It would be very hard to overstate the impact this book had on my life when I was a kid. Heinlein was, bar none, my favorite SF writer, and this was, bar non, my favorite story by him. It didn’t hurt at all that I discovered it during those lonely days of my adolescence when a kid hits that “Oh, I get it now” stage in your neurological development and his ability to amass new knowledge far outstrips his social skills. I very much identified with the character “Mike,“ consequently. And of course I had the kind of righteous indignation that only a teenager can really pull off at that period, as well. This book felt as if it had been written for me, personally, and as it happened, anyone I stumbled across who liked it invariably became a fast friend. The book shaped my dreams - continues to do so - a generation after I first read it, and I can only assume it continues to do so. It is an unquestioned classic of the genre.
It’s not a very good book, though.
Thing is: I don’t tend to re-read stuff very much. With a few exceptions (Mostly non-SF) I read something, put it on the shelf and that’s done with it. I’m blessed with a freakishly good memory, so there wasn’t much reason to, and there was sooooooooo much other stuff out there to read. Should I waste time re-reading “Night Probe” by Clive Cussler, and get nothing out of it that I didn’t already get the first time through, or should I move on to “Solaris” by Lem, with its vast, unexplored literary panoramas? Should I re-chew my cud, or amble over to the next virgin field for a new feast?
I still don’t tend to re-read much. My memory isn’t nearly as good as it used to be (Though it’s still impressive), but nowadays it’s more a bad habit than anything else. The downside, obviously, is that my first impression of a book is generally also my last impression, and my perspectives change over time while my memories don’t (Much). Thus I remember the way I felt about a book thirty years ago, but since I don’t feel the same about *anything* these days as I did way back when, even if they’re accurate, the relevance of my memories are way off. Cheeze Wiz, for instance: I used to adore Cheeze Wiz. Ate it twice a day. Can’t stand to be in a room with the stuff now, though. So: does the novel hold up in the face of my more sophis-ta-ma-kated tastes, or what? Well, no, it doesn’t. I’m getting ahead of myself, though. We’ll come back to technical problems in a bit.
Plot: This is one of those “American Revolution in Space” books, much like “The Island Worlds” or the second “Mars” book by Kim Stanley Robinson, or any number of others. It’s become something of a cliché, though as with all clichés there’s quite a bit you can do with it if you attack it just right. If Heinlein wasn’t the one to originate this cliché, he was certainly the first one to really nail it home and have a lot of success. Make no bones about it: those skillions of “Space colonies revolt against their masters” tales are all ripping this one novel off. It’s worth reading strictly for historical perspective alone, even if it’s not very good.
It’s divided into three sections: the first introduces what life is like on a moon with about three million people on it (The same number as lived in the American colonies on the eve of our revolution), explains their political impotence, shows their plucky rapscallion nature, and extrapolates their eventual plight. In essence, the moon is providing most of earth’s food, and hence depleting its resources so quickly that it won’t be able to support its own population in less than a decade. This section culminates in a revolution where the colonists overthrow the government. It’s easy and fun! “Coincidentally” this happens on July 4th, 2076. See the obvious direction the author is going with this?
The second section - weakest part of the book, and the longest one by far - involves two of the protagonists visiting earth attempting to gain legal recognition for the new Lunar Free State. Predictably this goes not at all well - if it did, you’d have a very short book.
The third section involves the moon bombing earth until the people