Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress: Part 3 Visit to Earth

As last we saw, Professor Bernando de la Paz, elderly subversive and amateur revolutionary; Wyoh Knott, the Lovely Lady of the Left; and Manuel O'Kelly, computer repairman and mostly innocent bystander; have succeeded in overthrowing the Warden of the Lunar Penal Colony, with the help of Mannie's best friend, the Authority's super-computer, Mike, who just happens to be sentient and have a sense of humor.

Now the tough part begins...

My dinkum word, preparing a revolution isn't as much huhu as having won it. Here we were, in control too soon, nothing ready and a thousand things to do. Authority in Luna was gone -- but Lunar Authority Earthside and Federated Nations behind it were very much alive. Had they landed one troopship, orbited one cruiser, anytime next week or two, could have taken Luna back cheap. We were a mob.

To buy themselves more time, the Revolutionaries enact a strict communications embargo, with Mike sending false messages to Earth to preserve the illusion of normality. The Terrans currently on Luna -- for the most part scientists working short-term at one of the observatories and research installations -- are prohibited from calling home.

The Warden survived the coup; although cutting off the oxygen to his living quarters left him in a vegetative state. The rapists whose assault on a Looney woman triggered the uprising are stripped naked, bound, and handed over to women of the Complex. "Makes me sick to think what happened next but don't suppose they lived through as long an ordeal as Marie Lyons [their victim] endured."

The question of what to do about the Warden's network of informants is a tricky one. Wyoh doesn't quite have the stomach to have them all executed, but Prof disagrees. "A man who finks on his friends once will do it again and we have a long period ahead in which a fink can be dangerous. They must go. And publicly, to cause others to be thoughtful." In an earlier argument on Capital Punishment, Prof claimed that all moral responsibility devolved on the individual and that if a criminal needed to be executed, he would do so himself. When challenged on this point now, he admits that he will bear the moral responsibility for the decision, but the actual sentence will be carried out by others. He simply has Adam Selene publicly announce the names of these informants and their addresses. And lets nature take its course.

Isn't this a little bit disingenuous? Hell, yes. But remember, Prof calls himself a "rational" anarchist, meaning he sticks by his principles... except when it's expedient for him not to. Prof justifies using the mob as an arm of public execution by saying it will send a sharper message to those who might be tempted to betray Luna in the future. And it probably will.

But now another problem comes up, one which unfortunately reminds the reader that the book was written nearly a half century ago. So far, "Adam Selene", the Chairman of the Revolution, has spoken to people over the phone, but never in person. Now that the need for secrecy is over, people are going to want to meet their leader. Mike claims that he can create a convincing video image of his alter ego. Although Mannie is at first skeptical, Mike proves that he can do it. Mannie's objections seem a little silly today, when computer generated images are a part of practically everything we see in movies and TV, but in the 1960s the idea was outrageous enough that Heinlein felt a need to hang a lampshade on it to get his readers to accept it.

So Adam Selene addresses all of Luna in a televised speech in which he urges calm, forbearance and co-operation. He urges people who were working for the Authority providing essential services to stay on the job and promises they will be paid. Ice will continue to be bought and grain shipments to Earth will continue for the time being. He begs the citizens of Terra caught up in the uprising to be patient. And he tells the citizens of Luna that he is going to be busy working to turn over leadership to a government of Luna's own choosing. "Expect me to be as hard to see as Simon Jester!"

In order to facilitate this last point, Prof has set up the "Ad-Hoc Congress for Organization of Free Luna" to which he has invited all the self-professed political experts and armchair Hamiltons who have come out of the woodwork now that the bloodshed is over. Mannie attends a few of their sessions and is dismayed.

With me breaking heart trying to round up heavy drills and men who could treat them as guns these idlers had spent an entire afternoon discussing immigration. Some wanted to stop it entirely. Some wanted to tax it, high enough to finance government (when ninety-nine out of a hundred Loonies had to be dragged to The Rock!); some wanted to make it selective by "ethnic rations," (Wondered how they would count me?) Some wanted to limit it to females until we were 50-50. That had produced a Scandinavian shout: "Ja, cobber! Tell 'em send us hoors! Tousands and tousands of hoors! I marry 'em, I betcha!"

Was most sensible remark all afternoon.

Prof reassures him. "My dear Manuel, I was simply putting all my nuts in one basket. I know those nuts. I've listened to them for years." He has engineered the group to ensure that they will quarrel amongst each other without actually accomplishing anything. The purpose of the congress is to keep these idiots busy; but it does have one important role to perform. They need the Congress to ratify something.

"One man will write it -- a dead man -- and late at night when they are very tired, they'll pass it by acclamation.... The dead man is Thomas Jefferson -- first of the rational anarchists, my boy, and one who once almost managed to slip over his non-system through the most beautiful rhetoric ever written. But they caught him at it, which I hope to avoid."

Prof gives them the Declaration of Independence.

He presents it almost word-for-word with only the changes necessary to update it for their situation and rams it through the Congress using expert parliamentary ju-jitsu learned from a lifetime of dealing with committees. He even manages to have it signed on July 4, 2176, a coincidence that strains the Willing Suspension of Disbelief almost past SOP tolerances, but the moment is presented so beautifully that I can forgive Heinlein.

Having officially declared Independence, another piece of business must be dealt with. The Loonies need to send someone to Earth to officially present their Declaration to the Federated Nation and make their case before the People of Earth. Prof foresaw this would be necessary from the beginning, and he, Mannie and Wyoh have all been training, wearing weights under their clothing, to prepare. Prof is the logical spokesman for the group, but he is an old man and might not survive the trip. Mannie has been to Earth before, when he was studying to be a computerman, and is the logical choice to accompany Prof. Mannie isn't crazy about this idea, but when Prof reminds him that if he doesn't go, Wyoh is the only other possible candidate, Mannie agrees.

Since the Loonies have no spaceships of their own, and no spaceships have arrived since the Revolution, they plan to send Prof and Mannie in a specially-designed compartment in one of the grain shipments sent by Luna's "catapult". The accommodations are beyond spartan -- the bare minimum necessary to keep them alive. Mannie does not expect either he or Prof to survive.

The night before the trip to Earth, Mimi Mum calls a Family Meeting. Mannie has been so worried about the trip, he is completely surprised by the reason. Wyoh is opting in to the family and Mimi has assembled the whole clan to vote on the matter. Here we get a glimpse of the Line Marriage at work with a combination of tradition, ritual and informal democracy. Whatever you might think of the Line Marriage in practice, this scene is a warm and moving one. (One writer describes the Davis family as like "the Waltons, squared").

Wyoh is welcomed into the family. According to tradition, the new bride spends her first night with the Senior Husband; but Grandpaw Davis is getting on in years. With the knowledge and consent of both Mimi and Greg (the next husband in seniority), Wyoh comes to Mannie's room once Grandpaw falls asleep to spend the night with him; by implication, the first night they spend together.

The trip to earth in the grain canister is every bit as nightmarish as Mannie anticipates. The only good thing to be said about it is that he spends most of the voyage in drugged unconsciousness so that his pressure suit's oxygen supply will last him the two-days they'll spend in transit. He wakes up shortly before the canister enters Earth's atmosphere and has a devil of a time unfastening his safety harness because someone removed his prosthetic arm before packing him into his suit. He can't tell through Prof's suit whether Prof is alive or dead. He endures the hammer jolts of acceleration and deceleration as the canister goes through atmospheric entry, splashing down in the Indian Ocean; then the completely unfamiliar experience of waves as it bobs on the surface of the ocean.

He wakes up in a hospital. Stu is there, and cheerfully tells him everything went according to plan. Prof is alive and well and as chipper as ever. Mannie is boggled to learn that Prof wanted to come to earth by this risky means rather than by a conventional spaceship. Not only was the stunt great publicity, it also got them on Terra before the Federated Nations could figure out what to do about them. If they had waited for a spaceship, the FN would have arrested them before they set foot on Earth.

Stu takes Prof and Mannie to Agra, the headquarters of the Federated Nations, to present their credentials as Official Ambassadors of Free Luna. Prof hopes to address the FN's General Assembly publicly, but they best they'll permit is a private meeting with an "Investigating Committee." Prof, speaking from a hospital bed, as he is too frail to sit up in Earth's greater gravity, eloquently requests that Luna be recognized as a sovereign state. The Committee insists that Luna continue to accept new prisoners, which Prof is willing to do -- with the understanding that as soon as they set foot on lunar soil the prisoners become free citizens of Luna. The debate becomes heated and Prof, in his excitement, half-rises from his bed and then collapses. (Real or fake? With Prof it's probably mostly political theater). A second meeting goes no better, although Mannie is able to smuggle recordings of the proceedings out by means of the same mini-recorder he used in Stilyagi Hall, hidden in his prosthetic arm.

But Prof hasn't pinned his hopes entirely on persuading bureaucrats and politicians in the FN. He and Mannie go on a full media blitz to take the Loonies case to the public. Much of the media is hostile: several New York newspapers regard the Loonies as unruly children deserving a spanking and the newspapers in India, where rice imports from Luna is a major source of food, are even more hostile. Prof's main talking points are that Luna doesn't want war; that friendship and co-operation between Luna and Terra will be beneficial to both worlds; but that if Earth is determined to insist on war, the Citizens of Luna will fight for their freedom.

"Do you gentlemen remember the Pathfinder? How she came plunging in, out of control?"

They remembered. Nobody forgets greatest disaster of early days of space flight when unlucky Pathfinder hit a Belgian village.

"We have not ships," I went on, "but would be possible to throw those bargeloads of grain ... instead of delivering them into parking orbit."

That's the stick. But Prof emphasizes the carrot. He wants to promote the idea of building an Earth-based catapult to make shipments to Luna as economical as shipments from Luna to earth. This may be difficult, he concedes, but not impossible. "When something must be done, engineers can find a way that is economically feasible."

Someone at the press conference asks Mannie if it's fair that the people on the Moon enjoy the benefits of living on colonies established using government tax money, when they don't pay taxes at all. Okay, listen carefully, because here we're getting to key Tea Party territory.

Mannie turns the question around. "What is it you want us to pay taxes for? ...I don't know much about your government... What do you get for your money?" The group throw out some of the standards: Free hospitals, libraries, roads, public schools, Social Security; in each case he shoots it down saying either that they don't have it, or they already pay for it through other means. Actually, Mannie's waiting for someone to bring up a key talking point: Police protection and armed forces. "Can you tell me how F.N. peace forces protect Luna? I did not know that any of your nations wanted to attack us... Now about those so-called 'policemen.' They were not sent to protect us.... They went mad and started raping and murdering! And now they are dead! So don't send us any more troops!"

But let's back up to the rest of the list. Mannie insists that either they didn't have it, or they already paid for it. But Mannie's fortunate enough to live in a world where the author makes the rules. Is Luna's tube system 100% subsidized by user fares with no government money whatsoever? Mannie says he doesn't need health insurance because he's healthy and he doesn't bet on his health, which is pretty big talk from a man who lost a limb in an industrial accident. Tea Party advocates would love to use a variation of Mannie's argument against government spending, but in truth it only works in Heinlein's Libertarian Utopia because he says it does.

But back to the PR blitz. Prof and Mannie travel all over the world, pushing the Loonie cause and also Prof's idea for an Earth-based catapult. Mannie has a conversation with a Chinese delegate who was present at their original meeting, who is intrigued by the idea, but cautious. Stu has great hopes that Dr. Chang will be an ally for Luna; Mannie is more dubious. Mannie visits the sites of Lexington and Concord to lay a wreath at Concord bridge; he gets a chance to see a ball game in Yankee Stadium; (he decides it's much better on video). Sometimes their press is good; sometimes not so good. After once incident Prof tells him:

"A managed democracy is a wonderful thing, Manuel, for the managers ... and its greatest strength is a 'free press' where 'free' is defined as 'responsible' and the managers define what is 'irresponsible.' Do you know what Luna needs most?"

"More ice."

"A news system that does not bottleneck through one channel. Our friend Mike is our greatest danger."

"Huh? Don't you trust Mike?"

"Manuel, on some subjects I don't trust even myself. Limiting the freedom of news 'just a little bit' is in the same category with the classic example 'a little bit pregnant.' We are not yet free nor will we be as long as anyone -- even our ally Mike -- controls our news."

While on Earth, Prof buys a brass cannon. A "signal gun" from the old days of sailing, much like one that Heinlein himself owned and would fire on his property on ceremonial occasions. Mannie thinks it's rather pointless and silly, but Prof wants it.

"Manuel, once there was a man who held a political make-work job... shining brass cannon around a courthouse."

"Why would courthouse have cannon?"

"Never mind. He did this for years. It fed him and let him save a bit, but he was not getting ahead in the world. So one day he quit his job, drew out his savings, bought a brass cannon -- and went into business for himself."

"Sounds like an idiot."

"No doubt. And so are we, when we tossed out the Warden."

In Kentucky, Mannie and Prof are making a public appearance. "Remember... to most people we will be as weirdly interesting as strange animals in a zoo. Do you remember that turtle on exhibition in Old Dome? That's us." In the Q & A, the topic of marriage on Luna comes up, and Mannie starts talking about his own family and shows a picture of them. The next day he is arrested for bigamy.

The charges are almost immediately dropped, but Mannie is angered and humiliated by the whole experience. It takes him a while to cool off and see the PR benefits of the incident; it made a lot of people on Earth more sympathetic towards the Loonies; and it also helped public opinion back on Luna, where Mannie's arrest was seen as an affront to Loonie pride.

Finally, Mannie and Prof are called again before the F.N. Committee. The claim of independence are rejected and the F.N. has resolved to re-assert it's authority and extend it's control not just over the prison itself but over all Luna. Grain quotas were to be quadrupled, and private farms will be absorbed into more efficient Authority-run operations. To Mannie's surprise, Prof doesn't argue, he doesn't talk about blood from a stone or throwing rocks. He just asks to be allowed to go home.

The Committee denies his request.

Afterwards the Chairman of the Committee meets with Mannie in secret and offers him the position of "Protector Pro-Tem" -- essentially the new Warden -- if he will sell the Committee's five-year plan to Luna. Mannie would much prefer to smash the guy's teeth in, but he is guarded in his replies, recording everything said.

Now it's time for Plan Scoot. Prof and Stu have been planning for this moment. They sneak Prof and Mannie out of the hospital by disguising them and having them simply walk out. Both of them have been training for this for months; although it will be a tremendous strain of Prof, he manages to walk from the hospital to a waiting car. They've lined up an old rocket whose owner is willing to go to Luna on a "humanitarian mission" to rescue the Terrans stranded there. Stu comes with them. The work he's done on Luna's behalf has left him broke and deeply in debt. Going back with Mannie and Prof will spare the Authority the trouble of transporting him.

NEXT: Earth Strikes Back !

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