This book was provided by the publisher at no cost.
Over on Goodreads, Jonathan Strahan describes it “basically The Moon is a Very, Very Harsh Mistress” which… yes. (Also makes me curious to back it up with the Heinlein….)
The short version: this is magnificent, occasionally vicious lunar science fiction, with a fascinating society, varied and variable characters, and unexpected plot twists. HIGHLY recommended. I want to read more like this.
“A new way to live, a thousand ways to die” – the book’s tagline – is about right. It’s the moon, so the environment itself could kill you pretty easily: your habitat depressurises and the vacuum kills you; you suck too much radiation, or get too much dust into your lungs; there’s a moonquake and things break… and if you’re an immigrant and stay past your moonday, you can’t go home because the gravity on Earth will kill you.
And those are just the natural hazards.
The 1.5 million people on the moon aren’t really governed, as such. There aren’t laws; there’s contracts. Not police as such, but lots of lawyers. Society is controlled by the Lunar Development Corporation, thanks to an Earth remit; their head is called the Eagle of the Moon. The four leading companies under the LDC are known as the Four Dragons, and they’re all family-controlled businesses: Suns (Chinese), Mackenzies (Australians!), Vorontsovs (Russian) and Asamoahs (Ghanaians). And then there’s Corta Helio, originally from Brazil, sometimes regarded as upstarts, sometimes regarded as the Fifth Dragon, and the focus of the novel.
I’m not sure whether making business based on family automatically makes it more cut-throat, but it’s certainly the consequence here. Because moving in on someone’s territory isn’t just threatening profit, it might be threatening family. It turns these businesses into mini-kingdoms, such that dynastic marriages become important all over again. And when things get vicious, they get really vicious.
This is a vicious novel. There are deaths – deliberate and accidental; there is backstabbing and sabotage and espionage, betrayal and deceit, and much woe. Of course there’s also joy and discovery and life, but I rather feel that they’re overshadowed by the brutality of life. That brutality is a fact of life as soon as you arrive, or are born: you’re fitted with a chib, a pane in the corner of your eye that shows how much you’re spending on the Four Essentials: water, air, data, and carbon. Yes, you pay for all of them; after all, this isn’t a free world. It’s a corporation. And if you can’t pay, you don’t breathe. Almost makes James SA Corey’s vision of inhabited asteroids seem socialist by comparison.
The Cortas are the focus of the story; the point of view skips between a number of them (and one hanger-on, Marina). From the 80-year-old matriarch to her youngest granddaughter, and a number of members of the family in between, they provide a range of views on events and people. Privileged, yes, since these are people who don’t need to worry about their chib counting down – but that’s the story that’s being told here. I did appreciate Marina, a new migrant who provides a much-appreciated outsider’s view, as a counterpoint. The Cortas (Portuguese for ‘cut’, apparently) have made their wealth from helium-3, which Earth uses as fuel basically in lieu of oil. Adriana, who set up the business, provides some of the backstory by way of a ‘confession’, which I really liked as a storytelling device; it’s still an info-dump that narratively it makes sense, and there’s a lot of character development within it too. Her children are variously estranged, greedy for power, oblivious, or seeking to live their own life away from the business. Her grandchildren are living the result of a generation of profit: an exceptionally privileged life, but also bargaining chips for the dynasty. I’m not sure I especially liked any of them that much… or, I would warm to one, and then they’d go and do something repulsive or ruthless or alien, and I’d be left thinking “how could you do that?”, and it hurt. Which I guess means I did grow attached. Certainly by the end of the novel I was attached.
The last thing that should be mentioned as fascinating about this novel is the language. It’s a good thing McDonald provides a glossary, because he’s made a good effort to create a world where 21st-century-English is not simply the default. The families speak their respective native tongues; “Globo” is I think based on English, although now that I reflect on it I think that’s just my assumption; at any rate, McDonald says “the vocabulary cheerfully borrows words from Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, Yoruba, Spanish, Arabic, Akan.” As it ought. At the start I struggled to get into the rhythm of it, but – as with any novel where there’s new words, whether they’re made up (Elvish), technical (engineering), or multilingual – I just got used to it after a while. And of course, it makes sense that that’s what a language would be like. I love that McDonald is making the effort to imagine a genuinely multicultural future (given his previous books this doesn’t surprise me).
I understand this is the first in a duology. By golly I hope so.
You can get Luna: New Moon from Fishpond.