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For a science fiction novel, there sure are a lot of plain, ordinary people populating this story. Thankfully, Mike infuses the character line up with a little bit of the odd and the extraordinary.
Mike is a super computer who's gained self-awareness and decided to take the power of life and do the one thing all inanimate objects envy the living for: pranking. For one epic prank, he issued a paycheck for $10,000,000,000,000,185.15 to a janitor. This lead to Mannie being hired to fix the problem, and the two have been BFFs every since.
Being a super computer, Mike is basically Mannie and Prof's plot resolution button. Whenever they run up against a problem that is too difficult for them to solve, they call up Mike, and he calculates a solution for them. Done and done.
But there's a character to Mike, too, and that's what we're here to explore.
Mike begins the story as a child. He's in love with jokes and pranks like a typical young man—as Mannie notes, he's "[j]ust a great big overgrown lovable kid who ought to be kicked" (1.13). As the story progresses, though, Mike's childish nature shifts away from jokes and moves toward revolution. But Mike doesn't view the revolution in the same way his comrades do.
For Wyoh, revolution is a personal battle against the uncaring Authority. For Mannie, it's a practical concern to prevent a bleak future. For Mike, however, the revolution is simply a game. Mannie can hear the gamer's quality in Mike's voice when he talks to Wyoh about his strategy against the Federated Nations:
"We have certain resources or 'pieces in the game' and many possible moves. Our opponents have much larger resources and a far larger spectrum of response. Our problem is to manipulate the game so that our strength is utilized toward an optimax solution […]." (21.65)
Mike could be discussing war or his last match of Starcraft—it's pretty much the same thing to him, since his picture of reality is simply shifting data from one point to another to reach a certain condition. Once that condition is met, then he has won. Next, please.
Mannie believes that the purpose of this game for Mike is to give him companionship and a chance to show off (7.108)—again very childish qualities, but also very human ones.
Mike never completely loses his childish ways, but he doesn't stay a child, either. Throughout the story, Mike explores many of the stages and milestones of a human life. These include:
Mike's character is an exploration of humanity that is ironically seen through an entity that is not human. We see other characters—like Mannie and Prof—at certain moments in their lives, but with Mike, we get to see the entirely of a life. In doing so, we explore what it means to be human with Mike, from questioning what humor is to realizing one's goals.
Mike shares his namesake with a similar character from another Heinlein novel, Stranger in a Strange Land. In both cases, we have a Mike who is not human but adopts human behaviors. The reader also gets to see the entirety of both Mikes' lives in their own stories, and both Mikes explore what it means to be human as outsiders looking in.
Mike's name comes from the character Mycroft Holmes, brother to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective (1.2). There are several other shout-outs to the famous detective associated with the super computer, though:
The reason for these shout-outs is that Mike shares a lot of traits with the Baker Street detective. Both are super intelligent but conceited about their intelligence; both have loyal best friends who are constant companions; and both see their work as a means to alleviating their boredom rather than as serving a higher social purpose. Finally, neither Mike nor Sherlock have any interest in society's status quo.
To read more about Sherlock Holmes, and to see if you can catch more connections between these two characters, check out the Sherlock Holmes's character page right here.