Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson
I would like to thank Nazia from Orbit for sending me an advance copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review
Publisher – Orbit
Price - £18.99 hardcover
Its thirty years from now, and we have colonised the moon.
American Fred Fredericks is making his first trip, his purpose to install a communications system for the Chinese Lunar Authority. But hours after his arrival, he witnesses a murder and is forced into hiding.
It is also the first visit for celebrity travel reporter Ta Shu. He has contacts and influence, but he too will find the moon can be a perilous place for any traveller.
Finally, there is Chan Qi. She is the daughter of the minister of finance, and without doubt a person of interest to those in power. She is on the moon for reasons of her own, but when she attempts to return to China, in secret, the events that unfold will change everything – on the moon, and on Earth.
Kim Stanley Robinson is rightly considered a giant in current science fiction from his ground-breaking Mars trilogy to his more recent environmental books such as 2312. He is very interested in looking at how the science of now can be adapted and the impact it will have on humanity plus where it could limit our growth as well. In this novel; in which looks to be a new potential sequence of books, he brings his love of science, his eye for our cultures and its current political issues (including those of China) and mixes it with our satellite the Moon to give us a new glimpse of what may come to pass.
So, the good news is that in 2048 we are still here but the centre is not holding. In the US people are rejecting capitalism and an economic crash is potentially on the cards. In the other superpower of China, it is time for a new President to be chosen and infighting between the potential candidates is fierce while ‘the billion’ all those workers from around China without any real representation are starting to gain their own political momentum. The strong feeling comes across that we are reaching a global tipping point and unusually it’s a small base on the Moon that provides that final adjustment to the balance. Fred Frederick is in the process of dropping off a quantum phone when he finds himself under suspicion of the assassination of a local politician and at the same time finds himself stuck with the pregnant daughter of one of the presidential candidates. They soon find themselves on the run and the chase moves across earth and the moon several times.
I’m going to get my biggest issue with the story out of the way first - the characters of Fred and Qi and the political thriller they find themselves in s probably the weakest part of the book. Fred is portrayed as autistic and ignorant of Chinese politics while Qi (who we find out is the quasi-leader of the billion) comes across as a sullen and reserved politician in the making. A good quarter of the book is these two on the run and in the process swapping a lot of information on the history of Chinese politics and quantum computing. While the information was always interesting it never felt like a natural dialogue and more that the reader needed to know key plot points. Very little real character emerged, and I struggled to see Qi as the future leader of a revolution. Scenes of capture or release would often materialise off screen and ultimately, I never felt invested into these two’s survival and the thriller often lacked actual thrills. Happily the book gives a lot more to chew on.
Firstly, the colonised Moon of the future. If you consider that most of our mental images are the grainy pics of the Apollo Mission, we seem to have lost our vision of what the Moon is actually like now multiple unmanned missions have been there. Robinson really gives you a feel for the spectacle of the place with huge craters, ice mines and a landscape were rocks are weathered not by air but by moonlight. On top of this we have lunar life where the bases are now starting humanity’s preparation for further adventures like Venus and beyond. A completely artificial world but where animals can be seen and in one dazzling scene an opera sung by the people in a vast aerial landscape - it feels the start of something new although noted a lot of the inhabitants appear to be the very rich. A very different character in the form of Ta Shu is for me the heart and conscience of the book. A man who has lived through the 21st century and strives to look for the beauty in it but also assessing the flaws in the society. He acts as a bridge between Qi and Fred and the various forces coalescing in China. His scenes feel more natural explaining China’s history and culture and when he is centre stage the story really flows.
The last half of the book moves a little beyond a simple thriller and moves into a bigger scale review of 21st century culture with a sense that capitalism and the type of representational democracy/or dictatorship we’ve used so far has run their course. This leads the question as to what is next? Watching a new Chinese revolution despite the Great Firewall and in the 21st century it’s prototype surveillance AI Little Eyeball seems a daunting and scary prospect, but Robinson portrays a way past these barriers; not everyone in the system believes it will carry on and importantly technology brings about ways that a critical mass of people can act together. These ideas are fascinating, and I hope explored further in future books. Annoyingly a few times there are several scenes of revolution being relayed between characters from a distance, so we don’t really get enough of a handle on the scale of the change at the coalface back on earth.
So overall, I think this is an intriguing read if you are interested in the ideas of where politics and economics are heading or a discussion of what our lunar satellite now has to offer; the political thriller element is probably it’s least successful thread but overall enough balance to recommend it to SG fans. Hopefully now that the groundwork of this universe has been built in a future novel we may get even more sight of what Earth’s potential can truly be.