RED MOON by Kim Stanley Robinson
Orbit, 446 page HC, £18.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
In a year when we are celebrating the fifty years since man first landed on the moon, it is inevitable that SF writers will contemplate the future of our relationship with the moon. Ian McDonald has recently published the third of his Luna: trilogy which considers the commercial exploitation of the satellite with Brazil leading the way. Kim Stanley Robinson has looked in a different direction. Though it was actually published in 2018, it still considers a plausible development.
It is 1947. The Chinese have a base in the libration zone at the South Pole, where the deep craters have accumulated water ice. The Americans have a base at the North Pole but share their space with other nations. On Earth, political tensions are coming to a head in both China and the USA. Fred Fredericks is an American working for a Swiss electronics company and is being sent to the Chinese base with a quantum entanglement device that, once set up, effectively works as a highly encrypted telephone connected with only one other device. On the shuttle with him is Ta Shu, an older Chinese man who made his name as a poet and now hosts a cloud show about his travels. His visit to the moon is to record more episodes of the show. Chapters involving the main action are interspersed with Ta Shu’s musings that he intends to shape into his broadcasts.
Almost as soon as he arrives, Fred is in trouble. He is used as a pawn in the assassination of the Governor, Chang Yazu. While the American delegates and Ta Shu try to find and help him, he disappears. There are a number of different Chinese security factions all wanting Fred, some to kill him, some to use him as a scapegoat. When he is found he is sent back to China with Ta Shu and a young, pregnant Chinese woman. Chan Qi is the daughter of one of the members of the Party executive and vying to become President of the People’s Republic. She is, however, a rebel – she shouldn’t have been on the moon anyway, and getting pregnant was against the rules. Much of the main thrust of Red Moon is the flight of Fred and Qi across China and back to the moon barely one step ahead of those who want to kill them. Ta Shu also finds himself making the journey several times.
It isn’t just quanta that are entangled, it is the politics and the victims are never quite sure who to trust or who is after them. Both China and the USA have simultaneous meltdowns and in both countries, the population mobilises to make demands of their governments.
Other than considering the potential direction of the moon’s exploration over thirty years, Robinson has closely examined the problems that development will encounter. Most importantly, he has thought through the problems of moving around in a place where the gravity is so much less and what it will be like to return to the influence of Earth’s pull.
The title, though being an overt reference to most of the events occurring under the influence to Communist China also references the change in colour of the moon’s surface during a lunar eclipse – something that is described at one point. Do also the major upheavals on Earth, eclipse individual lives while each person is important for the movement of the whole?
While appreciating the quality of the writing, I wonder if there are times when the rhetoric gets in the way of the personal stories. Nevertheless, ready this book is an experience worth having.