One of the components of a complete story is an emotionally satisfying ending. Red Moon, written by one of my favorite authors, delivers a compelling narrative, memorable characters, and the obsessively detailed personal and planetary landscapes expected from a Kim Stanley Robinson novel. Unfortunately, the abrupt ending — as swift and unexpected as a meteorite strike — leaves the characters and the reader in limbo.
I’m a Big KSR Fan
I’ve read just about every word published by KSR. I started with Red Mars, went on a spirit journey with Shaman, explored the corridors of Aurora, and still tear up a bit over Galileo’s Dream. Apart from the preachy Science in the Capitol trilogy (which feels ghost-written by a lesser writer), KSR’s work blends thickly detailed prose with sociological, economic, and political themes to create compelling stories set in worlds that feel more realistic than present-day earth.
Your Cheapest Ticket to the Moon
So I plowed through Red Moon at breakneck speed. I started reading the book while on a flight from Chicago to Atlanta, and the entire two-hour flight collapsed into what felt like minutes. Over the next two days, I read pages before breakfast and while walking to work and back. I read chapters between appointments. I turned down lunch invitations in order to spend more time with Fred Fredericks (the hapless American technician framed for a political assassination), travel reporter and feng shui expert Ta Shu, and fiery revolutionary figurehead Chan Qi.
And just as New York 2140 feels like an archeological, ecological, and political travel guide to a future Manhattan, Red Moon immerses you in the bleak topography of the moon itself. By the time you finish this book, you’ve been there. I’ve climbed into a spacesuit, bunny-hopped the pock-marked landscape, and stared in wonder at the startling blue crescent of Earth, rising above Luna’s bleak and brutal landscape. Until Virgin Galactic starts selling tickets, reading this book is the closest you’re likely to come to visiting the moon yourself.
The Bad News
And then, after 464 pages of spy-thriller hijinks and inter-planetary pursuits, the book slams to a halt. The airlock door slams shut. The novel’s life support shuts down without warning. One minute, we’re humming along as quickly as a magnetically-levitated orbital launcher; the next, we’re left with a hint (but no assurance) that the story will be continued. Someday. Somewhere. Maybe.
There’s wisdom in the old show business saying, “Leave ‘em wanting more,” but successful storytelling hinges on offering the audience an emotionally satisfying resolution … and that resolution, despite all the hooks and delightful complications and savvy political commentary in Red Moon, is simply not here. Like the characters themselves, we’re left suspended in space … adrift … with a possible conclusion in sight, but no guarantee of getting there.
Will I read the next book in this series? Absolutely. Will I always feel a little cheated by this one? Absolutely.
Highlights and Quotes
adhocitecture: “For sure a lot of man-hours had been devoted to this project. It’s architectural style straddled 1960’s Brutalism and sheer adhocitecture; in other words, not that different from most o the infrastructure back in China, where the glamorous skyscrapers were few and far between.”
agnotologist: “I want to be an agnotologist,” he said to Qi. “I want to study what we don’t know.”
“The sublime, in a certain strain of Western aesthetics, is said to be a fusion of beauty and terror.”
“And I must remember, if I can, that really we are always in a spacesuit of one sort or another. We just don’t usually se it so clearly.”
“Practice is the only criterion of truth.”
“Construction cranes poked the gray night sky like giant gallows built to hang any surviving remnants of Nature.”
(On America’s so-called two-party system): “Your parties are just factions. That’s why people in your country are so angry. They can see it’s just one party, and one-party states are always corrupt.”
“But now it appeared that everywhere in the world governments were suffering a crisis of representation. Possibly this was because it was all one system, which one could call global capitalism with national characteristics, each variation around the Earth marked by the remaining vestiges of an earlier nation system, but still making together one larger global thing: capitalism.”
“If democracy came to China, they would end up electing idiots, as in America.”
“He had sometimes felt that Winston Churchill’s description of democracy was equally suitable as a description of the Party’s rule in China: the worst possible system, except for all the rest.”
“Food, water, shelter, clothing, healthcare, education: these all need to be adequate for everyone alive, before anything else good can happen.”
“Capital accumulation without capitalism doesn’t have many opportunities for reinvestment … Money needs to be spent to become wealth.”