Lunar science fiction reviews

In honor of the over 2100 views so far, next up is:

“Apollo 21” by Frank Hogan

Full disclosure: The author is a fellow International Space University alumnus and sent me an autographed copy for review.

Published in 2006 by Lulu, it weighs in at 197 pages of story, plus some addenda that flesh out the alternate setting invoked in the book.

In the earliest days of the space program a seed is sown that will unravel the last mission to the Moon in a horror of loss unlike any experienced before in the space program. In between are harrowing Moon missions that test the limits of human capability and courage. There’s a plucky and intrepid journalist on the scent of a story that could shake NASA to its core. There’s betrayal, cover-ups, conspiracy, and bad behavior at NASA (oh, like that ever happens…).

This is an interesting murder/conspiracy mystery set in an alternative Apollo program universe that flew through 21. The author has gone to great lengths to lay out the alternate history to help flesh out the characters, and has certainly done some homework on Apollo procedures. The story is laid out in a timeline pattern to help keep track of the action overlapping on the Moon and on Earth. The murders are deviously planned, though often come at great shock, and are rather wrenching in the context of the story. I thought the rendering of the German accent of one of the characters was a bit much (seemed a bit more like Dutch to me), but that’s just me.

I’ll give this one a waning half Moon.

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“Farside Cannon” by Roger MacBride Allen

Published in 1988 by Baen Books, it weighs in at 406 pages.Not too many errors.

Garrison Morrow is a geologist on an expedition in Hrisey, Iceland. He’s exploring a theory he has about the formation of Iceland in regards to the KT impactor some 65 million years ago (influenced by the real work of the Alvareses, pere et fils, in the late 80s). His theory is that the impactor buried itself north of Iceland, and he soon finds the proof he needs. Others, however, have their own agendas, and seek to sabotage the expedition and discredit his work.

It all seems to tie back somehow to an asteroid, Cornucopia, and the efforts of LuTech (Lucifer Technologies) to park the asteroid in LEO for mining purposes. It’s clearly a dangerous situation for an object kilometers across to be parked so close to the Earth, and schemes are launched to stop that from happening. These intersect with schemes for Solar system domination of the Settler colonies that have begun to spring up around the Solar system, providing raw materials and other goods to an overburdened Earth. The UN is once again the bad guy, this time in the form of the UN Lunar Administration Council (UNLAC) and their pathetically incompetent governor Neruda.

Garrison ends up discredited and banished to the far side of the Moon to the astronomical base at Daedelus crater (5.9S, 179.4E). There, he takes advantage of the decision to construct a laser-relay station to increase the final number of lasers emplaced just a bit to create an array capable (hopefully) of dealing with the asteroid. Little does he know the crisis that having such a weapon potentially available to the forces from Earth will have on Settler/Terran trade and diplomatic relations. The test of the array sets off riots, and a military response that further gums up the whole situation.

The book explores a number of interesting concepts, especially regarding big rocks from space and their negative effects on Earth. The idea of a large array laser array where each element is manufactured as a fully self-contained unit, over and over again thousands of times, is compelling in some ways as a defense mechanism. There’s some icky vacuum deaths, some nukes fired at the Moon, betrayal and deceit, the bumbling Lunar governor, and a new Lunar republic mid-wifed by the governor’s ultra-capable assistant.

I’ll give this one a half Moon.

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“Millenium” by Ben Bova.

Published in 1977 by Ballantine Books, it weighs in at 294 pages. A fair amount of errors spread throughout. Probably rushed to press.

Back before Ben Bova wrote Moonrise and Moonwar he had a series of Moon-related stories regarding on Chester Arthur (Chet) Kinsman, a Colonel in the U.S. military and highest ranking American officer at Moonbase. The American facilities coincidently finds itself right next door to Lunagrad, the Russian facility, in the Sea of Clouds (Mare Nubium) near the crater Alphonsus (13.7S, 3.2W). The Russian commander is Colonel Leonov, a longtime professional friend of Kinsman’s.

Everything works hunky-dory at Moonbase because there people can be free to achieve what’s best in themselves, in science, engineering, medicine, what have you. Kinsman is such a wise and benevolent ruler that the entire staff sacrifices several kilos apiece to have a baby grand piano shipped up to the Moon base for his birthday. It is the last month of 1999.

Things aren’t so copacetic on Earth. The U.S. and Russia each work to complete a space-based ABM network to neutralize the other’s nuclear arsenal (remember, this is being written in 1977, a not very warm time in international relations, though with a glimmer of hope in the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project), while sabotaging the efforts of their opponents. It’s an economic strain that has both nations teetering on the edge of collapse. The militaries of both sides rest on a hair trigger, and the U.S. starts getting concerned about the goody-goody hippie Moon base being taken over by the Russians (They’re even smoking pot up there!). Send in Franklin Colt, an All-American military guy with a racial-persecution complex. When the chips are down, he’s expected to ensure that Kinsman doesn’t do anything treasonous.

What Kinsman has planned is beyond treason. He wants peace on Earth, and will go to any length to make it happen. The plot he hatches is simple, yet the false eve of the millenium (just like we actually celebrated) finds humanity balanced on a knife’s edge.

There are parts of the book that are definitely pulse-quickening, and the plot is interesting to reflect on in the aftermath of the first cold war. Kinsman is a figure in a number of early Bova space stories, including one in which he commits the first killing in space, of a woman cosmonaut (which scars him for life and is the seed of his preserve-all-life philosophy). There’s a lot of back-story in this one that’s only touched upon, but has a much broader influence on the narrative. It really made me want to work on a Moon base, though.

I’ll give this one a three-quarter Moon.

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Gambler’s Star Book One: The Six Familiesby Nancy Holder

Published in 1998 by Avon Science Fiction, weighing in at 338 pages. About average number of errors, including some odd sentences.

In 2142, Arturo ‘Deuce McNamara’ Borgioli is an inter-casino liaison for the Borgioli family, one of six that were granted license to operate gambling facilities on the Moon in the wake of fundamentalist takeover on Earth (itself the result of a wrestling match gone horribly wrong and the use of a Quantum Instabiliity Effect device inside a Feynman Shield). While those on Earth toil to restore the planet, they vacation on the Moon, where every vice immaginable is available (for a price), and who better to run such a set-up than the Mob?

Then, one day, the Ditwac (the Die that was cast) shows a five instead of a six. Clearly the message is one of the families is going to go down, but who? And how could the ultra-secure Ditwac even be manipulated? And why would self-made multi-billionaire Hunter Castle show up on the Moon at just this particular moment in time? Thus is the die cast for a fast-paced yarn of underworld snitches, sparkling showgirls, family honor, gambling, honor killings, not-so-honor killings, hovercar chases through utility tunnels, and a myth of the one who will liberate the suffering underclasses (or Non-Affiliateds, N.A.s, who are not associated with any Family).

The first of a trilogy, this story can stand on its own with a climax, denouement, and resolution of the bulk of the plot elements. There’s a few twists at the end. The rendering of one character’s French accent was unpleasant, though bearable (wait till I get to ‘Apollo 21’). The pacing is brisk, the technology sufficiently near-future, and the characters fairly well fleshed out.

I’ll give this one a waxing half-Moon.

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Rebel Moon by Bruce Bethke & Vox Day

Published in 1996 by Pocket Books, weighing in at 282 pages. A few grammar and spelling errors.

Dalton is a carefree young man living on the Moon. He’s good at computer systems, and wiles away his free hours in immersive role playing games (as with ‘Growing Up Weightless’). Fate has a different role for Dalton ‘Icehawk’, one involving the future of the free peoples of the Moon.

This book serves as a kind of back story for the computer game ‘Rebel Moon Rising’. Once again, the UN are the bad guys. The Moon provides much needed food resources for an overstrained Earth, but the Lunars are ‘exploited’ to that end, and as with any frontier settlement it begins to chafe at the bonds of Earth. Power factions within the UN strive to control the outcome, but the Lunar Defense Forces have their own agenda, and strange new technologies to achieve their ends. Unfortunately, that involves your usual ‘advanced aliens’ contact that turns the plot in favor of the good guys.

The story pays its respects to past Lunar stories, with a heavy nod to ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ in the form of General Consensus, and off-hand references to things like THX 1138. It’s a fair tale of militaristic adventure on the Moon, but not as well developed as ‘Luna Marine’.

This one gets a waxing half Moon.

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“Shoot at the Moon”
by William F. Temple

Published in 1966 by Simon & Schuster, it weighs in at 192 pages. Only one or two minor spelling errors.

Captain Franz Brunel is one of the few pilots capable of flying the Harwell Atomic Propulsion Unit (HAPU), a new kind of rocket motor that will take humanity to the Moon and the Solar system, and one that threatens to make make pilots and engineers obsolete (the operating instructions are basically push this button to start, push that button to stop). The test run is commanded by Colonel Marley, an eccentric and well-connected British Army officer with a rather Heinleinian-headstrong daughter, Lou (after a line in ‘The Shooting of Dan McGrew’, a Klondike frontier adventure poem). The crew is an odd bunch, and what starts out as a rather unlikely group of folks headed to the Moon becomes fraught with danger and death. First the cat, then the Colonel, then the medic. Brunel is left with a schizophrenic and traumatized woman and a lethargic, introverted yet brilliant scientist as the suspects in some rather bizarre murders. But what they’ve stumbled onto in one of Tycho’s rays proves far more important than any of that.

Mr. Temple was apparently a roommate of Arthur C. Clarke back in the charter days of the British Interplanetary Society, whose Journal is affectionately referred to as JBIS and is well-regarded in established space circles worldwide. He creates the kind of eccentric characters that only the strange Brtish mind can fully realize. And while the eccentricities are just as prevalent on this side of the pond, they seem to be less recognized, perhaps because we’re not all stuffed in one on top of another. I’m not sure the characterizations would be as well received by readers here in the U.S., and the story development does seem rather, well, British. Almost like an Agatha Christie murder mystery.

It was okay. I’ll give it a waning half Moon.

***Spoiler Alert-
It does kind of spoil the mystery of the plot a bit, but the discovery in Tycho is of a proto-life form left from a metal asteroid impact. In what today is a shocking and appalling development, the book proposes the harnessing (or harvesting) of these lifeforms for inter-planetary travel. Apparently they tap into the electromagnetic fields of space, but are rendered inert by direct sunlight (photon activity?). They are wafer-thin and diamond-shaped, and are therefore stackable, creating the potential for something akin to a compact solar sail. The climactic attack is a kamikaze impact by such a stacked form, which wreaks havoc on the guidance system and requires the intervention of the human pilot, who has input the computer doesn’t and can therefore understand what needs to be done to fix the problem. It’s a solution that a computer never would have been able to arrive at given its programming, and this kind of ‘greater’ situational awareness and understanding is why humans must be involved in going beyond. That’s fundamentally the message of the book.
***End Spoiler

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4 thoughts on “Lunar science fiction reviews

  1. Nice review of Project Avalon. Thanks for caring .

    You may be interested in what I’m doing now. I’m actually working with a company that’s contributing to opening up space to ordiary people. It’s called the NASTAR Center, or National AeroSpace Training And Research Center, and we evaluate, train, and adapt people for spaceflight. Feel free to check us out: http://www.nastarcenter.com. I’d love to hear what you think.

  2. Pingback: 50 Lunar sci fi reviews and counting… - Out of the Cradle

  3. What moon rating did you give “Earthlight”? No “Moon is a Harsh Mistress”? How about “Rolling Stones”, “The Long Watch”, “Gentlemen, Be Seated”, “Searchlight” and “The Menace from Earth” and many others by Heinlein?

  4. Fred, I’ve still got over a hundred to go! I can’t just go and do all of the best stuff first…I’ve got to space it out so that folks keep coming back to see if their favorite book has been reviewed yet. And your favorites are not necessarily someone else’s…

    And not all of the stories you mention are even in the Lunar Library yet. It has a very limited budget to work with, and the rarer books take priority. “Menace From Earth” should be coming up soon, but I’m plowing through “Peace on Earth” by Stanislaw Lem, “Ice” by Shane Johnson, and “A Handful of Silver” by Shorter (which I haven’t decided on doing a review of yet, it may not qualify).

    Hmmm, Earthlight was the second book that I did. I was still trying to work out the mechanics of the rating system. Which, for the novice, is generally as follows, from lowest to highest:

    New Moon
    Waxing New Moon
    Waning Quarter Moon
    Quarter Moon
    Waxing Quarter Moon
    Waning Half Moon
    Half Moon
    Waxing Half Moon
    Waning 3/4 Moon
    3/4 Moon
    Waxing 3/4 Moon
    Waning Full Moon
    Full Moon

    Giving me 13 degrees of gradation. These can be further qualified as being at Apogee (an abysmal example) or Perigee (an outstanding example).

    I guess Earthlight would get around a waning three-quarter Moon.

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