This hammer of a book is about freedom, and its opposite. Freedom from gravity, freedom from criminal and civil law, sexual freedom. Being in enclosed spaces the entire time. The cost of air, the fear of depressurization. The crushing demands of family. Inevitability. Being bound by contracts, contracts, contracts.
Luna: New Moon is the first book by Ian McDonald I’ve read. It’s brilliant, and it urges me to read McDonald’s other books – River Of Gods, The Derwish House, Brasyl. From what I’ve read online about those earlier titles, his newest follows a similar approach: well researched near-future history. This time on the moon, obviously. The book’s projections are savory food for thought.
The world McDonald has created is stunning. The science is stunning, the society is stunning, the Corta dynasty is stunning. Luna is rich in detail and texture, and yet this novel has a sparse feel. There are no elaborate descriptions, and McDonald’s prose is direct, unforgiving and often chilling. No bullshit here. Plus sharp observations about the reality of being human. Yet, there’s still plenty of beauty to be found.
The legend is that the chair keeps Robert Mackenzie alive but one look tells the truth: it is the will that burns in the back of his eyes. Will to power, will to own, will to hold and let nothing be taken, not even his husk of a life. Robert Mackenzie stares down death. The life-support system towers over his head like a crown, a halo. Tubes pulse, pumps hiss and spin, motors hum. The backs of his hands are blotched with slow-healing haemotomas where needles and cannulas pierce the flesh. No one can bear to look more than an instant at the tube in his throat. The perfume of fern, the smell of fresh water, can’t hide the smell. Rachel Mackenzie’s stomach lifts at the taint of colostomy.
The narrative voice McDonald uses is one of a master writer: ultimate freedom here too. His flexibility with viewpoints is truly something to behold, but never feels complex or jumpy. Still, there’s a lot to take in, and McDonald does expect patience from his readers: hardly anything is presented on a silver platter.
The story is tightly plotted, and there’s a smooth balance in its layering of themes. Throughout the pages those themes are carefully, slowly mined & processed, as the minerals of the moon’s regolith. Luna is about migration, and power-politics and money, about being old and dying, about love, lust and animal instinct, about the melancholic saudade of bossa nova, about the brazen folly of youth, about fashionistas, knife fights, and about a changing new society, one on the brink of becoming civilized by swallowing pride. Or not.
Be prepared for quite some explicit sex. It’s well done, and always serves the story and the characters. Some might object to it though.
It isn’t too dissimilar from what I’ve read from Kim Stanley Robinson, albeit a bit more gritty, Shakespearian, violent and in-your-face, less technical and without info dumps. My favorite SF novel of 2015 is either this or Aurora. And I have yet to read Seveneves, The Dark Forest and Ancillary Mercy. What a great year for science fiction.
Luna: New Moon is an instant classic. I can’t wait for the sequel. And I hope the television series gets beyond being optioned.
The Fifth Dragon, a prequel story to the book, is available for free online, here.