Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
"When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza-pie...That’s amore!"
Dean Martin certainly sang how we see the the moon here on Earth. It’s a brilliant light in the night sky that is the symbol of romance as well as a tantalizing beacon of wonder and discovery that inspired one the greatest scientific and engineering achievements in human history. However, that’s looking at it from a distance. On closer examination it’s a lifeless hunk of rock in a vacuum that is irradiated constantly by the sun. And since people suck, when you send a bunch of us there it only gets worse.
In the future the moon has been opened for business and after a couple of generations it’s now developed into a feudal state where the five families (a/k/a the Five Dragons) who control some it’s most profitable businesses reign supreme under the watchful eye of the Lunar Development Corporation. The Corta Hélio company mines helium-3 for Earth’s energy needs, but the founder and matriarch Andriana Corta is elderly and ill. She fears that her children will fight for control once she dies, and their most bitter rival seems to have made an assassination attempt on one of the family that could turn into open warfare.
It took me a while to warm up to this story, but eventually it did grab my attention thanks to its well thought out sci-fi elements as well as detailed ideas about how a human society would function in that environment. I was particularly intrigued by the notion that their are no laws on the moon, only negotiations where everything is controlled by contracts with a court system dedicated to parsing the fine print, and where a duel might be used to settle a dispute.
Another interesting aspect is that since oxygen and water are the most precious of commodities that everyone is charged for every breath and every drop of water. So having a contract that allows you to pay for these things is very important, and unemployment could turn into an extended death sentence. Everything from the health effects of living in low gravity, the future version of the internet, fashion trends, sexuality, and the best way to make a cocktail are brought up ways that show that McDonald put a great amount of thought into this story.
The one piece I felt short changed on was a sub-plot that involved one character being a ‘wolf’ who seemingly gains extra intellectual and physical prowess when the Earth is in certain positions. Obviously, this is meant to be a kind of reverse werewolf thing, but it really seems to come out of left field and is never as fully explained as most of the other details.
The story has invited comparisons to other works like Game of Thrones, Dune, and The Godfather and you can certainly see elements of all of those and more in this, but the one that really caught my eye was in an interview that McDonald did where he cited the old TV show Dallas as one of his main inspirations. That makes a lot of sense because for big chunks of this I was thinking that it felt like a soap opera with a big wealthy family fighting each other and outsiders, and like a soap opera you’ll find yourself rooting for and against various characters.
So that’s what this is: Dallas on the moon, and just as Dallas once captivated the country with its ‘Who shot JR?’ cliffhanger McDonald tries a similar thing here by not wrapping anything up and leaving the reader with multiple storylines hanging. That’s not a fatal flaw, especially since this is supposedly going to be just a two-book story. (Although the sheer number of characters suggest that McDonald may be hoping for a TV deal of his own.) Still, it’s irksome to read all of this and end in such an open ended way.
I’ll call it three stars for now while reserving the right to adjust once I read the second part.
On a side note, isn’t it weird when you get through a whole book and don’t realize you read something else by the author? I got all the way through this one without realizing that I had also read his Brasyl.
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