Lunar science fiction reviews

“Moon Monkeys” by Wen Spencer from Adventures in
Sol System, edited by TKF Weisskopf, Baen Books
, 2004

This is one of the funniest short stories I have ever read, evoking steady giggling and outright laughter and tears at points in its taut eleven pages. There is some light adult content and language.

The scenario is that the bright guys at HQ decided to send a monkey to the Moon with no explanation. The first one arrives via supply shuttle, and is being carried by one of the Lunar colonists in a specially designed suit back to the base. Unfortunately, while the colonist is walking to the airlock the monkey decides to freak out and rips itself free to escape, bounding high, high above the Lunar plains in its desperate mad flight. The colonist barely survives to the airlock. Luckily she does, because now they have to send a “sorry, the monkey died” message back to Earth with a full report. The first monkey on the Moon lasted five minutes.

They get better – ten minutes (electrostatic ‘soft’ airlock), four hours (whirling blades of death, ’nuff said), and so on. It’s gruesome, but at the same time presented in a dead-pan descriptive style that makes each new manner of demise even funnier than the last.

And in the end, it all makes a perverse kind of sense. I gladly give this one a Full Moon at perigee.

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“Growing Up Weightless” by John M. Ford

Published in 1993 by Spectra Books, it weighs in at 246 pages. Professionally edited. Winner of the Philip K. Dick Award.

Matt is an angry young man. He hates the Earth, always in the sky leering at him and his life and trapping him in Copernicus crater. It’s been 80 years since Lunar independence, and sixty years since the first faster than light ships started spreading to the stars. Matt wants more than anything to be on one of those ships he always watches land at the port.

Matt’s got some growing-up to do, but he doesn’t know what he wants to do when he grows up. The theatre wants him, and the dockworkers wouldn’t mind having him on the team, but he’s pretty ambivalent about most of it. It’s on a heroquest that the group takes to the observatories in Tsiolkovsky crater that fortune smiles upon Matt in some surprising ways…

This is a really interesting story, and one that is fully imagined. Mr. Ford did his homework, but also shows a rich imagination in the details that fill out the picture of Lunar life. He does go a bit overboard with the future slang, which takes some getting used to, but he’s also sly enough to use different types of slang in different cultural groups. There’s also liberal sprinklings of Russian and other languages, the kinds of short polite phrases that every traveler learns.

The cities are big enough that there are large domes, windows, indor gardens, and perhaps most interestingly the Dragon – a massive plant growth laid out in a fractal pattern (hence the dragon name) underneath each city. It serves as a grey water filter and oxygen generators, and the caretakers are known as dragonmasters.

There’s also the fascinating concept of the three-dimensional mazes that the kid’s run from time to time. Most of the time that Matt spends with his friends, though, are in runs – quasi holographic role-playing scenarios, something like Dungeons and Dragons in a low-tech (in that the images are being beamed into the eyes) version of Star Trek’s holographic simulator.

This is definitely juvenile appropriate, and I’d even say recommended for them in that the book explores a lot of the feelings and situations experienced by young adults (13 in Matt’s case). It’s all very chaste from the adult situation standpoint, but still an enjoyable read for adults. Some of the ideas are fascinating, like the dark matter theories that underly the faster than light drives.

It does feel a little rushed towards the end, and some things feel unresolved, though on reflection some interesting theories can be drawn.

It’s almost a Full Moon, but not quite.

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“Assemblers of Infinity” by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason

Published in 1993 by Bantam Spectra, it weighs in at 278 pages. It is well edited, though there is an odd section at the end of Chapter 35 where it looks like a block of text got corrupted or cut out.

Set in the near-future, a team of technicians has been sent to fix some anomalous failures at the VLF array at Daedalus Crater (which actually exists at 179.4 degrees East, 5.9 degrees South) on the Moon. Arriving onsite, two of the team leave the hopper to investigate an odd form of corrosion on the array, and then they see the pit. Filaments of diamond wire climb up out of the pit, creating a structure, but for what? The technicians can only wonder in horror as the hopper and then their space suits dissolve around them…

Columbus Base, nestled in Mare Smythii, can only watch in horror before even the cameras dissolve. No one understands what’s going on, but perhaps there are a couple folks down in Antarctica conducting the earliest stages of nanomachine develoment who can provide some insight…

This is a well-written thriller that touches on nanotechnology, and hypothesizes what could happen. Aliens have sent out a swarm of nanomachines into space, impacting haphazardly in space as the cloud expands over the light-years. If they’ve hit the Moon, where else have they landed, and how can we, in our monkey-stupidity, screw things up?

It’s engaging, but don’t expect in-depth character development. The story is the scientific possibilities, and there are many surprising twists. The story is smart enough to include Collins Station at the first Earth-Moon Lagrange point (EML-1) as part of the way that space has been developed, and it plays a key role in the plot.

Marsophiles shouldn’t feel left out, as there is a Sim-Mars base in Antarctica, as well as at Columbus Base on the Moon, both of which play key roles in the plot.

Definitely a good read and well deserving of a waxing three-quarter Moon.

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“Prisoners of Space” by Lester del Rey

Published 1968 by The Westminster Press and weighing in at 142 pages of fair-sized type. Professionally edited.

Dave Harmon is a Lunarian, one of only a few children that have been born on the Moon. His fondest desire is to leave the confines of Moon base Diana and visit the Earth. He was orphaned when his father’s expedition to Mars disappeared, and is looked after by various relatives and friends.

With each transport from Earth he hopes to get news that he will be able to travel on the ride back. He’s always disappointed, but a discovery he’s made in the tunnels near the Moon base will have profound repercussions not only for the Moon base, but Earth and Mars as well…

This is very much a ‘Juvenile’ book in the finest tradition of Heinlein and others. I’m not sure about specific ages, but I’d say around 10 years old (i.e. 8-12) is probably the appropriate age group.

There’s various dilemmas to deal with, including the impending closure of Diana since the mine is played out and where Dave will live after that, and a first encounter with aliens (akin to the short story where the kid spends a night in a Martian flower with a small furry, by Heinlein IIRC). There’s a traumatic trip to Earth, an unexpected reunion, and an ancient blood fued between warring Martian factions (Martian Martians, not human Martians).

The setting is near-future, and Dave has the usual ‘Aw shucks, girls are just so hard to figure out with their mysterious mystique and illogical thinking stuff’ behaviour regarding the plucky Jane, his best friend and a remarkably capable young woman. (I think sci-fi writers have a bias towards creating women of strong character for their protagonists to wrangle with [when they aren’t the protagonistes]).

It’s a fair story and probably still enjoyable by the appropriate age group (I’m just really biased towards “Menace from Earth” by Heinlein as my penultimate ‘Juvenile’ favorite, though Sheffield’s “Higher Education” is a REALLY good ‘Juvenile’). It has been supplanted a bit by reality and is a bit science & technology lite.

I’ll give it a waxing quarter/waning half Moon.

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“Moongate” by William Proctor and US Representative David Weldon, MD.

Published in 2002 by Thomas Nelson Publishers, it runs 311 pages. There are a few typos, but nothing serious.

It is 2017, and a crack team of scientists is headed to the Moon to undertake the experiments necessary to prove out Helium-3 as a means of liberating the world from oil. We learn early that trouble is afoot, and little do the scientists know that betrayal lurks in their midst.

The protagonist, Scott Andrews, a doctor and U.S. Congressperson, is clearly modeled on co-author David Weldon, and is leader of the team that heads to Oceanus Procellarum on the Moon. Slowly he learns that there are other plans for the fusion test equipment. Plans that involve tapping into the quantum foam that underlies our reality and tearing into the fabric of space and time.

What they find has profound implications for the future of humanity that tests the spiritual mettle of all the main characters. There are strong Christian elements throughout this story, with the Moon serving as a kind of proving-ground of God’s design. “Ice” by Shane Johnson is another example that comes to mind.

There’s lots of spy stuff and plots and machinations to keep the story going. Some elements seem a bit contrived, but it’s a good read. I give it a solid three-quarter Moon.

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“First Flights to the Moon”, edited by Hal Clements

Published in 1970 by Doubleday and Co. 217 pp. Professionally edited with no noticeable errors.

This work collects twelve short stories about a first flight to the Moon, written between 1937 and 1967, and therefore all prior to the first real flight to the Moon.

The earlier stories, from the 1930s, and even the ones written around 1950, show a strong Jules Verne-y/H.G. Wells-y style of writing in how the exposition is laid out and the “scientific” details incorporated.

A number of renowned authors are included, such as Isaac Asimov (“Trends”, a chilling tale which foretells to some extent some of the ideas in the Foundation series), Larry Niven (“Wrong Way Street”), and Arthur C. Clarke (“Venture to the Moon”).

It’s a fun read, and it’s interesting to compare what the author’s got right with the reality of the Apollo expeditions, as well as what has yet to really be explored, like the Lagrange point between here and the Moon.

I give it a hearty Waxing Gibbous Moon.

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NOMAD/Y: The Moon Base Project by Noah Bond

Copyright 1999 by Jon William Ageeby Mission Investments, Inc. It weighs in at 317 pages, but with a large type face, perhaps to make it more appealing to the younger types, but certainly not younger than 14. It’s fairly well edited, with only a few spelling and grammar errors.

It’s 1993, and Congress wants to know just how much each actual Apollo mission to the Moon cost once the externalities are stripped away (like general astronaut training). Our protagonist, Ken Mason, is tasked with the job and finds himself heading South to Florida. Through strange encounters and his curiosity he finds himself swept up in a deadly conspiracy stretching across decades and continents and even to the Moon.

It’s a thoroughly modern book, with light adult content, dialogue like something between Grant and Hepburn in the movie “His Girl Friday”, and exotic locales. The book takes some rather odd twists towards the end, but the author makes sure all the loose ends are tied up. The idea of a refurbished Apollo capsule on top of a Proton is certainly interesting. As the book developed I couldn’t help but think of the old “Lonely Astronaut” cartoons on the internet at http://www.dangertheater.com/la.html

This one is a good, solid waxing half-Moon.

Would you like to know more?:
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Earthlight by Arthur C. Clarke.

Copyrighted 1955, (renewed 1983). My copy was published in 1998 by Del Rey and weighs in at 194 pages. It is well edited and contains few noticeable spelling or grammar errors.

The story is set in the near future. Humanity has established itself on the Moon, and has gone to Venus and Mars in search of resources, and even taken the first tentative steps out to Jupiter.

The book opens on a monorail passing over the Lunar Apennines and into Mare Imbrium en route to an observatory round the limb of the Moon. An “auditor” is on his way to the Observatory to gauge expenditures. His true mission holds much darker secrets that may hold the fate of Earth and the planets.

The book is a spy story, and clearly a product of the Cold War in which it was written. The climactic battle scene evokes images from E.E. “Doc” Smith’s works, of corruscating cascades of unfathomable energy spilling over their targets. The secret weapon is pretty neat, plausible even.

Defintely a good read.

Would you like to know more?:
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“Project Avalon” by B. Alexander Howerton.

Published in 1998 by Space Available Press, it weighs in at 217 pages. I’d say high-school level and above. The author displays a fairly significant awareness of a lot of the different and alternative ideas in space development that are still floating about even now. It’s well edited and I noticed only a couple of grammar or spelling errors.

The story is thus:
In the year 2101, young Gary is on his way to the first school day of the new century. The special topic for the next couple of days is the founding of Avalon and how thereby humanity and its culture had been saved. Flashback to 100 years earlier. Young Arthur LaFey is an aspiring journalist in Seattle who crosses paths not only with an activist environmental group, but also the scion of Lindstrom Industries (a thinly veiled Boeing). What follows is a tale of power struggles, murder, secrecy, and a desperate race to establish a base on the Moon as the politicians of the world spiral into madness.

It alludes significantly to aspects of mythology and hero stories, and the protagonist is Arthur. They go to Avalon at an unnamed crater at the South Pole. He ends up marrying Mara Gann, an allusion to both the Morrigan of Celtic myth and Morgan LaFey of Arthurian legend.

It’s one of the better independent stories that tie into the Moon. Going to the Moon is a Hero Quest in our day and age and ‘Project Avalon’ is proud of that fact.

I give it a three-quarter waxing gibbous Moon.

Would You Like to Know More?:

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Ken Murphy
Custodian – Lunar Library
VP – NSS of North Texas
Co-chair – 2007 ISDC
ISU Master of Space Studies
NASA Academy guest alumnus

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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