Game of Thrones in space. The Godfather with a lunar twist. Ian McDonald’s Luna: New Moon has been favorably compared to several critically acclaimed properties, and for good reason; Luna is a stylishly dark, richly elaborate human drama that utilizes the powerful combination of a relentlessly foreboding atmosphere and electrifying, interwoven subplots to establish a near-future setting that is as fascinating as it is disturbing.
Luna: New Moon tells the story of the Corta family, one of the “Five Dragons” of a near-future lunar colony characterized by severe socioeconomic inequality, corporate malfeasance and inter-family rivalries. Adriana Corta, matriarch of the Corta family and founder of the Corta Helio corporation, is nearing the end of her life. With Father Time nipping at her heels, Adriana focuses her attention squarely on the welfare of the dynasty she’s preparing to leave behind. As she grapples with critically important choices that must be made before her passing, her children are left to defend the corporation from rival Dragons that seek to exploit the situation for their own benefit. But Adriana has made more than her fair share of enemies over the course of her life, and protecting the Corta family’s assets proves to be a far more difficult task than her children could have ever imagined.
McDonald’s portrayal of a corporate-run, government-less lunar colony stands in stark contrast to the libertarian utopia Robert Heinlein presents in the science fiction classic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. In fact, Luna feels very much like a deliberate rebuke of Heinlein’s vision for a future lunar settlement. In Luna, the only law that matters is contract law. There is a court in place to resolve contractual disputes between the Dragons, but said disputes are often resolved by a knife fight rather than the court itself. Murder, theft and assault are all quite commonplace in the colony, especially in the upper levels of the colony’s underground facilities where the poorest of the poor are constantly exposed to high levels of radiation and left to fend for themselves as they struggle for food, water and other basic necessities. Simply put, McDonald’s version of a future lunar colony is not the kind of place you’d ever want to visit.
The upside to the ruthlessness and brutality that permeate the colony is that you never know what’s going to happen next. Tragedy can strike at any time, and no character, no matter how important they may be to the story, is shielded from the “anything goes” nature of life on the Moon. The end result is an impenetrable tension that persists throughout the book and never allows itself to be pierced by rare moments of heartwarming kindness or lighthearted dialogue.
In Luna, McDonald proves himself a master of the art of writing multidimensional characters; the characters in Luna are all intriguingly complex and properly fleshed out, and McDonald makes sure that they’re all given the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to the story. He also does an extraordinary job of providing readers with intimate glimpses into the private struggles of each and every character and exposing the idiosyncrasies of each and every personality without relying too heavily on boring, unnecessary exposition. Simply put, none of the characters in Luna can be described as too “vanilla.” Every individual you come across in this book has a unique story to share and a distinctive personality that sets them apart from every other soul on the Moon.
The multilayered story in Luna is a veritable spiderweb of interconnected subplots that leaves the reader in a constant state of anxiousness and curiosity. There are no insignificant events in Luna; everything that happens on the Moon has a meaningful impact on the overarching narrative. In other words, while Luna may move at a relatively slow pace, it never quite feels that way, and that’s because McDonald doesn’t waste your time with trivial details or worthless distractions. If you don’t pay close attention to everything that’s going on, you’re bound to miss something, which provides the illusion that the story is moving much faster than it actually is. In that respect, Luna is very much like a well-prepared five course dinner; it’s so deliciously satisfying that you just don’t care how long it takes to get through it.
In conclusion, Luna: New Moon is an intensely dramatic story that is unlike any other novel I’ve read this year. And while it may fall under the classification of science fiction, Luna isn’t the kind of story that you have to be a science fiction fan to appreciate. If you’re pining for some good dramatic fiction, give this book a read. You most certainly won’t regret it. And be sure to keep an eye out for the second installment in this two-part story, which will hopefully hit the shelves within the next year or so.
Final Grade for Luna: New Moon: A-