Noble House set on the moon, Game of Thrones in zero gravity, Dallas in Space, the lunar Sopranos – Ian McDonald’s exceptional novel Luna: New Moon has been described as all these things.
Brilliantly, it is indeed a lot like all these things ...
McDonald’s moon is a uniquely different and dangerous environment, dangerous on the surface and dangerous in the board room, dangerous everywhere. Life is cheap, and everything it seems can be bartered or stolen away.
At one end of society are those struggling to survive as the air prices for the very oxygen they breathe fluctuate madly, and at the other, the super rich five families – The Dragons – who run the whole show. The Dragons are locked in intrigue and betrayal, battling each other to the death for the mineral riches that have driven humanity to this desperate outpost of extreme temperatures, dust and low gravity. The people of the middle, it seems, on the moon are no more.
When the lunar harshness strikes in this book – as it frequently does – it is shocking. There are some standout scenes on the moon’s desolate surface, but also in the pressurised cityscapes where the environment rules out bullets, but promotes the cold darkness of “knives, bludgeons, garottes, subtle machines and slow poisons … Wars are small and eyeball close.” The permanent high risk atmosphere calls to mind that hugely underrated Sean Connery 1980s Sci-Fi classic Outland (High Noon in space, of course!) which has that same constancy of threat.
Mind you, the fantastic beauty of this incredible environment is captured too, with one set-piece moment as a central character views the “half earth” from her out-of-this-world working environment, where she “can track the swirl of ocean storms, drawn into the bowl of the Caribbean.” In fact, Luna begins to truly excel as the links with earth, and a past earth, become closer, and the emotional push and pull at work in so many of the characters is explained.
Character-wise, this is a book – and a series – with such scope, that there’s a needs-must cast list at the beginning. And while it can seem bewildering at the start, as the players from each of the families slip past, and you stay with it, the blend takes flavour. Before long, you understand the dynasties (Dynasty on the moon?) and the story becomes the fierce centre. The American TV network CBS bought the rights to the Luna series before it was even published, and that’s easy to understand. The outrageous environment, the fabulous costumes and homes of the Dragons, the intricate twisting ambitions (and cool martinis) – it all makes for great TV if they get it right. Importantly, despite the initially difficult network of dramatis personae to negotiate, these incredible people of the incredible moon are in the end very believable – darkly and bloodily believable.
So, Luna: New Moon is obviously a lot more than all our Box Set comparisons might suggest, no matter how much fun they are to make. For starters, it’s incredibly well conceived and written, and a very believable and brutal take on how moon life might be, with a serious view on how big business – like in Blade Runner, Alien, Terminator – will be the grim overlord of us all, no matter what planet, what frontier – and how the march of technological progress may very well be right over the bones of most of humanity. Captain Kirk would land on this Luna and be concerned. He’d fall in love first, of course, but then he’d be concerned.
And also, and this becomes really noticeable around about chapter three, Luna has some properly serious extra gears, which is a undervalued delight in bigger tales. While the opening is, admittedly, sometimes a bewildering initiation and seems a tiny bit Phantom-Menace-Trade-Debate for this reader, it does not take long before the narrative gives this trick a swift kick and takes an intense grip. We have a trip to the earth of history and a trip to the moon’s surface of now about a third in, and somehow during the juxtaposition of these extremes, the book just takes off like the ferocious transports of the novel.
Although seasoned Science Fiction fans may be most at ease initially with the style and sweep of a complex civilisation and the scientific and techy leaps and darts, Luna is very highly recommended and may well be a next big thing.