I like fiction–books and movies–with balance. What I mean: characters have good things. And a conflict emerges because something good is threatened. Their loves. Their activities. Their lives. The reader or viewer is on edge because they can’t imagine losing a spouse, a lover, or a personal accomplishment.
It helps if the threat is not ever-present. Otherwise, what kind of life is it, always on the edge of catastrophe? And in the case of book 2 of Ian McDonald’s moon series, what if nobody is an attractive character?
And it takes place mostly on the moon, which is a dream–at least from the perspective of a space aficionado like me.
At the end of the last book, one of the moon’s five ruling families/corporations is blown out (the airlock, literally) and people on the Earth’s natural satellite (and the home planet, too) are getting nervous and edgy about the instability of the situation. In this volume, what’s left of the defeated Corta family lick their wounds and plot revenge. Other members of the lunar 1% scheme for domination, survival, and pleasure. Depending on the character, not necessarily in that order.
Ian McDonald has never world-built as well as he does here. But it took me two books to crack why I don’t feel this is a totally successful effort. I can tolerate the bad guy winning–at least at the end of a volume in a multi-book series. But what if there are no good guys? Sure, the moon is a harsh mistress, as they say. But no character in this novel has any moments of tenderness, companionship, or even community in their lives. At least not from the reader’s viewpoint. What could have been an interesting vector–a pack of (human) “wolves” banding together–is mostly told from one point of view and meets a collective bad end in a rather casual way toward the end of the volume. Some characters seem almost ready to give their loyalty and/or love to another, but are generally rebuffed, badly treated, and chased off. Maybe that’s part of the über-libertarian society the author has planted in this sf series: everybody for her- or himself.
Thing is, with the moon being such a difficult environment, I find it hard to believe that the prime directive here would be an anarchy of individualism. Vacuum suits need to be checked, dangers like dust need to be defended against, and cooperation–even in business–would seem to be the wiser philosophy.
Too much relentless bad news on McDonald’s Luna. Too bad, because this is as well-plotted and characterized as any sf I’ve read in the past few years. One flaw: like the last book, it has slow moments moving forward. The scenes on planet Earth were somewhat unconvincing, though they seem to be needed to further the plot and the events of the climax of this book. One key character goes to the Earth, presumably to assemble support in person. But he seems to spend nearly all his time in a hotel room being looked after by a medical team.
I will keep reading this series, but mainly because this is better-than-average writing. And like watching a crash in slow motion, I’m curious to see if anybody comes out alive. Guilty pleasure? Perhaps. And perhaps not unlike a book filled with guilt, pleasure, and combinations of both.