Review of The Once and Future Moon, ed. by Allen Ashley
Eibonvale Press, pb, £12.00
Reviewed by Rima Devereaux
The moon has long been the object on which human desires are projected. Whether it is the goal of aspiration and adventure, a symbol of true love, the unattainable or the possibilities of history, the moon in fiction has a rich heritage. The title of the book, alluding as it does to Arthur, the ‘once and future king’, is fitting for a collection that not only spans the science-fiction/fantasy divide but also elevates the moon into a symbol of so much human endeavour.
The classic steampunk archetypes of moon stories are of course Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and H. G. Wells’ The First Men on the Moon. Chris Edwards’ ‘Dr Cadwallader and The Lunar Cycle’ mixes the conventions of this genre with the trope associating the moon with women. Edwards’ story injects a dose of humour when the women who live on the moon, who have never seen a man before, undress the travellers. Thomas Alun Badlan’s ‘The Great Lunar Expedition’ deconstructs the classic adventure story. The narrative is cleverly constructed, and we do not at first realize that the expedition narrated in the opening pages is fiction.
A common theme found in several of the stories is the community dynamics of a colony on the moon. ‘Heavies’ by Terry Grimwood adds a postcolonial twist to such an imagined future, in which the West has been destroyed by the Global South. The ‘lunars’, who live on the moon, and ‘heavies’, who live on Earth, are almost different species, as in H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine. ‘Moonstruck’ by Pauline E. Dungate recalls the television series Star Cops in which crimes are investigated on the moon. Dungate’s story shows an excellent grasp of technology and an effective alternation between present and past. In Alexander Greer’s ‘Lunar Gate’, three men land on the moon, explore a gorge and discover a silver gate that unlocks a mystery. Unusual and powerful, it recalls Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘The Sentinel’. Anna Fagundes Martino’s ‘Between the Librations’ is essentially about race, colour and identity, centring upon a man who has a Spanish Roma mother but is albino and therefore a Moon Child (echoing Aleister Crowley’s novel of that name) with the ability to tune out the vibrations or oscillations of the moon.
In ‘The Erasing of Gagaringrad’ by David Turnbull, an alternative history with a nod to the film Iron Sky and John Wyndham’s The Outward Urge, the moon is the star player in a dystopia that imagines that Gagarin was the first man to walk on the moon and the world is now Communist. The hero, in the KGB, has been sent to arrest a woman, but she achieves a martyr’s death. At the close of the story, the moon is transformed into a symbol of things that endure above and beyond history.
In A. N. Myers ‘Synthia’, the futuristic heroine is a robot patient of a psychologist. In a narrative that recalls Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, the writer explores what it means to be human. Synthia gets her strength from the moon, and, in a twist that echoes debates on the origins of the religious impulse, the psychologist sees the signal that has been bounced from the robot to the moon and back as the source of this impulse, yet there is also a poignancy about the relationship with the robot that transcends such an explanation. The name of the robot recalls the name of the queen Cynthia (associated with the moon) in John Lyly’s Endymion, the Man in the Moon.‘Moonface’ by Elana Gomel depicts a post-apocalyptic world in which women wear mantles that cover the raw flesh that has replaced their faces. The hero has arrived in 2047 from the recent past, having got a job testing a hibernation system for long spaceflight, and in the end, he quietly rebels, saying he is off to find his wife. This story, like some of the fantasy stories in this collection, makes use of the metaphorical association of the moon with women.
A story that crosses the fantasy/science-fiction divide successfully is Adrian Chamberlin’s ‘The Eye of God’, in which a moon goddess in pre-Christian Glastonbury – the source of a tennis-ball-sized crystal that turns orange in the light of the full moon – becomes an eco-sci-fi symbol of harmony in the cosmos.
Some of the stories in the collection that sit under the fantasy umbrella include the idea of the worshipping the moon. ‘White Face Tribe’ by Stephen Palmer falls into the grey area between fantasy and prehistoric historical fiction, similar to Jean Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear. This story of integration hinges on the resolution of a conflict between the White Face Tribe and the Deer Bone Tribe. ‘Dream-Time’s End’ by Nigel Robert Wilson imagines a world where Leu is a Truth-Speaker – the world’s only contact between the living and their heroic ancestors, who meet on the moon. The World Tree, recalling the Norse Yggdrasil, is the means by which he travels from the Earth to the moon and back. This is a beautiful story in which the ancestors need people to believe in them in order to continue to exist. It recalls the idea found in some Classical writers that the moon is the resting place of dead souls. Aliya Whiteley’s variant on the Cain and Abel story, ‘Bars of Light’, pits institutional religion against the values of love and forgiveness associated with the moon. The story’s association of the moon with Cain alludes to the trope that identifies Cain with the Man in the Moon.
Others retell ancient narratives but still associate the moon with eternity or a higher state of being. In Hannah Hulbert’s ‘The Changing Face of Selene’, the Classical myth of the relationship between the moon, Selene, and her mortal lover, Endymion, is told with a wealth of inventive detail. When the moon is with her lover in the cave, it is dark outside – an effective and realistic touch. The retelling of this myth echoes literary antecedents such as John Lyly’s Endymion.In ‘Dissolver’ by Douglas Thompson, the same idea of the moon as a lover is used, but this time the sexes are interchanged – the man who is the narrator’s lover is from the other side of the moon. Charles Wilkinson’s ‘To Sharpen, Spin’ follows a similar thread where, in a post-apocalyptic world in which there is something wrong with the moon, it becomes clear that it has been the adolescent hero’s mother’s lover. The variation between male and female in the sexual associations of the moon mirrors the variation found in mythology: in Classical myth, the moon is feminine, in Teutonic myth, it is masculine.
‘A Faience of the Heart’ by Simon Clark is a dark fantasy time-portal story, with overtones of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. A nineteenth-century lunatic (the word is well chosen) asylum with an inmate supposedly under the malign influence of the moon morphs into a laboratory owned by the MOD where moonlight needs to shine on a machine for it to work, and finally, a couple is looking over the same house with a view to buying it.
Gary Budgen’s ‘The Empties’ is an urban fantasy hinting at the concept of the rapture. The poverty of post-apocalyptic London is symbolized by the empty bottles brought back to the shops where they come from, whereas greenery is spreading on the moon, and a portal appears through which people, including a religious group, start to disappear. The people who remain wonder how they can be the ones without souls, but in a final twist, the buildings on the moon appear to be a cemetery.
The Once and Future Moon is an astonishingly diverse collection of moon-related fantasy and science-fiction stories, which draws on the genres’ varied use of the moon as a theme across the decades, but also displays originality and narrative verve.