Book Review of Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald

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I started reading Luna: New Moon, by Ian McDonald, thinking, well, lets see. I kept reading it, thinking, where is he going with this? Really? I don’t know how I feel about this book. Then I looked at the clock and I realized it was 2:17 am. I wasn’t showing any signs of putting Luna: New Moon down, despite feeling conflicted about it.

Here’s the gist: people are living on the moon. I don’t say colonizing because that implies an element of transformation to the moon that just doesn’t happen; the moon is as she ever was, a harsh environment surrounded by unforgiving vacuum. Five family dynasties, called Dragons, control the vital resources on the moon, and act as a sort of ruling class, if you can say that an essentially lawless place has a ruling class. These dynasties are the strings on every puppet on the moon, and when they tangle, it tends to be disastrous. McDonald gives you some history on how the fifth Dragon, Corta Helio, was established, and delivers that story through flashbacks from the aging and failing matriarch, Adriana Corta. There’s an undercurrent from the start that screams familial civil war as we wait to see who will be the new head of Corta Helio. Pressures from within the family are only exacerbated by the constant testing of the other four Dragons, as they seek to expose and exploit both weakness and opportunity.

There’s another aspect that both enables and complicates this delicate Dragon balance. The law on the moon is almost no law at all. What law there is is simply contract law, and if you find yourself in breach of contract, you can face trial by combat. You make your own deals on the moon. Those are the rules by which you find yourself bound. Not surprisingly for lawyers everywhere reading this book, that means that your very breath is governed by a contract, and you owe your air and existence to someone else, namely, one of the five Dragons. Living by contract law also means that if you can contract for it, it’s yours. Since there are no society-wide laws to interfere, you can pretty much contract for anything. It leads to an interesting duality; it’s a feudal, highly controlled society, but it’s also tolerant and accepting of all the various spices of life.

Speaking of being open to all the spices of life, I think you should walk into the book forewarned. McDonald doesn’t shy away from sex, not from having his characters participate in it, think about having it, remember having it, and certainly not from describing it. There’s plenty of sex, and plenty of detail. It’s not without purpose; it’s used to show the evolution and development of the characters and lunar society. As an example, there’s this particular scene with Adriana Corta’s granddaughter, and it goes on for pages, but during the entire scene, I just kept thinking, of course this is happening this way. Although I can’t call it a character revelation, I can call it a confirmation of everything I ever suspected about her. It even had me laughing.

UK Cover of Luna: New Moon, by Ian McDonald (image taken from publisher's website)

UK Cover of Luna: New Moon, by Ian McDonald (image taken from publisher’s website)

The cast of characters is best described as many and sundry. We focus mostly on the Corta family, which is a huge cast in itself. There are many other key players from other the other lunar families, and other members of the general lunar public. You do quite a bit of bouncing around between perspectives and story lines. This jostling makes it difficult to get invested in the characters, which is a huge part of my conflicted feelings about Luna: New Moon. For a long time, I just didn’t care about pretty much all of the Corta family.

There are a few other things that almost led to me putting the book down. One was a scene that involved one of the heads of a Dragon keeping a harem of teenage boys for his sexual use. It’s important to the plot, but, ugh. It made me angry just reading it. The editing throughout the book also frustrated me. There are typo-type errors and grammar problems that the editor should have caught, but they slipped through. It happened just often enough to jerk me out of the universe that McDonald had created, instead of letting me immerse myself in it and believe it. There’s also this bit of story line that seems to be the moon equivalent of a werewolf—McDonald has created a subset of those living on the moon whose body chemistry actually responds to the phases of the earth. In comparison to everything else in this book, this storyline just kind of hangs out there. It was another thing which annoyed me, but in retrospect, I can see that it’s going to tie in to the second and last book, Luna: Wolf Moon.

So there you have it: a Machiavellian world focused on its denizens living through major upheaval. McDonald also writes in some excellent acknowledgement of the science involved in living on the moon, such as how low gravity and vacuum eventually impact you. This dangerous environment and all the old grudges and betrayals combine to create a vortex that threatens to suck down not only the Corta Helio Dragon, but lunar society. I enjoyed the book enough to be seriously annoyed that it was over just when everything was (figuratively) heating up. Actually, that sums up my feelings about Luna: New Moon pretty well: annoyed enjoyment.

 

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Katie