Review: “Shadow on the Moon”

“Shadow on the Moon” by Charles Lee Lesher. Published in 2010 by Writers Cramp Publishing, it weighs in at 485 pages all-in. This book combines an updated version of his previous novel “Evolution’s Child” with his new story “Revelation’s Child”. Some editing errors noted, though this time around I sent him a list and they’re being corrected. Noteworthy is the fact that Chuck also runs the Moon Society’s Moon and high frontier short-story periodical “Moonbeams“.

The year is 2092. Lazarus Sheffield is an unsettled Senior Analyst for the Department of Homeland Security in the hyper-religious Christian fundamentalist nation that the U.S. becomes, the North American Federation. His job is to determine threats to the Federation, primarily from the Islamic Brotherhood, the hyper-religious Muslim fundamentalist counter to the Federation. He thinks something’s up, but the threat seems to be to the Republic of Luna on the Moon. The Federation is bound by treaty law to alert the Lunarians to the threat, but upper management seems bound and determined to ignore the threat to the godless mutant troublemakers.

His conscience drives him to a desperate plan to go rogue and warn the Lunarians himself, at great personal and mental risk. Having sent people to re-education camps himself, he’s well aware of the consequences of failure. Somehow, he manages to get onto a LEO-bound transport, and a friendly Lunarian helps guide him through the perils and pleasures of microgravity as they transfer at Heaven’s Gate in LEO to a Moon-bound transport. Arriving on the Moon, an entirely new culture awaits him.

The Moon is a surveillance state, but one where everyone surveils through the use of visors, which record the environment around the user, as well as enhance the transfer of visual information. I picture them as kind of like the visors on the TV show “Caprica”. Everything is recorded and stored in public databases and is accessible by everyone. The Lunarians use an amalgam of databases and AI to create a kind of system overseer named Magi (pronounced Maggie). To lie, prevaricate, dissemble, or otherwise convey untruths is severely frowned upon in Lunar society. Transgression is met with ostracism. The watchmen are watched by everyone, and everything is recorded. Individuals can also use their visors to piggyback on what someone else is seeing.

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There are scattered communities around Aldrin Station, which is the central presence for the Lunar Republic. Most serve specialized functions, like hydroponic farming or metals production, and are linked by shipping companies. Life is tough on the Moon, and everyone is supposed to contribute to their community. They don’t have a military per se, in fact all public records are publically available, but they do have a specialized paramilitary unit, the Quan Kiai, who embrace the warrior ethos.

Lazarus is a stranger in a strange land, and few trust him. But the threat he has uncovered is real, and soon the Moon will know all out war. A war that will grow to encompass all of cislunar space, but also carries the seed of a different tomorrow.

It’s hard to know where to begin with this one. The elements of the story are deeply interwoven, and the influences range from 19th Century cultural discovery stories to battle scenes from “Battlestar Galactica”. Even the death chant from “The 13th Warrior” (Lo, there do I see my Mother and my Father…). The concept of the cultural ramifications of a technologically advanced society aided by AIs, genetic engineering and advanced physics is explored, and raises questions about the nature of our own society and where we want it to go.

Lazarus provides an interesting contrast – raised in an asymmetric surveillance state, he’s used to being one of the watchmen. Being on the receiving end is not something he’s comfortable with, though he was more than happy to inflict it on the Federation citizenry. He’s also steeped in the kind of duplicity that Lunarians revile, though in the end they use it to their advantage. He also serves the role of the outsider, looking in, trying to grok this new and different and wonderful culture.

The religious side of the story is presented in stark contrasts. The Lunarians are a-theists, with theism absent from their mainstream culture except as a historical lesson in psychological abberation. The U.S. has become a fundamentalist Christian super-state, carefully controlling the dogma of its citizens to ensure their wholesomeness and adherence to strict moral values. The Islamic Brotherhood is a fundamentalist Muslim super-state, strictly inculcating their adherents in the strictures of the Qu’ran, making them good footsoldiers in a plan for global domination.

Speaking of soldiers, once the story enters act two the fighting starts increasing in frequency and intensity. I don’t read much militaristic fiction, and so can’t speak to the quality of the descriptions of the battles, but they kept the pages turning and the different aspects of the battle were relatively easy to follow. The author does include some maps in the front of the book to help keep track of the changes in locale. The scale ranges from guerrilla assaults on convoys to hundreds of space fighters engaging in cislunar space around massive battlestations.

So overall it’s a good read that pleasures the brain while also challenging it. Moral choices that may have seemed easy in the beginning are revealed to be far more ambiguous than first anticipated. While the Federation and Brotherhood have their obvious flaws, the Lunar Republic is revealed to be not as pure as the driven snow either. The author starts each chapter with a quote from a historical figure of our times, and the one that has been just an incessant burr in my saddle is this:

“No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God”
George H.W. Bush

That just…I…the…grrrrrr!

Look, I’m used to being, effectively, a second-class citizen in the U.S. by virtue of my a-theism. But to call into question my citizenship (I was born at Valley Forge General Hospital in Pennsylvania to a USAF Private and a nurse) and my patriotism (I was dragged around the country and across the pond during my childhood while my father served in defense of this nation, from town to town and school to school. When the family got back from England in the late 70s I was so, so happy to be back in the U.S., back in the U.S., back in the U.S. of A. that I got down on my hands and knees and kissed the ground when we got off the plane) because there is an absence of theism in my life is patently absurd, and comes mighty close to insulting my honor. But the quote does highlight the kind of thinking that goes on in the world, and why escape valves, like access to space destinations, are so important. So that reasonable folk can get away from self-important blowhards trying to tell everyone how they should live and think. And in 2092, the Moon just isn’t quite far enough away anymore.

I’ll go with a Full Moon for “Shadow on the Moon“.

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