We've all been there. You buy a brand new copy of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, go home, make yourself a cup of tea, sit down to read this novel you've heard so much about, and… what the what? Did you accidently get an unedited copy? Was there some sort of mess-up in the printing run, a defect that dropped all the the's?
No, dear Shmooper, that's the novel as intended. In a vein similar to Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, Mannie and his Luna gang speak a unique brand of English—much the same way Americans and the British speak unique variants of English. More specifically, the novel hosts what linguists call a pidgin, a makeshift language created when people of two or more language are put into the same community and required to communicate with each other.
The languages blended together in Mannie's pidgin are specifically chosen, too, as each one reflects a specific rebellion or colony from Earth's past. Consider:
All three of these slang choices brings to mind parallels of Earth's history dealing with rebellion or colonial rule—both of which mirror Luna's current predicament. The Russian flavor directly links to the Russian Revolution of 1917 when the Tsarist regime was overthrown. The Australian slang brings to mind that Australia was once a prison colony for Great Britain. Finally, Americanisms are present to draw connections to the American Revolution and America's rebellious spirit in general.
Crafting a pidgin at all is a direct reference to humanity's imperialist history in general, as these types of languages are generally created through colonialism (Source).
Finally, the slang tone also grants our protagonist, Mannie, a down-to-earth vibe—well, down-to-moon, we guess. He's just an average, affable guy who understands what it's like to work and make a living. This is important when you consider the revolution is supposedly an everyman's insurrection. As such, Mannie's tone makes him the voice of the people, both literally and figuratively.
Many people tend to think of science fiction as little more than the trappings of pop culture phenomena like Star Wars and Star Trek. You know the stuff we're talking about: robots, lasers, green-skinned vixens, bug-eyed aliens, spaceships traveling at warp speed, and an evil space empire or two thrown in for good measure.
By those standards, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress might not seem like much in the way of science fiction. The story only takes place on the Moon after all, and humanity marked that off its to-do list back in 1969.
But Heinlein's novel is science fiction in more ways than just hi-tech trappings. By taking us to the Moon, we're forced to look at life on Earth differently—to reconsider both our own world and our role in the universe. In other words, it isn't just robots and alien civilizations and lunar revolutions that make science fiction tick.
So the next question must be: How does The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress make us think about our own world differently? For that, we must consider its other genres, philosophical literature and dystopian literature.
At the beginning of the novel, the citizens of Luna are under the dystopian rule of the Authority. It's not the socially repressive of famed dystopian novels 1984 or Brave New World. Instead, it's more of an economic dystopia—the people of Luna are in forced to do business with the Authority, a governmental entity that rigs the economic game to its advantage. As Professor de la Paz puts it, "It strikes at the most basic human right, the right to bargain in a free marketplace" (2.89).
The revolution that follows is one to replace that dystopia with what the revolutionaries see as the answer: an anarcho-libertarian philosophy. The novel uses the estranged setting of the Moon and the story of galactic rebellion to explore what it sees as the values of this philosophy and a society built within its framework. And as such, the genres of science fiction, dystopian literature, and philosophical literature all come together to create the themes of the novel.
The title The Moon is a Harsh Mistress summons up a very particular image, doesn't it? You can absolutely picture the moon personified as an old-timey schoolmistress, her hair in a tight bun, a hobble dress constricted about her, a scowl permanently etched into her straight-edged face as she strides down the rows of desks with a ruler griped tightly in her talon-like hands. And you know what? That's basically what this title is going for.
The phrase comes from a speech Professor Paz gives to the Chairman of the Lunar Authority during his time on Earth. As Prof says:
"[…]; I accept the title—nay, I glory in the title of 'jailbird.' We citizens of Luna are jailbirds and descendants of jailbirds. But Luna herself is a stern schoolmistress; those who have lived through her harsh lessons have no cause to feel ashamed. In Luna City a man may leave purse unguarded or home unlocked and feel no fear… I wonder if this is true in Denver?" (17.31)
Prof directly relates the moon to a stern schoolmistress and calls her lessons "harsh"—and with that, dear Shmoopers, we have ourselves a title. The question we need to ask now is why the title wants us to focus on this specific part of the novel? What's so special about Prof's speech here as opposed to the many other speeches he gives? Because seriously, he gives a lot of speeches.
As hinted at in the quote above, the moon's landscape isn't exactly hospitable to human inhabitance: no native air, water, or plants and no absolutely no atmosphere. Sunbathing equals death on Luna. Yet even its harshest lessons manage to educate that bunch of jailbirds who call Luna home. These criminals may not be the cream of the societal crop, but they take their Luna lessons and craft a society that Prof believes is superior to any found on Earth.
Depending on preference, it could even be considered a utopia. As Prof mentions, there is no theft and no fear of theft, and when talking with Stu, Mannie argues there is no rape on Luna (11.123), that every man pays his dues (11.128), and all acts of violence are justified (11.130). All this in a society founded by criminals and ne'er-do-wells.
The title suggests that the lessons of Luna—and therefore the lessons found in the book as well—are harsh, but the result will be a stronger, better individual. And better individuals breed better societies. This harsh mistress, then, is the gift that keeps on giving.
What's up with the ending? We've read about four hundred pages of revolution planning, political trickery, and solar warfare, and then the post-revolution wrap-up is like four pages long. Well, short the ending may be, but there is still a lot going on in these sparse pages, so let's get to discussing them.
Welcome to the spoiler zone.
Arguably there is no such thing as a bloodless revolution, and two of our main characters, Prof and Mike, die just as the revolution comes to a close. But every cloud has a silver lining and so should every coffin—both deaths come at the most convenient moment for the revolution and the future of Luna.
Prof passes at the very moment he explains to the Loonie nation that they have won their freedom (29.13). As for Mike, he gets cut off from some pieces of himself during the final bombing and has not talked since. Mannie is not sure what happened to his A.I. pal: Perhaps he's lost the power necessary to sustain awareness, perhaps he's wandering through the circuitry, or perhaps his memories have fragmented throughout the system. All Mannie knows for certain is that Mike is "just lost" (30.33).
Not to sound crass, but these deaths could not have been planned better. Prof's death allows him to become a martyr for the cause, and Mike's "death" conveniently removes all traces of the manipulation propagated by the two. With Mike gone, the evidence of how the revolutionaries skimmed money from the Luna system or that Adam Selene and Simon Jester never existed is non-existent. Also, the nagging question of how the Loonies will be able to live freely with a near omnipotent computer running their infrastructure is set aside.
Only Mannie and Wyoh know the truth, and they keep their secret. Their last great act is to craft a symbol of the revolution for Luna: a black flag featuring a brass cannon and the motto TANSTAAFL! written upon it.
While things could have ended there, with the conspiracy gift-wrapped in a tidy bow and the Loonies free to loonie it up, the novel takes us a step further. As Mannie tells it:
But Prof underrated the yammerheads. They never adopted any of his ideas. Seems to be a deep instinct in human beings for making everything compulsory that isn't forbidden. (30.29)
In other words, the cycle keeps on keeping. If you'll recall, in Chapter 22 Prof speaks to the Luna Congress, informing them that they have the chance to try something new in government. He outlines several possibilities, from constituencies divided by age to electing the candidate with the least number of votes (22.40). But the take home message is that the new government should "not let the past be a straitjacket" (22.43). But as Mannie informs us, the new government adopts none of Prof's ideas, and as if by compulsion, keeps the cycle going.
Before you despair, though, consider this: Because of this failure to reimagine, Luna takes its place in the cycle of revolutionary history Heinlein draws from. Not sure what we're talking about? Allow us to break it down.
See, the British revolted and set out to do something better with government than the system they left—hey there, colonies—but then they became the man. Then the French and the Russian revolutions happened, and the rebels evolved to adopt the same-old, same-old… and become the man. And finally, the American people expanded into the West, spurred on by Manifest Destiny, only to tame the frontier by, you guessed it, bringing the same old government with them and establishing the man.
Like every garage bands that becomes popular only to sell out to a major record deal, the revolutionaries of the past continue to sell out to the ideals they claim to have struggled against. So too, it seems, has Luna become another rotation in this endless cycle.
But there is a light of hope for the revolutionary spirit. Mannie mentions that a new frontier has been established and "quite a few young cobbers have gone out to Asteroids." He hears there are "some nice places out there, not too crowded" (30.36). So while the ideals of Prof and Mannie may not have changed the course of human history through Luna, and the cycle of revolution to bureaucracy may not have been undone, there is another step in the cycle: Humanity continues to establish new frontiers.
Now that the Loonies have gotten comfy on Luna, they are heading deeper into the Solar System. With each frontier, humanity finds possibility, a chance to start over—maybe Mannie and his cobbers will find a foundation for their dreams in the Asteroid Belt. Then again, maybe the asteroids will prove to be just another rotation through the cycle. Either way, a new frontier is bound to be just a bit further over the next horizon.
Other than a quick trip to a committee room on Earth, the setting for The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is the Moon. In this future, our solar neighbor has been colonized and established as a penal colonial—very similar to what the British did with Australia in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Due to the lack of water, food, and air, Luna proved a harsh environment for the criminals sent there. Mannie notes that death was a way of life in the early days of the lunar colony (2.5), with three out of every four people dying. Yikes. The lack of natural resources also meant that everything—even air—was up for sale.
As the Loonies began to form families, the society became a true melting pot. The more "mixed breed" a person is, the "more a Loonie" (3.23) they seem. Manuel's full name is a perfect example of this as it shows roots of Spanish, English, Irish, and Hebrew heritage (for more on this, be sure to swing by his page in the "Characters" section).
Different cultures and languages also mixed together on Luna. This is evident by Mannie's pidgin English and all the terms adopted from French, Russian, English, and Australian in Luna slang. Check out the "Tone" section for more on this.
But, the longer the colonists stay on the moon, the more difficult returning to Earth becomes, and although it's not impossible, there are several factors that keep Loonies lunar. The lower gravity means their muscles can't handle the strain of Earth's higher gravity well, and the Moon's more sterile environment—everything is sterilized for consumption, from water to air—means airborne diseases are far fewer on Luna. A Loonie can visit Earth, but it requires him or her to prepare for the trip by wearing weights and going straight to the hospital when they set down.
As Mannie notes: "My Grandfather Stone claimed that Luna was only open prison in history. No bars, no guards, no rules—and no need for them" (2.3). Seems he was right.
This setting plays an important role in the story because it is responsible for Loonies having developed the culture they did. As Prof notes to the Federated Nations committee:
"But Luna herself is a stern schoolmistress; those who have lived through her harsh lessons have no cause to feel ashamed. In Luna City a man may leave purse unguarded or home unlocked and feel no fear… I wonder if this is true in Denver?" (17.31)
Luna's environment requires the Loonies to learn different lessons from those on Earth, and these lessons mean that the Loonies have developed a culture and society very different from anything on Earth. There are several examples of this.
For instance, Loonies live longer than people on Earth, but the chance their life will be cut short is greater. As such, the Loonies have no patience with bureaucracy. They don't have licenses, fill out forms, manage permits, or do anything else one associates with a government office (6.51). The DMV could not be a thing in Luna society for several reasons—the least of which is because they don't have cars.
The Loonies also view enterprise differently. Everything is available on an open and free market—and we do mean everything. Air and water are big ones, but trials and other legal services are also all bought and sold by private individuals and not a state entity (11.46).
Since the female population is far less than the men, women are treated differently in Luna society. As Mannie explains it: "What that means, here and now, is that women are scarce and call tune… and you are surrounded by two million men who see to it you dance to that tune. You have no choice, she has all choice. She can hit you so hard it draws blood; you dasn't lay a finger on her" (11.119). In other words, the ladies say jump, and the men ask how high.
Finally, marriage has also developed uniquely on the moon. Luna society allows "polyandries, clans, groups, lines, and less common patterns considered vulgar by conservative people" (18.124). Prof directly relates the formation of these untraditional marriage patterns to the fact that Luna is such a harsh environment. He says:
"Somehow human beings always cope with their environments. Lines marriage is a remarkably successful to that end. All other Lunar forms of marriage serve that same purpose, though not as well." (18.134)
The reason these unique customs are important is because they spur on the revolution. The Authority, and later the Federated Nations, attempts to enforce rules that counter these customs, and when they do, the Loonies rise up to protect them. The Earth-bound government just doesn't understand life for the Loonies.
There are some hardcore political and scientific concepts being tossed around in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress: rational anarchism, catapulting materials through gravity wells, and the inner-workings of analog computers, to name a few. Yet, against all odds, the novel manages to present them all in a completely accessible manner.
Sure, there are a few doozy passages here and there, such as:
Luna's mass to three significant figures is seven point three six times ten to the nineteenth power tonnes. Thus, holding other variables constant including Lunar and Terran populations, the present differential rate of export in tonnes could continue for seven point three six times ten to the twelfth years before using up one percent of Luna—round it as seven thousand billion years. (6.173)
If you read that and your mind goes cross-eyed, don't worry; you're not alone. Thankfully, there will often be a character in the novel with the same stupefied response as you, requiring another character to explain the technical in more user-friendly terms.
In this way, Heinlein's novel and its readers get to have their technical cake and eat it, too. Most anyone can enjoy the story and grasp how all its tech mumbo-jumbo fits into the plot, but those who enjoy technical subjects such as science and engineering receive an extra layer of awesome to gobble down.
As we discussed in our "Tone" section, Heinlein developed a special mix of languages (called a pidgin) for his narrator, Mannie. It's mostly English but with a blend of Russian, a touch of Australian, and a dash of folksie jibber-jabber—the language equivalent of pouring all of a fountain's soda flavors into one cup and daring your friend to drink the whole thing.
But if you're going to develop a whole new take on English, then you're writing style is going to have to match, too. Otherwise, it won't, you know, work.
Everything about the writing style in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress—from word choice to word omission to sentence structure—is dedicated to bringing Mannie's unique tone to life. Here's a sample for us to dissect:
Makes difference. My one grandfather was shipped up from Joburg for armed violence and no work permit, other got transported for subversive activity after Wet Firecracker War. Maternal grandmother claimed she came up in bride ship—but I've seen records; she was Peace Corps enrollee (involuntary), which means what you think: juvenile delinquency female type. (1.15)
Notice how the writing style often drops two important aspects of Standard English: subjects and articles. In this case, Mannie drops the subject of the first sentence entirely. Also, we're betting many of us would have written "in a bride ship" and "I've seen the records," including the articles without even thinking about it. But here, Mannie does not.
These mistakes are pretty typical of students who are learning English as a second language, since there are many languages that lack both. Japanese, for example, doesn't require you to state a subject explicitly if it is already known. (These are called null-subject languages, by the way). Likewise, the Korean and Russian languages lack definite and indefinite articles.
By adopting this writing style, the book provides Mannie a foreign vibe to native English speakers, and this is important because Mannie isn't a native English speaker. The writing style constantly reminds us that he isn't just a space-faring American—he's a native Loonie.
Sentence structures also give Mannie's voice this quality, adding a bit of everyman as well. In the example above, notice how the first sentence is very compact and short, but the next sentence is a long run-on. The third sentence is also long, though it feels like a bunch of short sentence quickly strung together. You'll also notice there aren't any large, academic sounding words—word of the day calendar fodder, such as proletariat, anarcho-communism, and onomatopoeia, are absent.
The result doesn't have a mastered, manicured quality. Rather, it reads like somebody who is simply entering the story in his journal or telling the story to you over some drinks. It gives Mannie an intelligent quality, but it's the everyman intelligence of someone who works a nine-to-five job and lacks a classical, upper-class education like the Professor.
Could this organization use a rebranding or what? Even Big Brother knows better than to call himself the Guy Who Controls Your Life. Might we suggest a better name than the Authority, such as Family Funtime Cooperative or Awesome Neighborhood Helpers? Though on second thought, perhaps they're doing everyone a solid by going with their chosen name: After all, it leaves very little room for confusion about the role they play in society—authority run amok.
Characters such as Mannie and Prof would argue that the government's job is to protect the freedoms of its citizens and nothing else. It should not meddle in the private affairs of individuals, and it should not impose rules and regulations on the economic marketplace since, as John Locke would put it, private property and the right to be productive with in is tantamount to liberty.
The Authority, yeah, it doesn't follow any of that. The Authority is government out to ensure what is best for government. In this way, it acts more like a corporation, trying to maximize its power and profit. It is in no way concerned with the average citizen's liberty, and with no competitors, it's the only game in town.
It has made itself so ever-present in the lives of Loonies that at one point Mannie thinks to himself: "Everybody does business with Authority for same reason everybody does business with Law of Gravitation" (2.36). In other words, people don't have the freedom to work outside the Authority in the same way we don't have the freedom to not deal with gravity—because it's everywhere.
When the Chairman reorganizes the Authority's trusteeship of Luna, we get a glimpse of how this government views its relationship with the Loonies:
A code of laws was being drafted; civil and criminal courts would be instituted for benefit of "client-employees"—which meant all persons in trust area, not just consignees with uncompleted sentences. (19.10)
The idea of client-employee suggests the Authority sees citizens as working for its profit, not the other way around. And the "persons in trust area" shows that, unlike in a free market, a citizen cannot choose another form of government wherever they live.
It's a take-it-or-take-it proposition, and the Authority represents that attitude as it manifests in government.
No, that's not a typo; it's an acronym. That big jumble of tongue-twisting letters stands for "There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch," and this phrase represents a bite-sized version of the novel's views of economics and the government's role in it.
We're first introduced to TANSTAAFL when Stu and Mannie are in the taproom discussing Luna society. When Stu asks what TANSTAAFL means, Mannie tells him and then points to a sign across the room that says—you guessed it—FREE LUNCH. He notes the sign isn't being truthful "or these drinks would cost half as much." In other words, the taproom provides free food but makes up the difference by hiding the costs in its drink prices. Mannie adds that "anything free costs twice as much in the long run or turns out worthless" (11.99).
The idea returns later in the novel when the Chairman is trying to convince Mannie to take the job of Protector Pro Tem. The Chairman tells Mannie:
"Convince Loonies they could not win. Convince them that this new setup was to their advantage—emphasize benefits, free schools, free hospitals, free this and that—details later but an everywhere government just like on Terra." (19.52)
Free sounds good, right? But the novel has already warned us that there is no such thing as free, and in the end, the Loonies would have to pay for all those free services through taxes. They would also have to accept the "everywhere government," meaning they'd pay with their liberties and freedoms, too.
From bars to governments, then, TANSTAAFL serves as a handy reminder of the novel's economic philosophy.
The Davis family exists in what's called a line marriage. We can say two things for certain about this style of family building: It's an important symbol in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and anniversaries and the holiday season must be ridiculous in the Davis household.
During his trip to Earth, an inquisitive couple asks Mannie what a line marriage is (thanks for the info hook-up, you two). He explains that it means that people can opt in and out of the marriage, leading to generations of husbands and wives sharing each other. The husband and wife who have been in the marriage the longest are the senior husband and wife and head the household, and when they die or opt out, the next in line takes their place. Mannie also discusses other types of marriages on Luna, including polyandries, clans, and groups—though not in great detail.
During the discussion, he points out that there are several advantages to a line marriage, especially on a place like the moon where life is more difficult and death more likely. His list of awesome includes "financial security, fine home life it gives children, fact that death of a spouse, while tragic, could never be the tragedy it was in a temporary family, especially for children—children could not be orphaned" (18.127). We can see why he's so keen on it—community, security, co-parenting… not too shabby in our book.
To be clear, the point here is not to say that everyone should run out and get a line marriage right away. Rather, the idea is to expose readers to the possibility of exploring a type of marriage outside the traditional. The point is that there are options, and marriage can actually look any number of ways.
At one point in the novel, Prof asks the Luna Congress to not "reject the idea merely because it seems preposterous—think about it" (22.41). He is discussing politics at the time, but we think the same applies to the novel's exploration of marriages. Monogamous marriages seem natural to us because they are traditional, but could another type of marriage be better? The novel isn't saying it will be; it's only asking us to think about it.
For those who enjoy the mental exercise, don't forget to check out Heinlein's other novels, notably Stranger in a Strange Land. In that book, he creates another untraditional take on marriage through Mike's communal partnership. Again, the goal isn't to suggest this is better or worse—it's simply something to consider.
In a story filled with space ships, laser guns, and self-aware computers, who'd have thought an antique brass cannon would be a symbol? But it is, and despite not being mentioned too often, it's a pretty important one.
Prof purchases the cannon while on Earth, and Mannie says it used to be a signal gun used during the days of ship sailing. A signal gun is basically a cannon fired to mark a certain time of day, like high noon. Mannie notes that it "[reeks] of ancient history, pirates, and men 'walking plank'" (18.99)—and this history connects the brass cannon to the idea of rebels, which Mannie, Prof, and the other Loonies are.
When Mannie asks Prof why he purchased the cannon, Prof tells the story of a man who spent his life shining brass cannons in a courthouse. He saved his money until he could buy a brass cannon of his own and go into business shining his own brass cannon (18.102). The story parallels the story of the Loonies—the courthouse represents the Authority and the Loonies represent the brass cannon guy. Like him, they are still doing what they did before, only now they are it doing for themselves, toward their own happiness and profit.
At the novel's end, Mannie and Wyoh adopt the brass cannon as the symbol on the Luna flag, where it signals a new time for Luna society.
Mannie is a man of many hats. He's a computer repairman, a revolutionary leader, and a husband to six wives. On top of all that, he also gets to be the first-person central narrator of the novel, and when you consider that The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is several hundred pages long, you know that's no small task.
Okay, you might ask, but what's a first-person central narrator, other than a clunky title to have on one's business cards? Fair question, and to answer it, we'll need to consider an example. Like this one:
He did that first week in May and I had to trouble shoot. I was a private contractor, not on Authority's payroll. You see—or perhaps not; times have changed. Back in old days many a con served his time, then went on working for Authority in same job, happy to draw wages. But I was born free. (1.14)
The first thing you'll notice is that the narrator refers to himself as "I" throughout. This I tells us that Mannie is a part of the story being told; he lived it or, to put it another way, he has firsthand experience with it. When the narrator is a part of the story like this, literature enthusiasts call it first person.
The central narrator part of the title informs us that Mannie will be central to the story. He'll be taking part in its events, and his direct actions will affect the outcome of the story. This is how we know Mannie is the protagonist, too, but we'll take up that discussion in our "Character Roles." section.
(Red Alert: Don't go thinking all first-person narrators are automatically central ones, too. They don't have to be—although Mannie certainly fits the bill. There are first-person narrators called peripheral narrators, of which Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby is perhaps the most famous example. As the name suggests, these narrators are not central, but instead chill at the edge of the story.)
When Mannie heads to the Sons of Revolution rally, we are entering the Anticipation Stage of the story. Here, our soon-to-be hero learns about the destructive powers of the monster, a.k.a. the Lunar Authority. Unlike a classic monster, who goes traipsing through the countryside knocking down cottages and devouring young maidens, this monster destroys through monopolistic economic policy and market price fixing. Oh, the horror. We get a further glimpse of the Lunar Authority's menace when the Warden's bodyguards bust in to arrest the revolutionaries.
Mannie then receives the call to action. Mike informs him that the resources of Luna will deplete under the Authority's laws in seven years, leading to cannibalism in nine. Believing cannibalism to be less ideal than not cannibalism, Mannie joins the revolution and begins planning the Authority's defeat.
During the dream stage, the hero prepares and then heads for battle. This stage in the novel takes place when Mannie, Wyoh, Prof, and most of all Mike, prepare Luna for revolution. Using Mike's intelligence and connection to every bit of Luna technology, the group creates revolutionary cells and launders money. Mike crafts a figurehead named Adam Selene, and Mannie saves the life of Stuart LeJoie, netting the Loonies an important earthside contact.
When the Peace Dragoons rape and kill Marie Lyons, the preparations come to fruition, and the revolutionaries revolt, killing the Warden and Security Chief, and taking the moon for themselves.
But the Warden and Security Chief were only two heads of the Authority's Hydra. Mannie and Prof head to Earth to deal with the monster of the Federated Nations face-to-face, where they do battle in the fiercest of all arenas: the committee hearing. But the Luna Free State has no legal right to exist under the laws of the Federated Nations, and so Mannie and Prof can't reason with it. They escape back to Luna. Mannie feels they have failed, but Prof confesses failure was all part of his plan.
The final battle begins, and the situation looks bleak for the outnumbered and outgunned Luna Free State. Prof and Mike rig elects to form a Luna government while the Federated Nations sends troops to reclaim Luna. After a vicious battle, Mike begins bombarding Earth with moon rocks launched from a secret catapult. The Federated Nations send ships loaded with H-bombs to destroy Luna.
Working together, Mike and Mannie use retrofitted laser mining equipment to bring down some of the Federated Nations ships, but the ships manage to destroy the main catapult. Using the secret catapult, Mannie continues the bombardment of Earth while hoping the enemy ships don't find and destroy it.
Just before Mannie runs out of catapult ammunition, the Federated Nations recognize the legality of the Luna Free State. Yay. The monster may not be killed, like a classic overcoming the monster story, but it has been banished from Luna, and the citizens of the Moon have been liberated.
The first stage of the classic plot analysis is all about exposition—i.e. the stuff you need to know to figure out what's going on. During this stage, we learn who the characters are, the kind of world they live in, and the conflict that will lead to the other four stages of the plot.
In The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, we learn about Mannie and his relationship with Mike, the self-aware computer. When Mannie goes to the Sons of Revolution rally, he (and we) learns about some of the problems facing the Loonies under the rules and laws of the Lunar Authority. After the Warden's bodyguards crash that party, Mannie meets up with Wyoh and Prof, introducing us to the rest of the main characters. When Wyoh, Prof, Mike, and Mannie join forces, we move from the exposition to the rising action
During the rising action stage, a series of events circle around the conflict between the Loonies and the Lunar Authority, leading up to the point of no return. Mannie and his group of co-conspirators begin planning the Luna revolution and eventually overthrow the Warden and the Security Chief. Despite winning the revolt, though, Mannie and Prof must head to Earth to convince the Federated Nations to recognize their claim to legitimacy. Failing, Mannie and Prof must then escape from Earth and return to Luna with all-out war a guarantee. Wee.
Welcome to the point of no return—and just like it sounds, from here, there is now no turning back for Mannie and company. When the Federated Nations assault Luna with their troops, the Loonies fight back, managing to defeat the invading forces. But the victory means the Federated Nations will continue to attack, and next time they might just bring the big guns—and by big guns, we mean nuclear weapons. Gulp.
The falling action plays out the conflict between the Loonies, especially Mannie, and the Federated Nations. Mannie begins bombarding Earth with moon rocks, and the Federated Nations send ships to destroy the catapult. Although they succeed in destroying it, they miss the secret catapult, Little David's Sling. In an intense standoff, Mannie bombards Earth while keeping the catapult's location hidden from the attacking ships. The Federated Nations accept the Luna Free State just before Mannie runs out of ammunition for the catapult. Phew.
Now we get the denoument, or resolution. With the Luna Free State established, it's time for the story to begin tying up loose plot ends. Prof dies while delivering a speech to inaugurate the new state, and Mike is lost after the enemy attack jars his system. Mannie and Wyoh stick around politics long enough to establish the official Luna flag, but Mannie has thoughts of heading out to the new frontier of the asteroids and seeing what he finds out there.
Act I of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress corresponds to Book 1. This section gives us the story's exposition. We discover who the characters are, the future they live in, and the conflict they'll undertake. We learn about Mannie and Mike and how their relationship works, as well as about the Luna customs and how the Lunar Authority has created a situation that will eventually lead to a lack of resources and then, naturally, cannibalism. Finally we see Mike, Prof, Wyoh, and Mannie planning a revolution against the Authority because, again, cannibalism.
Act II corresponds with Book 2, presenting us with the rising action of the story. All those plans we saw being crafted during Act I go into effect and the conflict heats up. With the Warden and Security Chief overthrown, Prof and Mannie head to Earth to convince the people of the Federated Nations to accept the legitimacy of the Luna free state. Against the Federated Nations' unwillingness to accept them, the two face odds they can't overcome and ultimately fail. Luckily, they escape Earth, and Mannie learns their failure was part of the plan the entire time.
Book 3 presents us with Act III, the wrap up and resolution. During this section, the Federated Nations attack Luna, but the Loonies defend themselves. Mannie then begins the operation to bombard Earth with moon rocks from the secretly built catapult, Little David's Sling. There's an intense standoff as Mannie and Mike attempt to defend the Luna and the catapult from the Federated Nations' warships, but just before they run out of ammunition, the nations begin recognizing the Luna Free State. The revolution is a success.