Time for me to start another trilogy, because I have all the books here. It began in 2015 with this book, 'New Moon', continued on with 'Wolf Moon' and wrapped up this year with 'Moon Rising'. Having finished the first third of the trilogy and promptly imagining the same elevator pitch as everyone else, I'm eager to continue on with the other two thirds and to see the potential TV show that may or may not arise, given that it was optioned before this was even released.
That elevator pitch? "Game of Thrones in space." Or, as author Ian McDonald pithily puts it, "Game of Domes". We're on a 22nd-century Moon that's deeply imagined, where work is hard and life is cheap. The basics (water, oxygen, carbon and data, together known as the "four elementals") are not free and, if you can't afford them, they're cut off with often fatal results. What's worse, they're metered on everyone's eyeball through implanted chibs, so a downward fall is never out of sight. If you're there, you have to work and that means going to one of the five Dragons, or family business clans that, between them, run close to everything.
What all that means is that we're in a sort of Wild West, even if the really wild days are over and things have settled down somewhat. The only law that the Moon has is contract law, so most things become possible with the right lawyer and the right contract. The patriarchs and matriarchs are made out of pure will and they're not going to give an inch willingly. It's hardly much of a stretch to imagine the sort of lethal intrigue to which Game of Thrones has now conditioned us, even with a central governing body called the Lunar Development Corporation.
The Dragon we focus on most is the Corta family, Brazilian in origin and the result of Adriana Corta making good on a realisation that helium-3, seen as an unwanted byproduct of lunar mining, is going to be massively important. A frequently repeated note is that much of the Earth is lit by what the Cortas send down from the Moon.
While McDonald does a great deal of worldbuilding here, conjuring up a weird mix of subcultures that combine to be something uniquely lunar, he doesn't skip on plot. In fact, there's plotting everywhere, to take over what's now someone else's and to keep what you have even though others plan to take it. The Cortas built their industry out of what the Mackenzies threw away, so it would be fair to say that there's no love lost between them.
And that's even though Robson Mackenzie is the son of both. Hey, you didn't expect dynastic inter-marriage? He's the son of Rafa Corta, eldest son and heir to the Corta Hélio business, and Rachel Mackenzie, daughter of Duncan Mackenzie, CEO of Mackenzie Metals. While he's hardly the character we read most about, he's a sort of MacGuffin and what happens to him triggers a heck of a lot more than we might expect. No, I won't spoil just how much.
Let me merely set the scene by pointing out that unknown persons attempt to assassinate Rafa at a Corta party. They fail but the immediate result is for Rachel to take young Robson back home to the Mackenzies, where he's promptly married off to an older man. Rachel isn't having it and what happens next is enough to make Rafa Corta and Duncan Mackenzie both furious.
The plotting is great and, especially given the actions taken at the end of this book, I can't wait to see how things will unfold in the next two. The characters are a varied lot because, as with Game of Thrones, many of them aren't remotely sympathetic. That puts us in the strange position where the Moon is all about family but we find that we care about individuals far more than any of the five Dragons. Of course, there's an easy clan to hate, whose motto is "Mackenzies pay back three times."
What I liked most was the worldbuilding. Taking disparate nationalities and merging their cultures, languages and customs into something new that's the foundation of a new nationality, that of the Moon, is hardly a new idea. My favourite science fiction novel of all time, Robert A. Heinlein's 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress', did exactly that, even being written in a language of multiple sources.
But that's not a new book and 'New Moon' is. It goes to places that Heinlein couldn't back in 1966 and benefits from coming after cyberpunk and the rapid globalisation of culture generated by the advent of the internet. McDonald has a keen eye for culture and an imaginative approach to implementing that into his Moon. There's a perpetual running church that lives off adrenaline; a 10km long train that never stops; and Moon running, brief naked sprints on the surface, is a rite of passage.
Everyone has a familiar, a sort of digital personal assistant that floats in their environs and is skinned to reflect mood. Everyone with broad resources has a personal indulgence: a handball court (and professional team), mobile greenhouse or impeccably designed acoustic room for private music concerts. The native language, Luna Globo, doesn't have any words to express a sexual preference, so this gets kinky. Youths aren't used to writing and they have trouble grasping the concept of Lucasinho Corta's paper money.
Perhaps my favourite subcultural touch is the narco-DJ who "mixes and prints custom highs and moods and loves into juice for a battery of vapers". Raves are wild because you don't know what mood you're going to inhale just being there. I also like the general concept that everything's weird and cultural but it's not all sourced from the Japanese.
The Dragons are not from the countries we might expect. The Mackenzies, the oldest of the clans, are Australian and of Scottish descent; they built and run the mining industry that underpins the entire economy. The Cortas, the youngest clan, are Brazilian. The Suns are Chinese and develop the tech. The Vorontsovs are Russian and handle the transportation, which in zero gravity changes them in interesting ways. And the Asamaohs, who take care of food by running a massive agricultural industry below the Moon's surface, hail from Ghana. They've interbred through necessity and for political expediency and the result is a fascinating cultural mix.
What's perhaps most telling is that I've hardly scratched the surface here. A lot of major writers have been effusive with their praise for this and I'm not going to go against them. The worst thing I can say is that there are a few points where McDonald's style takes over from the substance but when the substance is so broad and so deep, that's hardly a problem. This is a recent must. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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