My Mother Murdered The Moon (NP Novella # 8) by Stephen Deas (book review).
I love reading novellas. They’re long enough that the author can tell a rich and detailed story but short enough that you can read the whole thing in a single session. NewCon Press has been publishing a series of novellas over recent years, including Eric Brown’s ‘On Arcturus VII’, which I reviewed here in September 2021. My latest encounter with this series is Stephen Deas’ hard SF story ‘My Mother Murdered The Moon’. Like all the other NCP novellas, it’s available in paperback, as an eBook or as a signed and numbered limited-edition hardback.
It is the year 2080. Roxy Micah is one of a crew of three, alongside her station commander, Major Nakita Subaru, and fellow grunt, Karl Veers, on a small space station which is orbiting one of Saturn’s 83 moons, the tiny rock Epimetheus. A posting to this European Space Agency station is a long and lonely prospect, as it takes three years to get there from Earth and another three to get back, with four years on station in between. There’s not much to do and it’s not entirely clear why anyone would volunteer for the job. Anyone but Roxy, that is. In her case, the rationale is obvious to anyone who watches the newsfeeds from Earth.
Twelve years earlier, Roxy’s mother, General Alexis Micah, was the ranking officer on duty at the Near-Earth Asteroid Deflection Railgun Array or NEANDRA one night when the decision was taken to turn this defensive equipment, intended to protect Earth from a catastrophic collision with space rocks, into an offensive weapon. The decades-old colony on the Moon, which provided Earth’s orbiting space industry with a vast quantity of highly valuable raw materials, had declared itself independent and was threatening to stop mineral shipments until their terms were met.
In response, NEANDRA fired on the colony. Whether intentionally or not, they hit the habitation modules and hundreds of lunar colonists were killed in what has since become known as the Sea of Tranquillity Massacre. The official story was that all the families had been evacuated and the only people who were killed were terrorists, who were threatening an imminent attack on Earth. Few believed this, though, and a global outcry followed, leading to this potential war crime being taken to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for judgement. As the story begins, the presiding judge is about to announce the verdict of the Court. Every newsfeed across the solar system is carrying it live.
That’s why Roxy’s where she is, on a space station where nothing ever happens. The posting to the Epimetheus Sentinel Station was a good way to avoid spending the last twelve years being talked about behind her back as the daughter of the woman who ‘murdered the Moon’.
When the tedium of life on board the station is interrupted by some important equipment malfunctioning out on the moon’s surface, thoughts of the trial back on Earth have to go on the backburner. Karl does a spacewalk to fix the problem and initially that seems to do the trick. Two days later, though, the commander also goes outside to double-check the equipment and also for another reason that she keeps confidential from the other two. Hours into her spacewalk, there’s an unexpected meteor shower. Normally, these are scary but cause no damage. However, when this one finishes, the station itself is still in one piece but their communications link to Earth is down and they can’t raise Commander Nakita. Roxy suits up and goes out to find her friend. What she finds is a badly punctured spacesuit and a dead astronaut.
Unable to communicate this news back to Earth, Roxy is left wondering what the secret part of Nakita’s spacewalk was about and why her death, the damage to the comms equipment and the meteor shower all happened on the eve of the trial verdict back on Earth. Can it really just be a huge coincidence?
I found this novella fascinating for several different reasons. The trope of the space colony claiming independence from Earth is nothing new of course, having been a central element of many books, including Heinlein’s ‘The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress’ (1966) and, much more recently, James SA Corey’s nine ‘The Expanse’ novels (2011-2022). However, Deas takes a bold step by fast-forwarding right through the conflict between Earth and the Moon, culminating in the deaths of the entire lunar colony and then examining the aftermath.
Not only that, but Deas chooses to locate his main characters not on Earth or the Moon, but some ten astronomical units away, orbiting one of the smaller moons of Saturn. He does an excellent job of creating a credible and highly detailed setting for Roxy and her two colleagues to occupy. The sense of distance and alienation from Earth is palpable, particularly in some of the exchanges between Roxy and Karl, where both of the junior military officers come across as rather jaded and cynical.
Roxy is more than that, though. Across the story, we see many sides of her personality. She can be fun-loving at times, while at others she demonstrates a deep sense of camaraderie with and loyalty to her colleagues on the space station, the only two people she’s been able to have a conversation with in real time for several years. When she’s contemplating what happened on the Moon over a decade earlier, we see a reflective and serious side to her private thoughts, even if she’s careful to hide these from external view. All in all, Roxy is a fully realised character who brings real heart and soul to the centre of this short book.
‘My Mother Murdered The Moon’ is an extremely effective story and an excellent example of hard Science Fiction told at novella-length. Highly recommended.
(pub: Newcon Press. 99 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-914953-13-2)
check out websites: www.newconpress.co.uk and www.stephendeas.com