The Lotus Caves
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
This novel was published in 1969, under the category of what was termed Juvenile at that time, now Young Adult literature. Until recently I had only read a few things by Christopher; the Tripods series and No Blade of Grass (aka The Death of Grass), the former being another juvenile with the latter an adult novel. It wasn't until Bryan Fuller announced he would be adapting The Lotus Caves as a TV series that I went searching for it. Even though the publishing category of juvenile or young adult simply means the protagonist(s) are young themselves, it does not mean the work cannot be appreciated by older readers. After all, we all were young once, and should be able to identify with the characters no matter how simply the tale is told. As far as I recall, the age of only a peripheral character was given, but considering the two primary characters were fellow students, they were likely also fourteen.
The story is set in 2068, and man has been on the Moon in permanent bases for at least fifty years. Marty and Steve live in The Bubble, the largest of these settlements, several miles from the main rocket port. Smaller bases in various locations are utilized for research and design, or for mining lunar minerals. The teenagers' days consist of schooling and varied recreations. Steve is an orphan whose parents had been killed in a rocket accident, and for many years he was a loner. The only reason he was not sent to Earth is because he has no family there either. Another friend of Marty's, Paul, the one whose age was given, is sent back to Earth due to "Moon sickness" of some sort, the details of which were not specified. Thus Marty begins a closer relationship with Steve, even though his mother disapproves due to thinking Steve will be a destablizing influence. She may have been right.
It doesn't take long for them to get into trouble. At Steve's urging, they break into a storage locker at their school and steal some balloons meant for an upcoming holiday celebration. Marty paints faces on them, including one of the school's principal, and they release them to float to the roof of the Bubble's transparent dome. They are grounded for several weeks, but against his parent's orders, Marty secretly contacts Steve by visi-phone. They plan another adventure, sneak out, and are fortunate to find one of the lunar rovers with the key left in it. Initially intending to travel to the rocket port, they decide that might be too dangerous, and instead head off through a pass in a nearby mountain range. Using the rover's computer maps, they travel to the smaller bubble of First Station, a site which became the final resting place of three of the explorers who died there. The body of a fourth member of the expedition, Andrew Thurgood, had never been found. Inside the dome, Marty spies something not discovered by any other search, a journal written by Thurgood. He was believed to have gone mad from isolation, wandering off to die in some remote crevasse. Several entries in the journal seem to validate that theory. Thurgood had described an incident which probably indicated an hallucination, since he claims to have seen a flower growing on the surface. The details are very specific though, and Marty and Steve think they can find the location he had described. They know they will be in big trouble when they return home, but if they can find Thurgood's body, or at least the rover he had used on his final journey, perhaps the authorities would be more lenient in their punishment.
When they reach the probable location, Steve thinks he sees a large flower, but when he ventures out he cannot find it. Perhaps he was the victim of an hallucination similar to Thurgood's. When he returns to the rover, there is a violent "moonquake," with the ground dropping away from under them. They are briefly stunned, but when they come to they realize they are in an underground cavern, and somehow the roof over them has closed up again. When they exit the rover they discover root-like tendrils which may have been responsible for the movement of the soil and rocks. Further exploration leads to several different sections of the cavern system, with unique types of plants growing in each. They also eventually discover Andrew Thurgood, now approaching a hundred years old, but other than a long beard he does not appear to have aged based on pictures of him they recall from school books.
I'll dispense with any further plot description. At this point I was beinning to think the story was ridiculous and more a fantasy than SF. After all, it came out in 1969, and while it might have been released before the first manned Moon landing, we had been studying our satellite for decades before that, with no indication it could support any life at all. At least Christopher did not make the mistake of saying that the plants were native to the Moon, but rather the seeds for them had landed there long before after floating in interstellar space. Based on similar stories you may have read (and the title of this one), it should be easy to imagine why Thurgood has not aged, and why he has no desire to leave the caves. Marty and Steve realize they need to escape soon themselves, or else they will suffer a similar fate. They are successful, but then must ask themselves if they should reveal the truth to authorities or leave the plant to its own devices. To study the plant might bring untold benefits to mankind, but might also spell the death of the plant. Do they have the right to jeopardize its existence?
As should be obvious, this is a simple tale told in a straight-forward manner. However, it does touch on some psychological and sociological implications of man's explorations away from his home planet, along with how we might react to other entities we may discover. As with most juvenile tales, the protagonists are typically intelligent and self-confident individuals, with a streak of anti-authoritarian nature. The book ends rather abruptly, without revealing the boys' decision, but I think it is safe to say Marty intends to keep the secret, but I'm not so sure of Steve. Since there was never a sequel, each reader will have to decide for themselves.
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