Orbit | 2018 (25 October) | 464p | Review copy | Buy the book
It is the mid 21st century and the Moon has been colonised. Although individual nations are not allowed to ‘own’ territories on the Moon, China has made the south pole its own while a much smaller American colony has settled at the north pole. This lunar divide is reflected on Earth as relations between these two superpowers grow increasingly tense. Both countries also have their own problems. China is facing a rebellion, its billion poorest people are finding their voice while its most senior ministers compete for supreme leadership, while America is in the grip of a financial crisis, fed, it is suspected, by China.
The Moon seems such a long way away from the troubles on Earth but it really isn’t. Three people in particular are about to find this out – Fred Fredericks, who is there to install a new communications device in the Chinese colony; Chan Qi, the heavily pregnant daughter of one of China’s most important ministers and also an activist; Ta Shu, a celebrity travel reporter who discovers that befriending Fred on their arrival to this new and strange place might be something he’ll live to regret. After Fred witnesses a murder on the Moon, for which he is suspected, it’s not long before all three are on the run, across the Moon and in China – pawns in power struggles beyond their control. Chan Qi might have more power, though, that she’s been given credit for.
A new novel by Kim Stanley Robinson is always such a cause for excitement and I was thrilled to read Red Moon. Each of his stand alone novels are so different, their vision is enormous, not just for the future of our planet but also for our neighbours in the solar system. Politics also usually plays its role, as it does here, as Kim Stanley Robinson turns his attention to the Moon in our near and possible future.
The story is built around the murder that Fred witnesses at the beginning of the book but the novel is about so much more than that. It essentially tells the tale of journeys, for Fred and Chen Qi and for Ta Shu, and along the way, while running from peril to peril, each will take some time to reflect on the philosophical, social and political state of the world around them, their hopes for its future, and the differences between East and West. They must also contend with personal worries, not least of which is Chen Qi’s pregnancy and Fred’s developing feelings for this young, charismatic woman.
The novel moves between the Moon and Earth with poor Ta Shu in particular making frequent trips between the two. But, for me, the very best bits of Red Moon are those set on the wonderfully described Moon. I loved the descriptions of some of its unusual habitats built into its enormous lava tunnels and caves. You must discover these for yourself as I love the joy with which they’re painted for us.
I did find some of the lengthy exchanges between Fred and Chen Qi a little too wearying. There are times when they go on and on and everything stops around them until they’re suddenly warned that they must move on immediately if they’re to escape the latest attack on them. So at times the novel felt like moments of intense action with very weighty sections of quite dispassionate discussion in between. This did make it quite difficult for me to warm to Chen Qi and Fred, while I had no such trouble with Ta Shu, I would also have liked much more of American agent Valerie Tong – her thread of the story was a favourite of mine. Other characters who come and go throughout the book are the mysterious ‘analyst’ and the AI that he’s developing under cover of the all-seeing Great Eyeball of the Chinese government. There is so much here that intrigues and could fill countless extra pages.
Kim Stanley Robinson’s novels always make me think while making me feel wonder at some of the places and worlds they describe. They are ambitious, at times challenging, and hugely intriguing, with something to say, and Red Moon is all of that, plus some fantastic visions of the Moon’s habitats in which, for a time, one can escape the worries of the outside world. And, just like all of Kim Stanley Robinson’s books, what a brilliant cover!