Luna: New Moon
by Ian McDonald
Cover Artist: Victor Mosquera
Review by Benjamin Wald
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765375513
Date: 22 September 2015 List Price $27.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
In Luna: New Moon, Ian McDonald has pulled off an impressive trick. He has taken one of the oldest SF settings, the moon colony, and he has made it fresh, relevant, and vibrant. It is easy for a story like this to feel old-fashioned and musty, too much in dialogue with SF's own past to feel like a real future. But, while McDonald's moon colony is unmistakably in dialogue with previous stories of the moon, especially Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, it never feels shackled to the past.
The story focuses on the Corta family. The Cortas are one of the five dragons, five powerful industrial families that dominate the economy and social life of the moon. The Cortas are the newest of the five dragons, and make their fortune prospecting for helium-3 which powers the fusion reactors that provide most of earth's power. This puts them in competition with the McKenzies, an Australian family of minors who specialize in rare earth metals and who see helium-3 mining as their natural demesne.
The story follows many characters connected to the Cortas, including the aging Matriarch of the family who founded the company, the squabbling second generation who run it now, and some of the third generation youngsters who stand to inherit it in time. We also get an outsider perspective in Marina, a "Joe Moonbeam" recently arrived from earth, for whom both the moon and the Cortas are strange and new. It does at times become a bit difficult to keep track of this sprawling cast and their various children, wives, enemies, and allies, especially at first. There is a handy character list at the beginning, and each character has a distinct voice and outlook that helps to keep track of whose who, so that by the middle of the book it all falls into place.
One of McDonald's strengths as an author has always been his ability to breathe life into a futuristic setting. In novels like River of Gods and The Dervish House he imagined the future of India and Turkey respectively, and the vividness and color with which he painted them made the settings come to life. Here he has pulled the same trick on a place that doesn't yet exist. The moon is emphatically not America in space. The five dragons come from Brazil, Ghana, Asia and more, and McDonald sprinkles the moon's slang with words borrowed from other languages, which really makes it feel like a true melange of cultures. But the moon is not just earth societies mixed together either, McDonald gives it a culture all its own.
On the moon, there is no criminal or civil law, only contract law. Everything is negotiable, even life and death. To live, you must be able to pay for the "four elements"--air, water, carbon, and data. To be destitute is not just to live hand to mouth, but breath to breath, working to be able to afford the very air you breath. And always, the moon is waiting to kill you, whether by blowouts or by lethal radiation. These pressures shape a lunar society that is distinctive, fascinating, and convincing.
This is the first novel of a duology, and by the end, the plot ramps up and left me breathless for the sequel. McDonald is consistently one of the most interesting SF authors writing today, and Luna: New Moon is no exception. I expect to see this on many award lists, and I highly recommend it.