Note: This is an essay published in the second issue of Paleofuture Magazine under the title, “The Moon as Mistress.” It is a meditation on a future that never was, and my place in that past tense future. I’d like to thank the editor of Paleofuture Magazine, Matt Novak, for giving me a chance to write about something upon which I often ruminate. –TMK
In 1966, Robert Heinlein published a book, originally serialized in Worlds of If and titled The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. It was a book about revolution on the Moon led by a dashing college professor who was exiled from Earth. It is a wonderful tale about romance, a sentient machine, politics, education, life, and liberty. Even so, it seems to be one of Heinlein’s lesser thought of works, often taking a back seat to some of his other books: for example, Stranger In a Strange Land or Time Enough for Love. However, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress will always have a special place in my heart, as it was the first science-fiction novel I ever read and kept on my bookshelf.
Heinlein’s Mistress still sits on my bookshelf, where it keeps company with some more haughty academic texts, like Jacque Derrida’s Of Grammatology. Heinlein’s Mistress was the first book that made me believe in something greater than myself, so I think it only fitting that it has a place above all the other books that grace my overburden bookshelves. The book introduced me to something for which I was probably too young: the future. It gave me a glimpse of something I thought would be real, something I thought would lead me to glory, and something I thought would make me noteworthy.
Heinlein’s Mistress made me believe moon colonies would exist, and I, at the time a 13 year-old boy, would lead those colonies into revolution to overthrow the imperial and dictatorial actions of a greedy Earth government. Obviously, it did not happen, but it does lead me to wonder how Heinlein envisioned our species’ future. The 1960s was surely a time of wonderment as the Space Race consumed the attention of the United States and Soviet Union, and even though Heinlein’s Mistress was published three years before Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, somehow, I think Heinlein must have known the future of our species, and he must have known we would reach into space for part of that future.
Science-fiction authors seem to know the future of humanity more than any other group of people in that they dream big dreams and do not let our current reality cage them into certain modes of thought. I wonder what Heinlein thought about moon colonies. Did he believe them achievable in his lifetime? Or, perhaps, my lifetime? When I was 13, these questions dominated my mind as I read through Heinlein’s book. I wanted so badly to be a dashing college professor who led a revolution on the Moon. Perhaps it was the dream of an ill-informed and little-lived boy, but it was nonetheless my dream, and I think a small part of me still hopes it happens.
Now that I am a college teacher and writer, I can’t help but wonder what my life would be like as a professor on the Moon. Would I be a professor at the University of Luna? Would I be a famed rhetorician and writing teacher? I don’t know, but I can dream. I imagine my university webpage would read:
Trent M Kays, PhD
Professor of Lunar Rhetoric
University of Luna
Armstrong City, Moon Colony
Next to the description, people would find a smiling photo of myself in my office overlooking the Sea of Tranquility. I would meet with students daily, and we would talk about their work and sip tea. My days would be filled with picturesque views of the Earth and grading papers before heading home. When I was 13, I wanted that life. I was promised moon colonies, space travel, and revolution. The first doesn’t exist, the second barely exists, and the last will probably never again happen in my lifetime, given the lethargy of Americans. I was fed a lie, and it hurts a little.
But, what can I do? I live on Earth, and it is a beautiful planet. Yet, something is missing. It is a lust for lunar revolution, which first wetted my appetite as a boy. The same passion and national awe that once took hold of people for space exploration seems to be gone. It left and smashed the dreams of many people, including myself. It took those exciting and, sometimes, dark visions of the future and dashed them upon the rocks.
What does Heinlein’s vision tell us? It tells us that without someone to compete against, we don’t really care for humanity-advancing predictions. I find this sad because I wanted to be a revolutionary lunar rhetorician, a teacher who leads a fight against tyranny and frees an entire moon from the grasps of a power hungry planet. Unfortunately, that dream is now in the past. My dream is nothing more than my past tense future, a vision that was Heinlein’s and one I adopted as my own, and it has faded.
Though, I do wonder if perhaps Heinlein’s Mistress will become history as humanity moves forward through the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd centuries. Space still has a small allure among a small population and time marches on. It moves forward with an unstoppable will. So, maybe, humanity’s passion for space exploration and colonization will grow once again, and while we definitely know the Moon isn’t made of cheese, we do not know how our future generations will thrive in Heinlein’s Mistress and his vision of underground lunar metropolises.
Indeed, Heinlein’s vision for the future has fallen short of what humanity is capable of. We are capable of so much more than what we are, and while I’d love to be a professor of rhetoric on the Moon, I fear, much like many science-fiction tales, humanity will corrupt that which pure and lead existence to a new level of degradation. Maybe it’s good that humanity hasn’t reached the level of space colonization. It still bothers me that I’ll never be able to fully realize my boyhood dream. Sadly, the past often promises a future that the future cannot guarantee. I guess those past futurists, science-fiction authors, and dreamers were wrong about our future, or, at least, they are presently wrong.
I suppose today’s present will just have to do for yesterday’s future dreams—for now.