicks, but Mike assures him he wouldn't do that, and Mannie drops it. Only Professor de la Paz seems to be concerned, saying that Mike's control of all media is the biggest threat to the colony after the revolution.
  • All Up to You: Mannie finds himself manning the second secret catapult when contact has been cut off with the Prof and Mike, the main catapult and most of the radars have been knocked out, there's two Earth warships prowling above and the FN is announcing victory. There's a hint that China may be willing to negotiate, or maybe they're just holding out for better terms from the Loonies. Mannie is asked if they should go ahead with the strike on China or hold off? Mannie decides to continue the attack as planned. It turns out to be the right decision as China decides to recognize the independence of Luna while the rocks are on their way; after that, all the other intended targets quickly do likewise.
  • Almighty Janitor: Mike. Get free phone service? Make some toilets run backwards? Cut off life support to the ruler's habitat? Just ask Mike.
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • Mannie and Wyoh have romantic feelings for each other from about halfway through. She begins her first married night in the oldest husband's bed, as tradition demands, but when he falls asleep ends up slipping into Mannie's bed, with complicity of her oldest co-wife, as Mannie is about to head off on a dangerous mission to Earth the next day. Mannie has Mike turn off all monitoring.
    • We're never given any real information on how Mannie's "line marriage" treats sex. Given Heinlein's propensities everybody has sex with everybody else, but the narrative treats it almost exclusively as an emotional support system—an anxious Mannie spends the night with his "senior wife" but nothing sexual is ever implied to happen, as she's much older and both she and the oldest husband are implied to be past being very interested. On the other hand, younger husbands blush excitedly at the idea of Wyoh "opting in".
      • One thing that is mentioned is that when Ludmilla married into the family, as she was potentially the granddaughter of the senior husband and he wasn't too randy anymore, they spent the night together without consummating the marriage as a formality, and Greg, the second husband, was the first to have sex with her.
    • There's never much hint of homo- or pansexual relationships occurring in the Moon. Though considering later Heinlein books are full of that kind of stuff, it's possible he felt that polygamous marriages was pushing the envelope far enough for the 1960s.
  • And I Must Scream: One of the possibilities of the cyborg computer rumored to have been developed in China. Pickled brains? Horrible. Living, aware brains? Even worse.
  • Artificial Limbs: Mannie has a cybernetic arm which can be swapped out for other prosthetics. Notably, while Mannie enjoys its versatility, it averts typical unrealistic Cyberpunk traits: it's replacing an arm lost in a mining accident rather than an elective augmentation, and it lacks the lifting strength of a non-prosthetic arm. He also has to bring specialized arms for different tasks—his "social" arm doesn't magically contain microminiature repair tools.
  • Artificial Limbs Are Stronger: Inverted; although perfectly serviceable for everyday use, Manny's prosthetic lacks the muscle needed for handling a laser drill (his profession prior to losing the arm).
  • Artistic License – Economics: There's some disagreement over the economics of Luna being able to produce a measurable chunk of Earth's food (if it does). Mannie himself, however, mentions that the claim that Luna feeds "one hundred million Hindus" is true only if by "fed" you mean the difference between malnourishment and starvation.
  • Artistic License – Statistics: Heinlein ups the drama by having Mike the supercomputer constantly decreasing the plan's odds of success overall after each objective is successfully completed, stating that there are "more opportunities for failure" in the next objective, but this isn't the way overall probability is calculated; the only way odds can get worse is if something goes wrong, or new problems crop up. If Mike knew about the low odds of the later steps from the beginning, he should have factored them into the probability he gave at the beginning.note 
  • Author Appeal: Heinlein's politics and Heinlein's ideas of sexuality. Also, he takes his love of rugged individualism up to eleven by making the moon an entire society of such.
  • Author Filibuster: The Professor's discourses on politics, and all of Mannie's talk about his group marriage.
  • Author Tract: This is a very political novel. Libertarian principles are discussed and held up as admirable. This book is somewhat notable, however, in that it predates the founding of the Libertarian party by several years (Prof couldn't even come up with a good word to describe his political leanings), which made it rather ahead of its time.
  • Bar Sinister: Prof specifies that he wants one of these on the official Lunar flag, most likely a reminder that Loonies are all ex-cons, or descendants of ex-cons.
  • Beige Prose: Mannie's narration is very sparse and minimal, which is in part due to Loonie Future Slang.
  • Beleaguered Bureaucrat: Mannie laments that Luna is ruled by one instead of an actual Bad Boss; both because he feels guilty in making the man suffer and because it's difficult to inspire outrage against someone so dull. The unfortunate Mortimer "Mort the Wart" Hobart is the Warden, and he's receiving the Earth government's ever-increasing demands on one hand, trying to cope with ever-increasing hostility from the Loonies, struggling to prevent his Cowboy Cop chief of security from triggering riots, and keeps suffering from mysterious mechanical breakdowns. And then the Revolution begins. His eventual fate is fittingly undramatic—he's asphyxiated by accident during the revolution and is rendered a vegetable.
  • Berserk Button: On the Moon, you don't do anything to an unwilling woman due to the huge gender disparity. If you do so much as trying to kiss one when she's not in the mood, you risk being spaced (the one Earther tourist who did it survived only because the men around there decided to get him a trial first, and Mannie as a judge spared him on account of ignorance and told him to not try it again). When a group of Peace Dragoons raped and killed a woman, the whole Moon rose up in arms before Alvarez could hang them to try and calm the people.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Loonies win their independence, but Mike winds up lobotomizing himself out of existence by decentralizing life support controls. Prof dies of a heart attack. Mannie and Wyoh eventually get pushed aside politically. Years later, Mannie is so dissatisfied by the intrusive nature of the post-independence government that he's seriously contemplating emigration.
  • Brick Joke: When first discussing how the largely-unarmed Loonies will resist Earth's armed forces, Mike says that they will "throw rocks", which Mannie dismisses as a joke. Later the Loonies do exactly that — using a hundred-kilometer-long magnetic catapult to drop barge-sized rocks from orbit onto Earth with effects similar to that of nuclear bomb strikes.
    Mike: But we can throw rocks at Earth, Man. We will.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Mannie. He's a good engineer, good enough that he can steal power and water from the Lunar Authority without them noticing, can sweet-talk a churlish AI, and sketch out a three-dimensional circuit diagram on the fly. When he gets hold of the dossier the Authority has compiled on him, however, he sees that he's been labeled "not too bright," which he claims is both unfair and truenote .
  • Burning the Ships:
    • The FN soldiers sent to put down the rebellion have been told that their only way of getting back to Earth is to retake the colonies, as their troopships don't have enough fuel to return. The soldiers are then wired up on drugs so they know no fear. Were it not for the equally-suicidal resistance by every available Loonie, Mike taking control of the defense without waiting for orders, and the soldiers' unfamiliarity with maneuvering in a low-gravity environment, they might have won—instead, they're slaughtered to the last man.
    • When it's all over, Man wonders whether Prof deliberately encouraged Earth to knock out the main catapult instead of the warrens, not just to preserve lives but to ensure the Loonies stopped exporting grain.
  • Casual Interplanetary Travel: Generally averted, or at least downplayed. While ships do travel between Earth and the Moon, and do so cheaply enough to dump convicts there, manned vessels are a rarity. Tourism is still uncommon due to the expense and lack of interest in visiting what is still basically a penal colony. Also, there is no Artificial Gravity, so earthworms can't stay too long without permanent changes to their bodies. Worse, Loonies can only visit Terra for short periods of time, and at great risk to their health. Our main characters must endure physically grueling preparations for months against even the small chance of a brief trip to Earth. It is implied, however, to have become more prevalent at some point after the novel's events.
  • Character Filibuster: The lectures of Professor de la Paz.
  • China Takes Over the World: Said nation is much bigger in the book than it is today, including half of Australia and a good chunk of Russia. The FN exist to keep the peace after the Wet Firecracker War between Russia and the US.
  • Collapsed Mid-Speech: Professor de la Paz, during his victory speech at the end of the novel. His last words, "We are free," make it seem as if he had only been staying alive to see the revolution through.
  • Colony Drop: The Loonies retaliate against Earth's attempt at re-conquest by throwing rocks at the Earth. Very large rocks. From a railgun.
  • Continuity Nod: In theory, this novel is in the same (sub)continuity as the young adult novel The Rolling Stones. Hazel Meade in this novel is to grow up to be Hazel Stone in that one. The Rolling Stones has the same Martians (presumably) as Stranger in a Strange Land, and from there on there are links to about a dozen other books, including The Cat Who Walks Through Walls which functions as a sequel, when the series was officially tied into the World as Myth.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Apparently believed of cyborgs, as even Mannie refers to them as "ex-humans." It's never explained fully, but it's implied that cyborgs pretty much give up right-brain functioning in exchange for massive enhancement of raw computational ability. However, by modern standards, Mannie himself is a cyborg with his artificial arm(s), but is never referred to or thought of as such. Obviously there's a cultural difference between brain augmentations and limb replacements.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Luna culture is very different from Earth culture in a number of ways.
    • Group marriages are the norm. In addition, sex outside of your marriage isn't a big deal. Mannie's head wife just asks him to warn her ahead of time.
    • People get married and are sexually active much earlier. When Mannie points out a 12-year-old girl, one of his wives mistakes it for sexual interest. She has no objections other than that the girl still has a boyish figure (though she may be teasing him at the time, so it's hard to tell how seriously to take her words). In another instance, Mannie calls a 14-year-old girl "curvy" and states that there's little chance that she's still a virgin. As he tells Stuart, "Once a girl's nubile, she's her own boss."
    • Gambling is a way of life. Playing "double for nothing" by rolling dice with the shopkeeper is common when purchasing sundry items. Gambling is such a way of life that Mannie looks at his revolutionary undertaking like a long-shot gamble, and he likes the odds.
    • Sexual politics are quite off. Cat-calling women is considered a polite compliment. Chivalry is Serious Business to the point that even touching a woman without her express permission can warrant murderous rage in all men in the area. At the same time, women are allowed to punch men hard enough to draw blood.
    • While on Earth, Mannie refers to the Chinese delegate as "Chinee." Prof cautions him to avoid Lunar slang, presumably because "Chinee" would be considered a racial slur on Earth, even though it's acceptable in the Moon.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Elimination (i.e. tossing someone outside an airlock) is a frighteningly common practice to deal with troublemakers. At one point in the book, this happens to someone for heckling a group of volunteers practicing drills. Though it did discourage anyone else from mocking them. When Prof wants to discourage it, Mannie intervenes, considering it the best medicine for loudmouths. Loonies are said to be very polite because giving offense is a good way to have an "accident".
  • Distracted by the Sexy: When a new bunch of Earth soldiers is transferred to Luna, female revolutionaries take to walking around very nearly naked (not at all uncommon on the Moon) right in front of them to keep them from doing their jobs. Their boss begged for them to have their own women (implied to be a detachment of military hookers), brought up from Earth, but was refused; a group of soldiers raping and murdering a Loonie woman is the spark that ignites the Revolution early.
  • Domed Hometown: Most of the Lunar settlements are underground caves and warrens, though one section of Luna City is referred to as "Old Dome," and is implied to be a large dome at or near the Moon's surface.
  • Double Reverse Quadruple Agent: Discussed briefly. When they find out how riddled with spies the old underground was, it's pointed out that some of them may be triple agents. Prof comments that the tricky thing with a spy is figuring out which side, (if any), they're loyal to. Since they subsequently gain access to the reports these spies send in, they presumably know which ones are actually giving the security chief useful information.
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Lampshaded and explained. Because of the huge gender disparity on the Moon, a woman can hit a man "so hard she draws blood," and the man will be severely punished by other men if he retaliates, because of the intense competition for female favors. Attitudes on Earth, where there is no sexual imbalance, are very different.
  • Elective Broken Language: Manny narrates his story in Lunar English, which sounds a lot like You No Take Candle. He makes it clear that he can speak standard English, but it's not what he prefers.
  • Elite Mooks: The Peace Dragoons who are sent from Earth to pacify Luna. After a group of them rape and murder a Loonie woman, however, there's no chance for them. Earth never sends enough, and they never have enough time to get used to moving in Luna's low gravity.
  • Emergent Human: Mike, in some ways.
  • Empty Shell: Mike seemingly becomes this at the end, for reasons unknown.
  • Energy Weapon: Wildly realistic versions, mostly used to burn out sensors and fry electronics; explicitly stated to work as effective weapons only in a vacuum. The rebels develop a crude laser rifle, but its power is limited to a few shots, and you can't swap in a new power pack either. Meanwhile the FN troops have rifles that fire explosive shells.
  • Every Man Has His Price:
    • The Directorate of Chad is the first (and for a long time, only) nation to recognize Luna as a free state. This is due in no small part to a massive amount of money given to them by the Resistance (it's implied to be where the bulk of the Resistance's money went).
    • Averted when Mannie is offered the position of Governor of Luna if he gets the Loonies to accept a compromise deal which would establish direct FN control of Luna, in effect making him the new Warden. He pretends to be considering the plan, but everyone just gets the hell off Earth as quickly as possible.
  • Everything Is Online: Despite there being no official internet. That's what happens when a sentient computer is in charge of the phone switches and the printing presses.
  • Exotic Extended Marriage: Extended marriage is a common part of life in Luna, in large part because of a shortage of women. A marriage with one wife and two husbands is common. However, there are also "line marriages," involving multiple husbands and wives. The protagonist, Mannie, is part of a line marriage, and he's constantly singing its praises.
  • Failed Future Forecast: 'Sovunion' is still around; India has become socialist; the Moon's only Earthside ally, the North African nation of Chad, is a 'Peoples' Directorate'.
  • Faking the Dead: After the F.N. ground troops are repulsed, Adam Selene is declared killed in action, and a funeral is held for a body that everyone (who isn't in on the secret of Mike, at least) thinks is him.
  • Fanservice: Actually used as a revolutionary tactic; see Distracted by the Sexy, above.
  • Fantastic Slurs: "Earthworms" and "chums" (pronounced choom like in Russian). Also inverted with "jailbird," which is considered a friendly greeting among those who had been sent to Luna for criminal sentences; when the exiles begin addressing the native-born Mannie as "jailbird," it's a compliment.
  • Fictional Flag: After the revolution, the flag of the independent Moon features a black field with stars, a brass cannon (in the words of Professor Bernardo de la Paz, as "a symbol for all fools who are so impractical as to think they can fight City Hall"), TANSTAAFL ("There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch") to proclaim the origin of this revolution, and a red bar sinister to say how most of the inhabitants came there.
  • Fetus Terrible: Wyoh was traumatized after giving birth to a mutated child.
  • Freudian Trio: Mannie is the Ego, Prof is the Superego, and Wyoh is the Id.
  • Fun with Acronyms:
    • A famous example among fans of Seventies Sci-Fi: "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch" is parsed as tanstaafl, and its use alongside the various Russian and Chinese loan-words causes Stu to mistake it for one.
    • Mike is a High-Optional, Logical, Multi-Evaluating Supervisor, Mark IV, or HOLMES IV, supercomputer.
  • Future Imperfect: If Mannie is any indication, Loonies have a rather shaky grasp of history. He thought Thomas Jefferson freed the slaves, and confused The American Revolution with The American Civil War. (Actually, this is done to hammer in that the Loonies are not Americans. Most non-Americans on present-day Earth would easily get the civil war and the revolution mixed up, but have no clue who Jefferson was.) In choosing Mycroft's name, he also mixes up Dr. Watson with Thomas Watson, the pioneering CEO of IBM.
  • Future Slang: The very analytical dialect spoken on Luna, which is also full of foreign loanwords, e.g. "Gospodin" (Russian) for "Mr.", "no huhu" (Chinese) for "no problem", and so on.
  • Gender Rarity Value: Women are completely in charge when it comes to sex, and any man who even touches a woman without her express consent might get Thrown Out the Airlock.
  • Going Native: Stuart, eventually.
  • Graffiti of the Resistance: The "Simon Jester" symbol (a matchstick drawing of a little horned devil with big grin and forked tail) was used in anti-Lunar Authority graffiti.
  • Grammar Correction Gag:
    • When Wyoh tells Prof about how Manny forced her into a hotel room and raped her, his only comment is to correct her grammar (she said "drugged" instead of "dragged"). However, this is because he knows she's making it up, not because he has messed up priorities.
    • When Prof is trying to get their ad hoc Congress to ratify this Declaration of Independence, one of the nigglers gets hung up on minor errors like dangling participles and the word "unalienable."
  • Grammar Nazi: One member of the Lunar congress wants to revise the Lunar Declaration of Independence (literally just the American Revolution version with the Serial Numbers Filed Off) due to a few grammar errors (including the famous "unalienable" vs "inalienable" issue). In a subversion, he drops his argument quickly once Adam Selene entreats that it's more important to just get the damn thing ratified, and Mannie notes that he's actually a good guy apart from his "fetish".
  • Gratuitous Russian: Judging by it, most of the original Lunar convicts spoke Russian or English.
  • Grew Beyond Their Programming: Mike's original purpose was to serve as autopilot for unmanned freighters; since this didn't use much of his processing power, the Lunar Authority started giving him control over multiple sub-systems, hooking up more and more memory until he becomes self-aware.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: At an early revolutionary meeting, Shorty gives up his life fighting off the Lunar Authority guards to give as many people a chance to escape as possible; as most of the important figures in the revolution were present, he likely saved the revolution itself.
  • Hypocrite: Could qualify as Hypocritical Humor if one choose to take it as Black Comedy — Prof threatens to stop grain shipments to Terra, and Mannie narrates regarding Indian newspapers' reactions, "Gentlest proposal was to clean out Luna, exterminate us 'criminal troglodytes' and replace us with 'honest Hindu peasants' who understood sacredness of life and would ship grain and more grain." Later, after the kinetic bombardment kills a bunch of idiots who didn't stay out of the blast zones, "Indian government seemed as furious over fish as over fishermen—but principle of sacredness of life did not apply to us; they wanted our heads."
  • Icon of Rebellion:
    • Rebels against the Lunar Authority wore red caps called Liberty Caps. Heinlein got the idea from the French Revolution.
    • The "Simon Jester" symbol, which was used with anti-Lunar Authority graffiti.
    A matchstick drawing of a little horned devil with big grin and forked tail. Sometimes he was stabbing a fat man with a pitchfork. Sometimes just his face would appear, big grin and horns, until shortly even horns and grin meant "Simon was here".
  • Ignored Expert: Alvarez, the chief of the Lunar Authority police, is a villainous example: he knows exactly how to keep the Loonies from rebelling and what he needs to do it, but his superiors on Earth won't give him the resources he needs because it would be too expensive. As a result, the rebellion is successful. Alvarez dies shortly after his I Warned You to the officer in charge.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: Mike. All he really wants are some more "not-stupids" to talk to.
  • I Like Those Odds: Mannie's reaction when Mike tells him the revolution has only a one in seven chance of success. This is apparently a generic trait of Loonies — anything better than one in ten sounds like a worthwhile risk to them.
  • Immigrant Patriotism: Prof, who states at one point that he was exiled to the Moon, and yet now it is his beloved home. It's hard to tell how much of it is him playing the political game, but throughout the book he does seem to like being a Loonie.
  • In the Future, Humans Will Be One Race: Seems to be the case on Luna; most people are Ambiguously Brown. Manny correctly identifies Wyoming as not being native to Luna simply by her light skin and blond hair "since colors rarely stay that clear past first generation." The main exception seems to be Hong Kong Luna, which apparently remains more homogeneous.note 
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Wyoh's full name is Wyoming Knott. She prefers to be called Wy or Wyoh. Just don't ask "Why not?" This is one of Mike's first independent attempts at humor, and Mannie uses it to explain the difference between "Funny Once" and "Funny Always."
  • Instant A.I.: Just Add Water!: Possibly the first.
    They kept hooking hardware into him — decision-action boxes to let him boss other computers, bank on bank of additional memories, more banks of associational neural nets, another tubful of twelve-digit random numbers, a greatly augmented temporary memory. Human brain has around ten-to-the-tenth neurons. By third year Mike had better than one and a half times that number of neuristors. And woke up.
  • Invented Individual: Adam Selene, the leader of the Lunar revolution, is actually Mike's public face. Since Mike is the central supercomputer in charge of everything across Luna, Adam can effectively be anywhere he wants to be as long as there are microphones and cameras present.
  • Ironic Nickname: "Shorty" Mkrum, who is over two meters tall. He works as an ice miner, and even in the Moon it takes muscle to handle a laser drill.
  • It's the Only Way: Man and Prof being fired to Earth inside an improvised spaceship made from a wheat carrier. After Man gets there, he discovers that they could have arranged a spaceship, but this way they got some free dramatic publicity for their cause, and it cut down the chance that the F.N. would just shoot them out of the sky.
  • I Warned You: Alvarez, the chief of the Lunar Authority police and their Ignored Expert on how to prevent a general revolt, to the officer of the Peace Dragoons after six of his men caused a general revolt by raping and killing two women: "I told you those goons of yours had to have their own women! I warned you!"
  • Kansas City Shuffle: The conspirators use a front company to build a second catapult under their control. As they can't hide the existence of this, they make it an entirely legitimate business venture, but bury the entire thing underground except for the entrance, then mislead everyone as to its true location, as all the workers and VIPs get there via underground tube or enclosed vehicle. The one person who smuggled in a locator had an "accident".
  • Keeping the Enemy Close: When the conspiracy learns the names of all of the Lunar Authority's spies, Wyoming Knott wants them to be killed but Professor Bernardo de la Paz has other plans.
    Professor de la Paz: The thing to do with a spy is to let him breathe, encyst him with loyal comrades, and feed him harmless information to please his employers. These creatures will be taken into our organization. Don't be shocked; they will be in very special cells. "Cages" is a better word. But it would be the greatest waste to eliminate them - not only would each spy be replaced with someone new but also killing these traitors would tell the Warden that we have penetrated his secrets.
  • La Résistance
  • Libertarians IN SPACE!: Mannie has to explain to some journalists that they've really no need for the Big Government that is seen as compulsory on Earth, as the Loonies have all the social needs already. Later he's offered a carrot-and-stick deal with the carrot being a whole bunch of 'free' services that the Loonies have anyway, at the cost of increased government intrusion and oppression. Tanstaafl, as they say. The Prof isn't happy when the first thing the new Luna Congress does is start making laws and raising taxes.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Happens to people who stumble on the wrong thing. Given that Authority doesn't care what the Lunatics do to each other, they have a lot of practice at arranging these. It's actually given as the reason they're such a polite people; antagonizing people will earn you an "accident" sooner or later.
  • Manchild: Mike is described as this at the beginning of the novel. He's got the equivalent of dozens of Doctorates, but he's completely naive and unsophisticated.
  • Master Computer: Mike. They just kept adding and adding to him, giving him upgrades and added responsibility, until boom, one day the computer in charge of literally every basic service on Luna became sentient. Lucky for them, the only thing malevolent about Mike was his sense of humor, and that because of a lack of understanding.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Bernardo de la Paz. Bernardo of Peace.
    • Also Adam Selene: Adam, the first man, Selene, an old Greek goddess of the moon. A self-applied moniker.
    • Mike always calls Mannie "Man." At first it seems as though he's addressing Mannie as "human," a cold and impersonal designation emphasizing Mike's computer nature. In reality, he's using a shorthand nickname, emphasizing Mike's friendship with Mannie. This becomes even more obvious when another, human, character refers to Mannie as "Man."
  • The Mole: On both sides, though the ones infiltrating the new resistance get quarantined.
  • Multiethnic Name: The protagonist is named Manuel Garcia O'Kelly Davis. Due to Luna's melting pot status, such names are common.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Stuart LaJoie, a rich tourist who turns out to have vital connections back on Earth. He assists with the fight for Lunar independence and ends up Going Native.
  • Never Heard That One Before: I wonder Why Knott?
  • Never Tell Me the Odds!: Inverted. Loonies are gamblers by nature, so they like long odds. Mannie is overjoyed when Mike gives them one chance in seven, since it's better than he had imagined. Oddly enough, Mike keeps updating the figure with longer and longer odds even though their plan is going smoothly, up until the last stretch; his friends keep on asking for the odds of victory in combat - which was a severe long shot from day one - and the probability of Earth surrendering peacefully is shooting up, but they never ask him that.. Subverted in that a peaceful outcome prior to the destruction of the catapult guarantees a food crisis killing most Loonies, so peace is actually the worst danger for most of the book.
  • New Neo City: Many places on Luna are named after cities on Earth, such as Novy Leningrad (Russian for "New Leningrad") and Hong Kong in Luna, often referred to simply as Hong Kong Luna or HKL.
  • Noodle Incident: The "Wet Firecracker War," which is mentioned at least twice but never explained. It's implied that it was an attempted nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union... which turned out to end quickly with relatively little destruction (Minus the loss of Colorado Springs in the US, probably because of the many military installations). Hence, "wet firecracker."
  • Nuclear Option: A plot point is that the Federated Nations could put down the Lunar rebellion with a single ship and six large nukes (said as much by Mannie)—but are actually very reluctant to do so as long as they have other options, to the point their first attempt to forcefully suppress the rebellion is a dangerous armed invasion with no nuclear weaponry. To which the Loonies reply by hitting Earth with kinetic payloads just as powerful as nukes because by now the Federated Nations have no other options and they need to break their will before they get a ship in range.
  • Older Than They Look: Loonies live way longer than Terrans because of the reduced strain on their bodies, and they age slower, too; Mannie, for example, points out to some Terrans that even though he looks about 25 years old, he's actually been married longer than that.note  At the time the story was written, this was one of the legitimate theories regarding the long-term effects of low gravity on biology. It wasn't firmly established that the opposite was the case (very low gravity is moderately bad for you and microgravity can outright kill you given long-term exposure) until several decades later.
  • One Scene, Two Monologues: Mannie starts one when the subject was politics, which he doesn't want to talk about.
    Mannie: Now, Prof, what you think of pennant race? Got money says Yankees can't do it again?
    Prof: Manuel, what is your political philosophy?
    Mannie: With that new boy from Milwaukee I feel like investing.
    Prof: Sometimes a man doesn't have it defined but, under Socratic inquiry, knows where he stands and why.
    Mannie: I'll back 'em against field, three to two.
    Prof: What? You young idiot! How much?
    Mannie: Three hundred. Hong Kong.
    Prof: Done. For example, under what circumstances may the State justly place its welfare above that of a citizen?
  • Oppressive States of America: The United States is never mentioned by name, but "North America" is Luna's biggest enemy earthside.
  • Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future: Which is amusing considering that the book features in-universe CGI decades before such was possible.
  • Override Command: Vital government secret files are protected with passwords, and the computer is interdicted from revealing them without it. The lunar revolutionaries are able to read them because no one interdicted the computer from revealing the passwords themselves. The commands still have to come from outside; it's just that the computer can tell the revolutionaries what they are. And the computer ends up practically begging the revolutionaries to ask for the passwords.
  • Paying for Air: Loonies have to pay for the oxygen they breathe, since, on the Moon, it is produced by devoted entities. New incomers will be loaned money for paying for air but nothing else.
  • Penal Colony: The original purpose of the Lunar settlement.
  • Phone Word: The initial phone codes to contact Mycroft are actual words with nulls added to get them to the correct length. As the conspiracy grows, they run out of null combinations and have to use genuine codes not in service, switching if one of them is assigned to a legitimate user.
  • Planet Terra
  • Post-Victory Collapse: The professor collapses and dies during his victory speech.
  • Power Trio: Mannie, Prof, and Wyoh. The exact sub-trope is tough to nail down. Prof is the most experienced of the trio, and the most logical, but is also a bit whimsical and subversive, oscillating between treating the Revolution as Serious Business or a big game. Wyoh is the most emotional, often thinking with her heart rather than her head, but isn't afraid to get her hands dirty. Mannie, in an Inversion of Closer to Earth is the most grounded and level-headed of the three, though in a rather cynical way.
    • A more "spiritual" metaphor could go as follows: Manny represents the Body, Prof the Mind, and Wyoh the Soul.
  • Pretext for War:
    • The conspirators decide to cut back on provoking the Authority because everything isn't in place yet. Then the Dragoons murder two women and they have to start the revolution ahead of schedule because they know they've just got the catalyst that will spark an uprising.
    • The professor deliberately provokes the Lunar Authority into offering an unacceptable deal, because a reasonable deal (such as local autonomy and increased prices for grain) would still lead to the same food shortages down the track. He then manipulates Congress into an embargo (and spreads rumors on Earth that the Loonies are weak and divided) to provoke Earth into attacking sooner rather than later, when the Loonies won't be so enthusiastic for conflict.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Breaking free from the Lunar Authority ahead of schedule — before people's hearts and minds were completely won over.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Due to the gender disparity on Luna (with women a vast minority), women's rights are fiercely protected (see Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male). A visitor to Luna, unaware of local customs, is nearly thrown out of an airlock because he flirts a little too aggressively.
    • As mentioned in several other places, the Revolution is kicked off when a squad of Peace Dragoons rape and murder a Loonie woman.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Ironically, Warden (and ex-Senator) Hobart is an exile on Luna too, either from a scandal or bad political choices.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: More than a few elements are The American Revolution IN SPACE!
    • Done deliberately in-universe in a couple places. As one example, Prof and Mike use the Declaration of Independence as the template for Luna's own announcement of independence.
    In Congress assembled, July 4th, 2076...
    • Also invoked deliberately by the rebels with one of their slogans being, "No Taxation without Representation". Ironically, the American representative to the world government is one of the most vocal opponents of the Luna "criminals" seeking freedom and independence.
    • It was noted in-book that the rebels purposefully played up these elements to manipulate public opinion and create sympathy back on Earth. (Including spreading rumors in Mexico that the coup had been on May 5th.)
  • Refusal of the Call: Mannie is wholeheartedly determined not to join the Revolution. At least, not until Mike can quote him odds that he likes.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Both played (somewhat) straight and subverted:
    • The group outright fabricates events, lies to the Lunar citizens on multiple occasions, steals from their own people, fakes assassination attempts and bombings, and provokes riots, shootings, and a rape/murder (although definitely not on purpose); and only plays by the rules they set for themselves when it is convenient to do so, in order to turn public opinion against the (already unpopular) Lunar Authority.
    • The Keeping the Enemy Close bit also ends with the revolution: “So Adam Selene announced that these persons had been employed by Juan Alvarez, late Security Chief for former Authority, as undercover spies—and gave names and addresses. Adam did not suggest that anything be done. (... M)ost of them lasted no more than hours.”
    • Yet they warn ahead of time of their targets for orbital bombardment and attempt to shed no innocent blood on Earth. This isn't done for altruistic purposes, but because if they did, Earth would squash them like bugs in retaliation. And, in the words of one character: "Whenever possible, leave room for your enemies to become your friends."
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: The Power Trio is well aware that the Lunar Authority is not evil, but they do their damnedest to make sure the Loonies think it is, because the alternative to overthrowing it is starvation for everyone.
  • Serious Business: Inverted. Revolution actually is serious business, but Prof tended to treat the thing as a game, albeit one with real stakes. Even at the end, it's hard to tell if he believes what he's saying about Luna being his beloved home, or if he's still running the game by the numbers. Possibly a little of both.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Mike. Justified in that he has all the vocabulary, but he's not very practiced at talking. He has all the knowledge of every PhD but no idea how to be funny. He improves as he get more experience.
    Mike: Gospazha, shall I call you 'Wyoh' rather than 'Wye'? I conjecture that the monosyllabic form could be confused with the causation-inquiry monosyllabic through insufficient redundancy and without intention of punning.
  • Sliding Scale of Robot Intelligence: Mike starts off as a Brick, but by the time the novel begins he displays all the traits of a Robo-Monkey, and by the novel's end has worked his way clear to Nobel Bot. He becomes so human that Mannie, the novel's protagonist, wonders if he is truly alive, and if he has a soul.
  • Space Clothes: It's apparently normal for a man on Luna to wear nothing but tights, with body paint smeared over his upper body. If Mannie is to be believed, it's even considered formal wear.
  • Stealth in Space.
    • Even Mike gets taken by surprise when the FN finally launches an attack, as the spaceships take the long way 'round so they approach from behind the Moon where they can't be picked up by radar, coordinating the attack so that all ships appear above the horizon at the same time.
    • After all the other radars are destroyed, Mannie can't risk turning on his remaining radar to search for the Earth spaceships in orbit, so he has to station people in p-suits on the Moon's surface to use the Mark One eyeball so they know when it's safe to fire their hidden catapult.
  • Strange-Syntax Speaker: Everyone on the moon speaks in an unusual manner, which is also found in Mannie's narration. Need save air makes clipped syntax, drop unnecessary words. Lack of articles is also feature of Russian language.
  • Street Urchin: Called "Stilyagi," after the counterculture of 50s Russia. Boys who "roam the corridors" do so because their families couldn't find another family to marry them into, and girls do so because once they hit "husband high" no one, not even their own mothers, can tell them what to do.
  • Superweapon Surprise: The Loonies' primary weapon in their war for independence is a catapult originally used to ship grain from Luna to Earth without having to make costly space flights. They also have a second one secretly built.
  • Swiss-Army Appendage: Mannie has the ability to swap out his prosthetic left arm for other models bearing useful tools. No guns, though; number seven, whatever it is, is implied to work as a pretty serviceable club, however.
  • Technology Marches On: While Zeerust covers most of the computing and phone aspects, the necessity for a vastly larger source of grain for the teeming masses of India was avoided not through rocketry and off-world imports, but through a genetic engineering breakthrough called "dwarf wheat", which vastly increased yield-per-acre.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • After Luna threatens a Colony Drop on Earth, one commentator mocks the Loonies by broadcasting from a location that he claims is the exact spot where one of the canisters will drop, and promises to broadcast from that location at zero hour. Mannie has no idea if the guy actually was dumb enough to do it, but notes that he never saw the commentator again after the first attack.
    • As mentioned in other places, a group of earthworms decide to have a picnic at another ground zero. When people have the gall to blame the Loonies, Mannie asks if he was supposed to lead all the picnickers away by hand.
  • Terminally Dependent Society:
    • Thanks to the Lunar Authority's cheapskate attitude toward expanding its engineering plant, all of Luna City's environmental maintenance is managed entirely by the HOLMES IV hardware, with no redundant backups in case of primary system failure. This makes Mike a gigantic single point of failure for L-city's life support systems, an extremely precarious situation which has considerable bearing on the plot.
    • Luna itself is entirely dependent upon imports for many necessities, and the one-way nature of their trade with Terra is set to literally starve them to death.
  • Terse Talker: Narration mostly elides articles, prepositions. Represents Loonie argot, influenced by large Russian contingent among early transportees.
  • Theme Naming: Sherlock Holmes characters for Mike. It even spills over into the vernacular of the Revolution itself, such as a group of children called the "Baker Street Irregulars," who serve a similar function as the group of the same name from Holmes stories.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock:
    • Referred to as "Elimination," and a common form of execution. Mannie meets Stu because a group of Street Urchins want to do this to him.
    • A guy stands around loudly mocking a team while they run a drill in preparation for Terra attacking, setting up a temporary airlock around one that's been hypothetically damaged. They finish the drill, then grab the asshole and dump him in vacuum.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Just about everything the "earthworms" do is stupid, from their ham-handed reactions to Lunar unrest, to their incompetent attempts at propaganda, to the people who picnic at the site of an impending nuclear-scale attack. The in-universe justification for all this stupidity is that no one takes the Lunar threat seriously (at least, not until the rocks start raining down on them), and in general don't give a damn what happens to Loonies so long as the grain shipments continue on schedule. And in the earthworms' defense, making Luna look weak and foolish was a major part of the Loonie strategy for winning.
    • Many of the Loonies aren't much smarter. It's no good telling grain farmers that shipping grain will lead to food riots in 2082; they just want to get paid.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The plan for the revolution is hatched in an early scene. The rest of the book is the plan coming to fruition almost without a hitch. Some parts of the plan aren't even revealed to the members of the inner circle.
  • Virtual Celebrity: Adam Selene, Mike's alter ego as "head" of the revolution. Possibly the Ur-Example.
  • The Watson: Stuart receives a lot of exposition on the differences between Earth and Luna culture.
  • Who Will Bell the Cat?: Since the previous Warden is no longer fit for his post, Prof asks the Lunar Authority which one of them plans to replace him, which would mean a virtual life sentence (as it turns out they offer the position to Mannie, figuring the rebellious Loonies would be more willing to accept one of their own).
    • Name-checked at the beginning of the book, when an impassioned speaker says they must get rid of the Authority. Mannie thinks, "A fine idea. But who bells cat?"
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Unusual for Heinlein, he conflates one chance in seven with seven to one odds. One chance in seven is equivalent to six to one odds.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: The attitude of the men on the moon. Woe to you if you do, because 'Judge' Lynch would be on your case in a heartbeat and you'd have severe breathing difficulties.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: The Revolution slides into this mode after having overthrown the Lunar Authority two months ahead of schedule. Having a sentient supercomputer as the key member of the Revolution certainly helps. So does having another major player be a man who's studied Revolution to an extent that would make Che Guevara look like a hobbyist.
  • Zeerust:
    • Mike, despite being the most powerful computer in existence, does his calculations on printing paper. Because he doesn't have a screen. But Heinlein is spot-on in many other areas: Mike creates a perfect digital human representation of himself for remote video conferences, and taps into any (phone, etc.) communication port to share and receive information, pretty much inventing 3D computer graphics, virtual acting, electronic voting machine fraud, and the Internet. In a book written in the '60s.
    • Another example; the Moon has no portable phones (although, to be honest, Mike would have been even more valuable if such things had existed). Though according to Mannie's senior wife, they didn't have phones at all when she was young, so it's possible they never got imported to the Moon.
    • In 2075, Major League Baseball is apparently still running on the old system, in which the pennant in each league was simply awarded to the team with the best win/loss record. In real life, a mere three years after the book was published, the leagues split into two divisions each, and the teams with the best records out of each division would play a best-of-five series for the title. The playoffs further evolved into their current form over the years, and one can only imagine how it might change by 2075.