This book is considered as one of the classics of science fiction. I enjoyed it immensely.
There are two stories going on in this book – one is a revolution, as the people in the moon colony, most of whom were sent as convicts, have decided they have had enough and wish to gain independence. The second is of a computer that has become sentient. The computer, named Mike by the programmer Manuel, the narrator of this story, starts as a very child-like entity, as you would expect, and gradually matures over the course of this story. In my opinion, the computer’s development is what lifts this story above a run-of-the-mill revolution story.
Mike is not emotionally vested in revolution. It makes no difference to him whether the Lunar Authority are in charge or not. However, there are three people he likes, and these people want revolution. He knows he can help them achieve it, so he does. However, it does not seem at any time during the story that Mike has any real comprehension of the situation in terms of lives lost. He does not see people in the sense that a human being sees, and as for the people on Earth, they are little more than statistics to him. Manuel’s careful stressing that certain things he wants Mike to do are not a joke, especially at the start, indicate he is concerned about Mike’s understanding of what is appropriate and what is not. Mike’s first interest and area of research is humour, and he presents his friends with reams of jokes he has found so they can tell him what is funny and what is not, and degrees of humour (ie funny once, funny always etc). His ability to ape human behaviour via his onscreen persona Adam is an indicator of his growth as a self-aware being. He is a fascinating character, and I find his development very believable.
Heinlein’s treatment of women in this and other stories gets a lot of flack. While I do not agree with the assessment that he was a misogynist, he was quite definitely sexist. Women in this book do fare slightly better than they do in some of his novels (“Stranger in a Strange Land”, for example), however that does not say very much. I don’t find this an insurmountable obstacle to reading his work – it’s really just a matter of understanding that he was a man of his time, and such attitudes were hardly unusual. Consequently the female characters in this story are somewhat two-dimensional. For all Heinlein frequently used female characters into his stories, I don’t know that I would call any of them memorable.
I enjoyed the narrator’s character. Manuel is a great deal of fun in his dryness, cynicism and his philosophy of TINSTAAFL (there is no such thing as a free lunch.) His function as the narrative voice through which we are being told this story lends it something of a fatalistic air. Manuel is something of a reluctant hero. He never intended to get involved, never intended to be one of those in charge, never intended to go to Earth, and never intended to be in charge of the defence. Really all of the events that happen to him can be traced back to one fact – he is the person who discovered the Moon’s central computer is alive. He never blames this on Mike, and that makes him a true friend.
I loved this book, and would strongly recommend it.