Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
I want to start this review by saying that many readers are going to absolutely love Luna: New Moon (2015) and, even though I’m not one of them, I can completely understand why they will. I admired this a lot more than I enjoyed it.
Luna: New Moon, the first installment in Ian McDonald’s LUNA series, is an epic soap opera. It’s like The Godfather, Dynasty, or Dallas on the moon. The story focuses on the Cortas, a family that lives on the moon under the head of its elderly matriarch, Adriana Corta. When she was a young woman in Brazil, Adriana was disillusioned with life on Earth, so she moved to the moon. When she discovered the process for harnessing and exporting helium, she was suddenly catapulted into the lunar aristocracy which is made up of five families called “dragons.”
That was decades ago. Now she and her children and grandchildren must protect the Corta coporation from those who want to bring it down. This may include the McKenzie family who own the McKenzie Metals corporation. The Cortas and McKenzies have supposedly made peace in the traditional way — a political marriage — but on the moon you can never know for sure who is friend and who is foe. After an assassination attempt at a party on their estate, the Cortas trust no one and they are determined to find out who is trying to bring them down. For “Corta” means “cut” and the Corta clan has a motto: Family first, family always.
The best part of Luna: New Moon is the setting. It’s high-tech and spectacular. There are four essentials on the moon: air, water, carbon and data. These are not distributed equally, but must be paid for as they’re used. Those who don’t have enough credits must restrict themselves, for example by breathing shallowly or collecting condensation to drink. If they don’t, they die quickly. There are lots of other ways the moon can kill you fast, too. My favorite scenes in Luna: New Moon were those involving a poor woman’s struggle to survive. McDonald uses this character to contrast the experience of different social classes in his high-tech future setting, but we can, of course, relate this to what goes on in our own world today.
Another thing about the moon — there is no law. Everything is governed by negotiation and contracts, so it’s a lawyer’s dream. Because of solar radiation, people try not to spend much time on the surface and the wealthiest families carve out their mansions deep underground. This isn’t as bad as it sounds because there’s plenty of technology that allows them to create exactly the kinds of environments they desire.
So why didn’t I love Luna: New Moon? A couple of reasons. One is that almost every character is greedy, narcissistic, scheming, and nasty. I didn’t like them at all and I didn’t care what happened to them. The other reason is that not much actually happens in this first book. McDonald uses most of his word count to set the scenes…. and when I say “scenes” what I really mean is “spectacles.” Almost every scene feels like something you’d see in a movie trailer. Everyone is glamorous and sexy and dressed in designer clothes. They often mention how “hot” and “magnificent” they are. They are “extraordinary.” They are “legendary.” We often see them naked, mixing and drinking cocktails, vaping, smoking pot, and having sex. They’re so vain, so decadent, so glorious, and so intense. Everyone worships them. Drama surrounds them. It’s all so sensual and glam. Like a soap opera. I hated them.
So, yeah. I guess that’s pretty much it. For about ninety percent of the time, these “extraordinary” people are all strutting around drinking martinis and admiring themselves, but not much more. I loved the setting, and there are a few exciting scenes, but mostly the characters bored me. Finally, at the end of the story (the last hour of the 16.5 hour long audio version), something really unexpected and exciting happened and I probably would have kept reading if there’d been more. So even though I’m down on New Moon, I have higher hopes for the second novel. I’m hoping that McDonald was just setting the scene with New Moon.
I listened to Blackstone Audio’s version of Luna: New Moon. It has three narrators: Suzanne Toren, Soneela Nankani, and Thom Rivera. It was a little tough going at the beginning because there is such a large cast of characters with Brazilian names. A personae dramatis is included at the beginning of both the print and audio versions. The list in the audio version is nearly useless because it’s just read through once, so I recommend using the “Look Inside” feature at Amazon to read over it more carefully and perhaps even take a screenshot of it. Once I figured out who everyone was, the audio worked out okay. Rivera’s narration (which covered most of the book) tended to sound plodding, but the two female narrators where fabulous.
Kat is absolutely right in calling Luna: New Moon “like The Godfather, Dynasty, or Dallas on the moon,” but that’s part of what makes the beginning to Ian McDonald’s LUNA series interesting. Corporations are at war with one another, families are at war with one another (and amongst themselves), and the corporations are the families at war. It’s dizzyingly complex, with shifting alliances and generations-old grudges, and a cast of characters which is largely unlikeable because they’re too rich and self-centered to give a fig about anyone other than themselves. They’re so busy back-stabbing and partying and vaping that they don’t have any connection to the millions of people laboring to keep them all alive, and yet they’re so glamorous and effortlessly cool that one can’t help but feel a smidge envious. It’s the undeniable appeal of soap operas: the characters and their actions are reprehensible, but they look so good doing all of it, and there’s a voyeuristic thrill in seeing badly-behaved people get their comeuppances.
McDonald incorporates an admirable level of corporate/familial espionage to Luna: New Moon, as well, reinforcing the reader’s expectation that none of these cutthroats can be trusted. The alliances which do form (and which can be relied upon until the end), and the few noble actions undertaken by questionable characters, are all the more admirable as a result. The ending surprised me, and I’m definitely looking forward to finding out what happens next in Luna: Wolf Moon (March 28, 2017).
Luna — (2015-2019) The Moon wants to kill you. Whether it’s being unable to pay your per diem for your allotted food, water, and air, or you just get caught up in a fight between the Moon’s ruling corporations, the Five Dragons. You must fight for every inch you want to gain in the Moon’s near feudal society. And that is just what Adriana Corta did. As the leader of the Moon’s newest “dragon,” Adriana has wrested control of the Moon’s Helium-3 industry from the Mackenzie Metal corporation and fought to earn her family’s new status. Now, at the twilight of her life, Adriana finds her corporation, Corta Helio, surrounded by the many enemies she made during her meteoric rise. If the Corta family is to survive, Adriana’s five children must defend their mother’s empire from her many enemies… and each other.
So, an attempted murder wouldn’t be illegal unless the assassin had a no-killing contract with you? And then they’d be in breach?
It does sound like “Dynasty on the Moon,” but that setting is just so good! I may have to force myself to read it. Do you think subsequent books will have more action, and maybe some characters will grow up?
I am hoping that McDonald was just trying to draw us in to his fabulous setting and that the story will pick up in book 2. It really seems like a story that you’d rather watch than read because it seems so visual.
It’s also possible, as you suggest, that the characters will benefit from the hardship they experienced at the end of this book. I don’t want to spoil it, but what happened to them should affect their personalities, and maybe for the better.
I think I kind of want to read Dynasty on the Moon. I should stock up on AquaNet and shoulder pads for the occasion.
The comment that “almost every character is greedy, narcissistic, scheming, and nasty” fits many of McDonald’s novels. A couple I stopped reading after the first few chapters because of that. But he is great at coming up with futuristic settings. Brazil! Mars! Turkey! The Moon! India! The reader as tourist…
You are right, Paul!