Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald (book review).

Of the current works of SF, they can probably be divided into three groups. There are the Earth-based novels that frequently deal with near future such as Paul McAuley’s ‘World Wide Web’ or future developments like catastrophe, evolution, politics or social change as expressed by Margaret Atwood in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. Then there are the novels in which travel between stars has been achieved and is common place. It doesn’t matter whether it is wormholes, folding space, alien technology or a bullshit drive. C.J. Cherryh’s ‘Chanur’ novels are a good example. The third group accepts the current view of physics that faster- than-light travel is not achievable, that if we want to reach those tantalising planets discovered around distant stars we will either have to use generation ships, solve the problem of longevity or use cryo or stasis techniques. The alternative is to set the novel within the solar system. Ian McDonald’s latest novel, ‘Luna: New Moon’, takes this last option.


The moon is our nearest neighbour and would be the first place to look for extra-terrestrial mineral resources. In McDonald’s future, the Australians did just that. The Mackenzie family developed a mining dynasty. Three other families carved out their niches in the corporate economy. Then Adriana Corta arrived, initially as an engineer for the Mackenzies, but she saw an opportunity and exploited it. She built her own dynasty. As this novel opens, Adriana is approaching the end of her life but is determined that her family will have the alliances with the other families to carry on without her leadership.

Many readers will know the Robert Heinlein novel, ‘The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress’. That is exactly the sentiment McDonald builds on in Luna. He explores the problems involved in living and working in an unforgiving environment where a single mistake means death. Although the action revolves around the families and their sometimes bloody feuds, we also see them through the eyes of Marina Calzaghe. She is a relative newcomer to the moon. Most of the newcomers come for the prospect of earning good money, but as Marina discovers, there is as much poverty here as at home. Everything has to be paid for, including water and air. She is prepared to do anything in order to keep breathing. It is one of those jobs that sees her as a waiter at a party being held by the Corta family to celebrate Lucasinho’s new status as moonrunner. To become a moonrunner, you have to run twenty metres, naked, on the moon’s surface. Only the foolhardy and the rich do it. Some die.

At the party (a handy device to introduce the major players), Marina’s quick reactions save the life of Rafa Corta. As a result, she finds herself working for the family and involved in the interfamily rivalries in the role of loyal retainer. Though the Moon can be lethal, she is not as ruthless as the people who try to tame her. Humans are unpredictable.

McDonald has created a totally believable setting and does it with a deft touch. Nowhere is the lecturing that less skilled writers might subject the reader to. From the start, we are plunged into a fast, action-packed novel. There is no time to breathe but at the same time this hostile world is brought vividly to life. There is a vast cast and initially the character list at the start of the book is a useful tool but they quickly become recognisable as each have their different traits and relationships fall into place. McDonald is also one of these writers who have looked into the future of political dynamics and largely left Europe and North America out of the equation. It is the citizens of other nations, China, Brazil, Australia who have taken on the task of taming the moon, despite knowing that they will ultimately lose.

This is one of the best Science Fiction novels to reach the shelves this year. Indulge yourself.

Pauline Morgan

October 2015

(pub: Gollancz. 375 page enlarged paperback, Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-473-20223-8)

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