Moonkind: Survivors Of Ebola by Bruce Merchant, M.D. (book review).
In AD 2173, mankind has a bit of a minor setback. That’s if being wiped out by a virulent Ebola virus can be called a minor setback. There’s always hope as just before this new strain of Ebola struck an outpost on the Moon had been built and staffed by a small group of scientists. They are clean of the virus and are given the job of converting the facility to store the genetic samples of selected high performing people. It seems that years before the outbreak it was fashionable for the rich and famous to donate cells to a facility for future cloning. The intention now is for these cells to be used to generate clones of selected people at some future date when the virus has died out.
The first part of the book covers the outbreak of the virus and the world’s government’s attempts to deal with the problem. As it opens in 2173, you should know that there are a few developments that have occurred between now and then. Firstly, it’s not uncommon in 2173 for people to live well past a 100 years and remain both active and productive. In the case of women, having children is a distinct possibility up to about the age of 70. A derivative of English has become the global language and the world’s religion has largely been Europeanised. Although it’s not obvious, I take this to mean it’s become modelled on protestant Christianity but could be wrong.
Warren Thompson had applied for a post on the project to build an automated plant on the Moon to facilitate future rocket launches as it’s easier to launch from the Moon than from Earth. Eleven years later he’s got the job and is heading the very small team on the Moon overseeing its construction. The timing means that Thompson – he’s invariably referred to as just ‘Thompson’ – and his team are on the Moon when the deadly Q strain of the Ebola virus emerges are stranded and are given the job of overseeing the storage of the clone cells on-route from Earth.
This section of the book is very good with Thompson struggling when his loved ones and everyone else on Earth start dying off. He also has to contend with members of his team dying from natural causes which are not Ebola related. Inevitably, Thompson has to confront his own impending demise as he struggles to complete the preparations for the future generation of clones that will be raised in the Moon base. He’s assisted in his final tasks by the robot helpers the team have either built especially or modified from their original tasks.
The next 300 pages are all given over to the raising of the first batch of clones known as Clonal Form 1. We follow these seven man and seven women from their awakening to adulthood. There are no other humans alive so they are dependent on their teacher robots for instruction, although they do have access to the vast library of archive material imported from Earth. This facility is known as ‘Archive Central’ and Thompson has added to this with recorded lectures to be played at appropriate moments.
While there is a real gem of a story here and the first 126 pages nicely tee up the main event, I’m not sure the rest of the book really delivers. The big issue for me is that current trends – social and technical – haven’t been included. In fact, there are technical elements of the Moon base that would not be out of place in a 1960s movie. For example, all of Thompson’s lectures are audio only when even today the facility to record audio and video is on your mobile phone or PC. The robots also seem antiquated with whirring gears when they move. The developments in household robotics have accelerated recently and this week saw a reasonably sophisticated domesticated robot on sale for $1,000. By the time we get to 2173, I would have expected them to be even more sophisticated and refined.
The clones are the most treasured items in the Moon base and you may have expected for their health and location to be constantly monitored. Something like an iWatch or Fitbit (other examples are also available) which will probably be fitted under the skin. For some reason this doesn’t happen. I would also have expected virtual reality to be more widely used as a learning/entertainment experience but it too doesn’t get a mention. These are examples of technology that are available now and are expected to become more prevalent in the future. Their absence makes the envisaged environment of 2173 seem implausible.
For me another stumbling block for the plausibility of the story is the notion that there is a creator (ie God) and we would all be better people if we communed with him/her. Evolution is acknowledged but in the context of something the creator set in motion and subsequently guided. Three of the initial batch of clones discover spirituality by themselves and set about converting the others in a non-confrontational, pacifist way. Given that just prior to this, some of the clones were hell bent (pun intended) on executing one of their peers, it stretches things. It’s also worth pointing out that whether you like it or not, there has been a marked shift in the general acceptance of gay relationships. It’s gone from illegal to legal and looks to become a normalised part of our society. This doesn’t feature in the story at all, so we have a future world reflecting the author’s views and beliefs.
What I’m trying to say here is that ‘Moonkind’ contains an excellent story idea but the last three quarters of the book need re-working to make it shine. It was written in 2015 and perhaps should extrapolate current technology and social trends to provide a future environment that’s not reminiscent of the 1960s and 70s. This is something it does well in the first part of the book but gives up on from that point onwards. The ending also needs some work as I can’t believe our astronauts would have the time, inclination or indeed the room to do what they are said to do. As it’s their first time in a rocket, I would have thought fear and panic would be the most prevalent emotions. They certainly would be mine.
‘Moonkind’ could be an excellent story but it’s not quite there yet in this edition.
(pub: Bruce Merchant, MD 422 pages ebook. Price: £ 2.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-312-87398-8)
check out website: www.moonkindbook.com