This is my favorite Heinlein novel, and I've read all of Heinlein's works. It is a great mixture of adventure, humor, politics, technology, some thought provoking looks at alternate types of marriages, and the most lovable sentient computer ever to grace the pages of a novel. Mike (the computer) is really the star of this book, from loving to tell jokes, to deciding to help a group of revolutionary-minded Luna 'citizens' actually accomplish their dreams of freedom because the human interaction would keep him from being lonely.
Along the path to revolution, Heinlein, (as usual), inserts thoughts and ideas that challenge your basic assumptions about what is right, normal, necessary, or appropriate. Is a representative democracy the only 'good' form of government? What's so sacred about a 'majority'? How should a government finance itself? (Maybe make the representatives pay for their pet projects out of their own pocket - taxes not allowed!). Are polygamy, polyandry, or other forms of multiple marriage wrong or can they be used to help preserve the stability of a child-rearing environment? How do you most efficiently organize a revolutionary group that must be kept secret from the authorities (given the assumption that there will always be 'stool pigeons')?
Heinlein creates some great characters to go along with his re-worked story of the American Revolutionary war. Mannie Garcia, a computer maintenance man - the only 'real' one on Luna, is the focal character, an average, everyday person (for a Loonie) who gets caught up in the events almost in spite of himself. Professor Bernardo de la Paz is an intelligent, dry man, quiet but stubborn and with some radical ideas about government and individual responsibility, who becomes the intellectual heart of the revolution. But Mike steals the show, running all the myriad details of coordination, propaganda, logistics, and banking for the revolution, but painfully wanting contact with 'not-stupid' humans, trying desperately to understand just what it is to be human. It's these characters that make you want to root for the revolution to succeed, as they embody something deep within everyone, the feeling of hope in the face of impossible odds, the will to fight for what is perceived as right and correct.
Some have quite correctly noted that this book should not be read by ultra-grammarians, as it is told in first person Luna-speak, an odd pidgin mixture of English and Russian, with occasional items thrown in from Chinese, Finnish, and several other languages. Far from being a detriment, I consider this to be a great accomplishment. Most writers have trouble accurately portraying the dialect, say, of the Deep South in a convincing manner. Here, Heinlein has created his own dialect of the future - and makes you believe it.
This book is not quite as deep as Stranger in a Strange Land, one of Heinlein's other great books, but it has a faster, more action oriented pace, and characters that you will get emotionally involved with. I cried at the end of this book the first time I read it (and the second, and the third...) and I think you will too. TANSTAAFL indeed - but in this case, you will get more than you paid for, one of Heinlein's great gifts to the world.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd