LitStack Review – Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald

Luna: New MoonLuna New Moon
Ian McDonald
Tor Books
Release Date:  September 22, 2015
ISBN 978-0-7653-7551-3

More than a month before Ian McDonald’s new science fiction novel, Luna: New Moon was released, there was a bidding war for the television rights for it.  Could it a book that hasn’t even been published yet really be good enough for Hollywood moguls to gamble millions of dollars on rushing it to the small screen?

In this case, the answer is yes.

The drama behind Luna: New Moon may be familiar:  powerful families seek control and fortune through manipulation and manhandling, both behind the scenes and through brute force.  But having the drama set on the moon gives a twist to the action, evoking elements of the frontier and of the exotic.  It’s a win/win situation for the reader.

Luna: New Moon follows the Corta family (the newest, and some would say least deserving, of the Five Dragons) and the lunar business that matriarch Adriana Corda built through guile, sacrifice and sheer willpower:  Hélio Corta, the helium-3 exporting monopoly that has replaced electricity and the sagging grid infrastructure on Earth.  In wresting this industry from lunar megacorp Mackenzie Metals, she both stepped on and outwitted the elder and most powerful of the Dragons: the ruthless Mackenzie family.

Now Adriana is old and nearing death, and her final accomplishment will be in passing the reins of Hélio Corta to her ambitious and squabbling children:  fiery Rafa, her eldest, the bold, passionate one; unrelenting Lucas, the cold, calculating one; and dramatic Ariel, the beauty, the schemer, the brains.  There is also Carlinhos, the enforcer, and Wagner, the outcast who has two lives.  Although the Corta family is entwined with the other powerful families through marriage, business contracts and clandestine organizations, Adriana’s children, her grandchildren and those who have come to serve her and Hélio Corta still exist with a perilous future – which for some of them, makes it all that much more exciting to dance on the edge of the knife.

And beyond the characters and action in Luna: New Moon (which are well realized and intriguing), there is the specter of the moon, itself.  From the opening chapter, where one of the Corta scions performs a daring and deadly rite of passage, it is clear that the moon is a very dangerous place.  As one of the newly recruited employees of Hélio Corta writes “home” to her family on Earth:

The moon knows a thousand ways to kill you.  That’s rule one and it rules everything.  There are ways of moving, reading signs and signals, being in or out of communications, analyzing data from your suit and you need to know them or the one tiny thing you’ve overlooked will cook you or freeze you of asphyxiate you or shoot you full of radiation.  We spent three whole days on dust.  There are fifteen kinds of dust and you need to know the physical properties of each on from abrasion to electrostatic properties to adhesion.

But that’s only if you are going out to the surface.  Not everyone does.  In fact, not many do.  There are just as many, even more, dangers for those who remain inside, where access to the network, food, water, and even breathable air are monitored via a “chib” affixed to the eyeball, where your debt is constantly tracked and displayed.  And unless you are one of the Dragons, you will owe a debt to someone, because on the Moon every breath you take has a price, payable to the Lunar Development Corp or one of the Five Dragons.  It doesn’t matter if you have a postgraduate degree in computational evolutionary biology in process control architecture, if you don’t have an income then you will most probably find yourself selling the contents of your bladder to the local pissbuyer, who credits you based on the amounts of minerals and nutrients in your urine.

I realized that the moon was not a safe place.  It knew a thousand ways to kill you if you were stupid, if you were careless, if you were lazy, but the real danger was the people around you.  The moon was not a world, it was a submarine.  Outside was death.  I would be sealed in with these people.  There was no law, no justice, there was only management.  The moon was the frontier, but it was the frontier to nothing.  There was nowhere to run.

Oh, and once you’ve traveled to the moon, the clock is ticking.  You are only a visitor at first, or perhaps a resident; you don’t become a citizen until you reach your Moonday, a lovely expression that indicates the point of no return, where the lower gravity of the moon affects your bone density to such a degree that a return to Earth becomes impossible.  Once you pass your Moonday, there’s no going back.  Ever.  Not even to visit.  And your children will never know Earth.  They will never know butterflies that have not been manufactured to live for only one day, for effect, nor running babbling brooks or cascading waterfalls that exist anywhere outside the realm of the ultra-rich.  They will never know what it’s like to see clouds in a blue sky, to feel sunlight on their uncovered face or feel the kiss of a spring breeze on their skin.  Instead, they will know fifteen kinds of dust, and the intimate properties of each.

Dangers within, dangers without.  Treachery, negotiation, manipulation, secrets within; radiation, hard vacuum, zero pressure, freezing without.  Servitude, debt, despair above; riches beyond the dreams of avarice below.  It’s a fascinating, awful, small, gritty, exhilarating existence, to be lived with abandon, for there is nowhere else to run.

Luna: New Moon has the potential to make a wonderful television series, yes, but you should read the book first.  Don’t wait; don’t rely on a visual medium to reflect all the subtle (and not so subtle) nuances and wonderful inner monologues inherent in Ian McDonald’s mesmerizing narrative.

Read this book, and I guarantee that you’ll never look at the moon the same again.

~ Sharon Browning


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