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.
Round We Go
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.
To Boldly Go
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.