Review: “Platinum Moon”

“Platinum Moon” by Bill White. Published in 2010 by Higher Hill Publishing, it weighs in at 299 pages. A handful of editing errors – surprisingly few for a self-published title.

Just what I like, some near-future, near-Earth science fiction for summer. Some folks call it Solar Sci Fi, to distinguish stories set within our Solar system (which tend to have a slightly more ‘real’ flavor) from the galactic empire/battlefleets burning off the shoulder of Orion space opera fantasy which tends to be the norm these days.

Author Bill White sets the story at some point in the near future, where Soyouz and Shenzhous are somewhat available for purchase, but the U.S. still seems to be fixated on NASA as the end-all/be-all of space. The PGM-1 Lunar landing vehicle is in low Lunar orbit (LLO) after departing from the EML-1 Gateway station. An American ex-astronaut is at the controls, accompanied by a French and an Indian scientist, for the first human return to the Moon since 1972. Their goal: try to find chunks of asteroid remnants on the Lunar surface that could serve as a source of platinum for an energy-hungry Earth.

The enterprise is directed by one Harold Hewitt through his company Lunar Materials LLC (LuMat). Part D.D. Harriman, part P.T. Barnum, and all-entrepreneur-all-the-time, Harold Hewitt is an American citizen who has made more than a few enemies back home in his global scramble to assemble the pieces for his enterprise, and some of those enemies are in government. Nevertheless, across the globe people celebrate as humanity renews its path outward.

While venal politicians plot to thwart Hewitt’s efforts, an obligatory problem with the PGM-1 sets the stage for drama as now the crew is stuck on the Moon, destined to die a slow death as the oxygen is slowly consumed. Hewitt scrambles to not only try to figure out what happened on the Moon so it doesn’t happen again, but also what elements exist to try to cobble together a rescue mission to save the enterprise from the ignominy of losing its first crew on the Lunar surface.

And so the stage is set for thrilling international drama on both the Moon and Earth. The story is draped not only in NewSpace commercial finery, but also is endowed with new space concepts like international efforts and EML-1. Which is not necessarily a new idea, but scientists are coming to an increasing appreciation of just how much of a gift the 1st Earth-Moon Lagrange point is not only for cislunar space activities, but also trans-Lunar exploration efforts. Here, the author has done his homework, creating an architecture where there is a station, of sorts, in a halo orbit at EML-1 that serves as the logistics node for Hewitt’s efforts, as well as a comm sat in a large halo orbit around EML-2, on the other side of the Moon, that serves as a communication relay. For those who are all like EML-huh?, I suggest a trip over to the High Frontier section of the Lunar Library, where I’ve got a category set aside just for papers and books on the topic called HF EML-1. I suggest starting with ‘a sort of L-1 primer‘ by some guy Ken.

From the Time-Life book “Spacefarers

There is also a sub-story on what might be considered something akin to a suborbital Rocket Racing League that involves the Dark Skies Flying Circus, and a young woman pilot with much potential, nicknamed ‘Frog’. Her story interleaves with the dramatic events unfolding on and near the Moon, and provides one of the many perspectives on what’s happening. It also fills out the book’s NewSpace creds by rightly pointing out the suborbital hops are going to space too (and could lead to something more).

All-in-all some nice summer reading, with a relatively brisk pace but long enough that it doesn’t go too quick. The character development may not be Hugo-esque in scope, but it’s adequate for the purpose. It introduces a lot of hardware, like Centaurs and Fregats, and describes how a few simple elements, like Bigelow Nautilus inflatables and Block D modules, can start us on the path that will carry us not only to the Moon, but to the asteroids and beyond. Propellant depots at EML-1 will enable all kinds of commercial activity the likes of which we can’t imagine, but will benefit therefrom nonetheless.

It’s just the sort of story I’ve been looking for, about the kinds of things we could be doing in space, but aren’t, at least for the moment. I rather enjoyed it, so I’m going to rate this one a Full Moon.

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