Review: “The Next Continent”

“The Next Continent” by Issui Ogawa. Translated from Japanese by Jim Hubbert. Published in 2010 by Haikasoru, it weighs in at 416 pages. No editing errors noted.

The year is 2025. Tae Toenji is a 13-year old college graduate with a plan. Think Doogie Howser but totally precocious. Her grandfather, Sennosuke Toenji, is the head of Eden Leisure Entertainment, a phenomenally successful company that runs resort paradises around the world for a fair price. This gives Tae a certain amount of leverage when it comes to getting her way.

What she wants is a Moon base as a luxury destination for weddings. It’s not as silly an idea as it may first seem. She’s got her reasons, and the bid from Gotoba Engineering & Construction, which specializes in building facilities in impossible places, while pricey is still something that ELE can swing. Tae decides to pay a visit to the Moon to see the Chinese facilities at Kunlun where they are trying to mine Helium-3, though not terribly successfully. She is accompanied by 25-year old Sohya Aomine, who carries her in his lap to help save seat costs. Though the Chinese base is anything but luxurious, Tae has decided to proceed with her vision.

What follows is the story of how that happens. Transportation logistics have to be worked out, and luckily there’s a brilliant Japanese company, Tenryu Galaxy Transport, that has worked out a formula for cermet (ceramic metal) that vastly improves the reusability of rocket motors and allows cutting edge advances like feasible scramjets. A non-descript crater at the Lunar south pole is chosen as the site and christened Eden crater to establish their presence on the Moon. Robots are developed, transport elements shaken out, the crater assayed and site prep begun outside the crater, while back on Earth there are corporate and governmental interests with which to be dealt and Tae travels the world putting out fires.

Facilities have to be established and power supplied. Surfaces graded and equipment to be installed. Design elements have to be considered, and of course there are tragedies. Once the setting shifts to the Moon, risk and danger are ever-present.

This book is an excellently crafted science “faction” tale of private interests setting up shop on the Moon. It’s not action driven, but rather a long rumination on the manifold aspects to be considered in actually establishing a presence on the Moon. There were things I disagreed with, though they were on the philosophical side.

The first instance was in the “wrestling with international treaties” section of the story, when the U.S. (of all countries) drags Japan before the International Court of Justice in The Hague for (of all things) violation of the Moon Treaty. The author ascribes more consideration to the application of the extent to which “custom” would apply in law concerning Lunar activities. In the author’s favor, enough countries have not only signed but also ratified the Moon Treaty so that by its own provisions it is “in force”. My difference lies actually in the application of the Vienna Law of Treaties. By those terms, the Moon Treaty is in effect on those countries who have ratified it, and they have to abide by its terms. What’s interesting, though, is that those countries which have or are conducting Lunar activities have not, for the most part, either signed or ratified the Moon Treaty. Given that custom is best derived from actual practice (as opposed to ivory tower ponderings), how then can the Moon Treaty be held to be customary practice?

The other instance was in the “wrestling with religious authorities” section of the story, wherein the Pope decrees that nothing in the Bible indicates that the Moon has been given to Mankind by G-d, and therefore no Catholic ceremonies performed at “Sixth Continent” would be considered valid. (The Japanese count their continents differently. For ‘Western’ readers that would be “Eighth Continent“) It’s during times of friction with religion that I draw comfort from one of the Psalms of David:

“8:3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;

8:4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

8:5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

8:6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet”

Hello! How much clearer can it be? Sure the next section lists a bunch of stuff that made sense for folks of the time. No sense in confusing folks with a pipe dream of going to the Moon and/or stars, which has a far, far longer history in human culture as an unattainable thing. Seriously, though, how much clearer can “have dominion over the works of thy hands” be? Besides, Buzz performed a Catholic [Edit: Not Catholic. Presbyterian? Episcopalian?] ceremony on the Moon already, so a bit of precedent has been established.

So the book is based on lots and lots of real-world considerations that would go into actually building a facility on the Moon. The author has clearly done his homework, and as a result has crafted a powerful tale. The editing is impeccable. I can’t speak to the quality of the translation, as I don’t read Japanese, but the language flowed fine, and turns of phrase are used correctly. I was quite happy to see “fit of pique”, having seen both peek and peak in online commentary and at least one book.

There are a lot of teaching and learning moments in the book. At one point the two protagonists save themselves from a particularly tight spot by working through the mathematics of a Solar eclipse. I highly recommend the book for high schoolers, though it’s really more of a college-age/young adult level book and requires a bit of patience. I also see it as ideal for brighter middle schoolers, as it may spark in interest in any one of the many fields touched upon in the story. It’s fine for older readers, though there may not be enough character development to suit some. Interestingly, though, the focus is more on the relationships between characters, rather than the characters themselves. The climax is climactic,and the denouement opens up a new chapter in the story of humanity.

It’s not a whiz-bang action thriller, though there are some nail-biting moments. Still, I haven’t been this pleased and contented with so solidly good (like, wholesome and meaningful and morally good) a story since “Moonwake“.

As a particularly outstanding example of its genre, “The Next Continent” has definitely earned a Full Moon at perigee rating.

3 thoughts on “Review: “The Next Continent”

  1. Please note that Buzz Aldrin did not perform “a Catholic ceremony” on the Moon. Colonel Aldrin was a lay member of a Presbyterian congregation at the time, and performed a Presbyterian Lord’s Supper ceremony upon landing on the moon. Such a ceremony is essentially different from the Sacrament of Holy Communion as celebrated by Catholic priest. [Source: http://www.websterpresby.org/history.asp

  2. “Seriously, though, how much clearer can “have dominion over the works of thy hands” be?”

    Ha! You have fallen into one of the classic blunders. In Catholicism,individual interpretation of the Bible is not normative; otherwise, to give an obvious example, birth control would be left up to the conscience of the believer. What *is* normative is the decisions ofthe Pope, who is in turn guided but not overruled by theologians, and by the traditions of the Church.

  3. Nice review!

    I recently read “The Next Continent” at the suggestion of Canadian sci-fi critic James Nicoll, who is a big fan of this book, and I very much enjoyed this novel.

    This book also is consistent with my personal belief that aspirational or existential motivations will prove equally important with utilitarian motivations if our species is to become genuinely spacefaring.

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