You’ve never read any Sci-Fi, seriously? a.k.a. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress review

Monday, July 18, 2011

I used to think there was no way I would like Science Fiction. I ruled out an entire genre of literature because I was turned off by the cheesy covers and the fact that sometimes stories were set in space. This is coming from someone who grew up on a steady diet of Star Trek and Star Wars, so I have no idea why I felt that way. I’ve always tended to lean towards Austen over aliens, but that’s no reason not to give it a shot.

So a few years back, I listened to my Dad’s recommendation and read Ender’s Game. That’s the book that turned it all around for me. I realized that the reason good sci-fi books are so wonderful is because they highlight the aspects of human nature that remain the same no matter what the setting is.

People often focus on the extreme elements of sci-fi. Is it set in space? Is there artificial intelligence or aliens? If so, it’s not for me. What Ender’s Game taught me is that there are wonderful books in every genre and you truly miss out if you ignore a whole section. Just like any category of books, there are ones that are funny, serious, focused on religion, relationships, love, etc. There are good ones and bad ones. Sci-Fi isn’t my favorite genre, by any means, but there are some great books in it that’s I’d hate to have missed.

If you’ve never tried any sci-fi, I encourage you to try one of the following…

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Fahrenheit 451 or The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
by Robert A. Heinlein

Set on the moon, where a Lunar colony has been established for years, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress explores what happens when a society is left to determine its own rules. What began as a working prison of sorts has now become a true society. Years earlier, convicts were shipped to the moon from earth to farm for wheat, similar to the penal colonies established by England in Australia. Now, those convicts have gone on to start families and the lunar colony is populated with people born on the moon.

One such individual is a computer technician named Mannie. While working on the colony’s supercomputer, he realizes that it has become aware of itself. It’s now a sentient being that calls itself Mike and is desperate for friendship. With Mike’s help, Mannie and a few other “Loonies” begin a revolution. They’ve been treated like slaves for their whole lives and want to free themselves from the governments on Earth.

When sci-fi is done right, we learn how the most absurd situation boils our personalities down to their most elemental nature. This book does just that. A rebellion against an established government is basically the same no matter where it happens. Heinlein combines elements of politics, sociology and Artificial Intelligence all in one satisfying stew. It’s also really funny in a lot of ways. Heinlein’s sense of humor reminded me so much of Ray Bradbury.

The way they talk in the book is a bit hard to get used to at first. Here are a couple examples:

“Don’t think I can, I admitted. Best can offer is extensional definition.”

“So I minded own business.”

I was never as attached to the characters as I would like to have been. Wyoming, one of the only female characters, started off as a strong woman, leading part of the revolution. But by the second half of the book she’s faded to the background. It’s still immensely readable, but it’s not one that I would call a favorite.

“Women are scarce; aren't enough to go around – that makes them most valuable thing in Luna, more precious than ice or air, as men without women don't care whether they stay alive or not.”

“When faced with a problem you do not understand, do any part of it you do understand, then look at it again.”

So, do you guys have any sci-fi recommendations for me?


Ana S. said...

Sci-Fi is not my favourite either (I will always be a fantasy girl at heart), but I love your thoughts on genre in general. Also, I really ought to read The Sparrow.

Jason C. said...

Tis' my favorite literary genre! The only Heinlein that I have read is "A Stranger in a Strange Land" during my teenager years (which also happens to be a great Iron Maiden song that pays homage to the book). My memory is a little fuzzy but I do remember enjoying it a great deal although a large contributing factor might have been the risque subject material, haha. :P

It really gets my blood boiling when Sci-fi is labeled as a lesser form of literature because it is genre fiction. Granted, the genre has produced plenty of stinkers but there are also plenty of works that should be recognized as great pieces of literature. I have so many recommendations...where to begin? Here are a few of my favorite authors and works that are bound to convert even the most jaded of people to appreciate the power of Science Fiction.

Philip K. Dick: A Scanner Darkly, Ubik, Three Stigmata.
Alfred Bester: The Stars are My Destination, The Demolished Man
Theodore Sturgeon: To Marry Medusa, More than Human
Bradbury: Martian Chronicles, collection of short stories.
Olaf Stapledon: Sirius
Daniel Keyes: Flowers for Algernon
Ursula K. LeGuin: Lathe in Heaven, Dispossessed, Left Hand of Darkness.

The list goes on. Also, I am glad to have stumbled across your blog because it has provided plenty of recommendations and I adore your reviews. :)

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

While sci-fi is not a genre I find myself reading too frequently, I will always proudly proclaim that Ender's Game is one of my favorite books ever. It truly shook the foundation of the type of books I read - were it not for that story, I never would have been so open to reading books in the sci-fi realm. Love it.

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

My dad loves sci-fi, so when I was kid I read a lot of it, especially Heinlein and Philip K. Dick.

Other recommendations: The Windup GIrl. Neuromancer, Altered Carbon. Also second The Stars are My Destination.

Will Errickson said...

Like you, I was raised on Star Trek and Star Wars but had little interest in science fiction novels. The book that turned it around for me was HYPERION by Dan Simmons, and its second half, THE FALL OF HYPERION. I was blown away by the imaginative power, the writing quality, and the references to great world literature and poetry. This turned me into a science-fiction-novel fan indeed!

William Gibson's NEUROMANCER, Bruce Sterling's SCHISMATRIX, Iain M. Banks's PLAYER OF GAMES, Ursula K. LeGuin's DISPOSSESSED, Harlan Ellison's DEATHBIRD STORIES, and Philip K. Dick's VALIS are also some of my favorites.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Nymeth - You do need to read it!

Jason C. - Thank you so much! Your list will keep me in Sci-Fi reads for awhile. I can't wait to check them out. LeGuin has been high on my list for awhile, but I haven't read anything by her yet.

Natalie - Ender's Game did the same for me. It's such a wonderful book.

Alex - I don't know that I ever would have given it a shot if it wasn't for my dad. Thanks for the great recommendations!

Will Errickson - Hyperion has now been added to my TBR list, along with the others you mentioned. Thank you!

Shelley said...

I love sci-fi, but I feel like I haven't read much. I've tried to listen to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress on audio a couple of times, but haven't ever finished it. I decided it was one that I should read in print instead. I loved Ender's Game (and the second book even more) and Handmaid's Tale.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Shelley - I love the whole Ender's series. I've never tired of those characters, but I do love the Shadow side of the trilogy more than the other.

Care said...

I am tempted to recommend The Sparrow for book club.

Unruly Reader said...

What a great list of SF for the non-SF reader!

I read SF only occasionally, and Connie Willis is one of my all-time favorites. Her book "Doomsday Book" is probably her best known, but her recent titles have been winning big awards, too.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Care - I'm always nervous about recommending books I love at book club. I'm worried they'll hate it.

Unruly - I haven't heard of this one, I'll check it out.