Having taken time out to do the wonderful Everness series of YA novels, Ian McDonald has returned to adult novels with Luna: New Moon. The title is, I think, intended to indicate that the book is the first in the Luna series, of which more later.
I guess the Luna series will probably get described as Ian’s take on the near-future, solar-system-based SF that has been produced recently by the likes of Paul McAuley, Kim Stanley Robinson and Alastair Reynolds. It many ways it is. It is also a classic Family Saga novel. But it is also very much a book about now.
New Moon is set towards the end of the 21st Century. The Moon has been settled for some time, and that settlement is largely industrial. Lunar society is dominated by five major industrial families known as the Five Dragons. They are the MacKenzies (Australian), Cortas (Brazilian), Suns (Chinese), Vorontsovs (Russian) and Asamoahs (Ghanaian). Each has an effective monopoly of one aspect of the lunar economy. Their rivalry is often intense, and the Moon seems to have more in common with the Wild West than any other Earth analogue.
In theory the Luna Development Company (LDC), loosely modelled on the British Empire’s East India Company, is a government of sorts. Certainly they have control over the price of water, air and so on, which gives them a lot of power. But there are no laws beyond what your legal team can argue in the Court of Clavius. The Moon is very much a Capitalist Oligarchy.
Many of the fashion choices that McDonald makes for his characters in the book seem to hark back to the oil business-based soap operas of the 1980s, and to Mad Men. On his recent Coode Street appearance McDonald admits that the book was inspired in part by JR Ewing and his fractious family. Each of the five great Luna families hopes to establish a dynasty. A die-nasty, as our American friends pronounce it. And believe me you can die more quickly and more nastily on the Moon than anywhere else, except perhaps in space. McDonald pulls no punches when it comes to the very real problems of living in such a dangerous and unforgiving environment, but equally the underground habitats that the Moon people build for themselves are spectacular.
Of particular note is that once you become a Moonie, you are always a Moonie. Human bodies do adapt to living in lunar gravity, but after around two years those adaptations have become so extreme that going back to Earth will kill you. New potential immigrants are keenly aware of this. Equally the lunar people, particularly those born there, feel less and less connection to Mother Earth.
The story focuses on the Corta family. It is headed by Adriana, who, as a young engineer working for MacKenzie Metals, realized that the Moon harboured valuable deposits of Helium 3 which were going to waste. Quitting her job with MacKenzie, she set up her own business and soon cornered the market in supplying the burgeoning fusion industry back on Earth. The MacKenzies have never forgiven her.
Adriana has five children. Rafa, the eldest, is set to inherit, but is foolish and prone to angry rages. Lucas, the second son, is much smarter, and an incorrigible schemer. Ariel, the family’s daughter, is the smartest of the brood. She has opted out of the family drama and is now the top lawyer in the Court of Clavius. Carlinhos, named after his dead father, knows he has no great future in the business, so he has thrown himself into engineering, specialising in dangerous surface work. And then there is Wagner who is, well, we don’t talk about Wagner.
The other Corta who features prominently in the book is Lucasinho, Lucas’s teenage son. He’s a second generation native Moonie, part of the developing native culture. He’s also a rich and privileged teenage boy, with all that implies.
Amongst the Moon people, bisexuality is commonplace. Lucasinho doesn’t care who he sleeps with as long as the sex is good. He doesn’t care much what he wears as long as he looks smoking hot, and as a teenage boy that can often mean a pretty dress and lots of makeup.
The rest of the night is spent making Lucasinho Corta over. Lucasinho giggles as the girls strip him but he’s vain enough to enjoy the exposure.
You see, it’s not about who you do.
You’re so bi, so spectrum, so normal.
It’s about who you are.
What you are.
Ariel is a control freak. There’s no way she’d let anyone else close enough to her to have sex. That doesn’t mean she’s frigid. She is a keen autosexual, and has the best collection of sex toys on the Moon.
The chair of the LDC is gay, and married to one of the Mackenzie men. One of the minor characters is a banker who is non-binary.
And then there is Wagner, whom we don’t talk about, at least in part because Wagner is Otherkin. Wagner is a wolf.
Amal has embraced the culture of the two selves more fully than Wagner and has taken the Alter pronoun. Why should pronouns only be about gender? Né says. Né pulls Wagner to ner, bites his lower lip, tugs with enough force to cause pain and assert ner authority. Né is pack leader.
Ian perhaps thought that his white, straight cis readers needed an anchor in all this. Therefore there is Marina Calzaghe — a Norte, someone from North America — a newly arrived engineer who gets a job with the Cortas and acts as our introduction to lunar society. Mostly, however, there is plenty of ethnic, sexual and gender diversity on the Moon.
That doesn’t mean that macho nonsense has gone away. Rafa, Lucas, Carlinhos: they are all Brazilian men. They have honor. They have family. Robert MacKenzie was born in Australia. He’s a miner, a hard man. And he has been made a fool of by a Brazilian woman.
Ultimately New Moon is not a book about dynastic rivalry; it is a book about survival in the most inhospitable place that humans have ever tried to make their home. There is no more new frontier, except perhaps the vastness of space. The people of the Moon can’t even go “home”, because the Earth is closed to them. They really do have to make it here. The question is, can they?
New Moon is a book about climate change denial, a book about resource wars, a book about people who would rather destroy what they have than let anyone else have a piece of it. On the Moon, the consequences of such behavior are so very much more stark.
On Coode Street McDonald talked about how the book is in conversation with Margaret Thatcher. She famously once said that there is no such thing as society. On the Moon no one cares about society; they care only about themselves and their families. The consequences of this are far more severe in the more dangerous environment, but the same lessons apply everywhere.
It is no accident that the Australian oligarch has the initials RM.
Content warning: the end of New Moon is deeply depressing. There will, however, be at least one sequel, possibly two. Folks at Gollancz have apparently taken to calling the series A Game of Domes, but I trust Ian not to get that badly side-tracked by his characters.
I am less sanguine about the news that CBS paid a lot of money at auction for the right to make a TV series from the books. I’m delighted for Ian, of course. That should keep him writing for a few years to come. But the series really needs to be on Netflix where the queerness of the characters won’t be an issue, not on broadcast TV where it is likely to be turned into heteronormative and misogynist porn. Read the books now, before fandom starts to hate on Ian for what the TV people have done to his work.
Between the grandeur of the lunar habitats, the unforgiving nature of the surface environment, the joyously genderqueer nature of lunar society, and the thoughtless brutality of the ruling oligarchs, New Moon is one hell of a science fiction novel. It is well worth reading, and has plenty in it to keep you thinking long after you have done so.
For more information about Ian McDonald, see the SF Encyclopedia.
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