The moon may be the closest celestial body to our home planet. It might also be the only one we will be able to colonize in the next century. But sf fans know it doesn’t get as much love as Mars. Mars has series (like that of Edgar Rice Burroughs) and trilogies (Kim Stanley Robinson’s) and some standalone classics of the genre (Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein among others). Come to think of it, Heinlein did have one excellent moon novel.
I got to the end of Ian McDonald’s latest novel only to realize the last twenty-some pages are just a glossary of terms and a throwaway bit of info about a lunar calendar that isn’t used anywhere that I can remember. Sure enough: this is the first in a series. Ugh. Publishers!
First, the advantages. Mr McDonald is a good writer. He’s good at science fiction, which I take to mean that he starts with one science idea, and extrapolates from there. In this book, it’s not quite a century in the future from today. The first lunar colonists are grandparents. The kids grow to be nearly seven feet tall. And as the dust jacket reminds us, there are a thousand ways to die on the moon. Despite that, the novel opens and closes with a mad dash “outside” without a space suit. If you’re living on the moon reading this, don’t try it at home, but it is possible to accomplish as described.
Once the reader is on the moon, everything unfolds in a human way from there. There are no aliens, no huge leaps in technology, no new Big Ideas. Just a complex intermix of characters, some of whom are slightly flawed, and some are bad guys. The portrayal is very realistic, incorporating the science we know now about how dangerous it will be for humans to live off-planet. Big kudos for addressing calcium loss in bones, radiation, isolation, and other inevitable challenges we will face as human beings move to the planets and stars.
As the narrative progresses, we hear about fashion (yawn), sports (yay), the lunar diet (mostly vegan), and a substantial amount of sex. On that last point, I thought I was reading a novel from the 70’s. There is a lot of sex in this book–definitely spelled with three of that last letter.
Like many authors, Mr McDonald focuses his story on the rich and powerful. One character begins the novel in poverty, but thanks to her pluck and a bit of opportunity, she achieves a measure of success. But this book is all about how the lunar 1% lives.
In this fictional future, five corporations have colonized the moon, and each specializes in something the Earth wants or the others need. It reads like a soap opera of families in competition, as most of the characters are offspring or grandchildren of the founders. Younger generations have made or broken peace by engaging in marriages or divorces from rival families. The book takes a lot of time to get moving, about a third of the way through. Think slow, like the American space program these days. The pace picks up as one reads, and events come to a shocking conclusion pretty quickly.
Luna: New Moon is a well-regarded sf novel. But it’s not perfect. Mr McDonald’s editor was asleep on the job in a few places. Note to editors: spell-check isn’t enough. The beginning is needlessly complex as most of the major characters are all introduced. Even at midstream, I was trying to keep the characters straight. I think that could have been handled better, especially given the glacial pace of the exposition. In television or in the movies, this might have worked. A written book is another thing–just because the author has a clear picture of characters in mind, it doesn’t mean the reader is as discerning.
Sex is important to the characters in the narrative, but much of it is gratuitous–tmi, imo. Faith is in the mix here, but as usual, it’s some “new” religion. And it’s peripheral to the main story. And not well-regarded by either author or the more sympathetic characters.
Did I write this was not a perfect read? It’s still very good. The payoff is high if you can get through the first 150 pages. Sometimes I bail on a book before I get there. As for you, let me know …