by Kim Stanley Robinson
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
A new book from Robinson is always eagerly anticipated. I had requested an ARC from Edelweiss but was declined, and Net Galley never offered it. I was going to wait until next month since another gift certificate is due, but then Amazon dropped the Kindle price. Unfortunately, Red Moon is probably my least favorite by him. I did read it rather quickly, but I was continually mumbling, "Okay, get to the point." I couldn't figure out the author's intent. Was this a murder mystery, a political treatise, or a travelogue of both the moon and China? Both science and politics, as well as economics, are ever present in his work, and there are quite a few interesting ideas presented, but they are random and incohesive. Also inconclusive, although he may intend to continue the stories of some of the characters. It's set in 2047, but I'm not sure if it's in the same fictional timeline of the later Mars Trilogy. It does connect to an earlier novel I haven't read, nor do I have a copy. At least two of the characters from 1997's Antarctica recur, the American scientist John Semple, and the Chinese poet Ta Shu, now host of travelogue shows in the cloud.
The latter is introduced on the first page as the rocket he is on approaches the Chinese station at the moon's south pole. Another of the passengers is Fred Fredericks, an American representing a Swiss corporation, bringing a new quantum entangled communication device to present to a Chinese diplomat, Chang Li. The device was designed to only connect to another of its kind, with privacy assured by the manufacturer. No one should be able to hack into the communication to eavesdrop or record, and supposedly not even discover the location of the other device. The mystery begins when Fredericks is introduced to Chang. They both collapse shortly after shaking hands, Chang dying quickly, while Fredericks is severely ill for several days, and he has little memory of events when he recovers. Ta Shu is unaware of this at the time, he has been recording lunar excursions for his cloud program. He learns about the incident when he returns to the base, but by that time Fredericks has disappeared, apparently hidden away by a faction of Chinese security. Shu had enjoyed his interactions with Fred, felt it was the budding of a new friendship, and he is determined to do what he can to locate and help him. He is successful, but both he and Fredericks are told it would be best for them to return to Earth, along with another person whose father is highly placed in the Chinese government. The reason Chan Qi is told she needs to go is because she is pregnant. There had yet to be a birth on the moon, and the consensus opinion was she shouldn't risk it in the lighter gravity. We never learn who the father is, or whether conception occurred on the moon or on Earth.
The mystery of Chang Li's death is hardly even in the background through the majority of events that follow, although there are occasional speculations from the principal characters. There aren't even any red herrings as you'd expect in a murder mystery, although I started suspecting Chan Qi. I'm glad I was wrong about that. We go from the moon to China, where there are multiple attempts to arrest and detain Fredericks and Chan, multiple rescues and escapes, usually initiated by Ta Shu. Long trips across the country by train, bus, or boat, from Beijing, eventually to Hong Kong, with several stops along the way. Chan and Fredericks are together, traveling and in hiding, for several weeks, perhaps a month or more. Ta Shu is on his own for a while, and decides he needs to return to the moon. Then he learns his mother is ill and he goes back to Earth. Later, to the moon again. Back and forth, moon to Earth and back, all across China, and that applies to Fred and Qi too. There are obviously many factions working behind the scenes in China, in goverment, the military and security forces, as well as activists disaffected with the current leadership, Qi being connected to them. Ta Shu is friends with one of the current leaders, one of his former students. She is poised to possibly become the first woman Premier at the fast approaching Party Congress. She helps him out a few times, but certain events cause him to question her agenda. They all get the same treatment on the moon as on Earth, detentions, then escapes, from the south pole to the north, and several points in between, never being sure who they can trust. Very repetitious and tedious.
Robinson is known for his credible speculations about future technologies, but he is also very much a humanist writer, speaking to how those technologies affect us as individuals and as members of a greater group. Much of that is missing here, with Ta Shu the only character I connected with emotionally. Another thing I felt wasn't adequately addressed was the physical exertions that both Ta Shu and Chan Qi are subjected to. He is originally described as "elderly," but I don't recall a mention of his age. Based on his mother's age, 88, he couldn't be much older than my current age of 68. I doubt I could pass muster for a trip into space, and the multiple times he goes through launches and landings, from Earth and the moon, should have had a more severe effect on his health. Same goes for Chan Qi. Even though she is much younger she is pregnant, very near her due date the last time she blasts off for the moon. So many things glossed over during their movements, and even when the killers are revealed it is very anti-climactic. The book leaves off with the political climate changing in China but without a full resolution, so we don't know if it will last. The US had also been experiencing wild fluctuations in government and finance, be we get no resolution to that either. I rated this 3 stars on Goodreads, but a more accurate score would be closer to 3.5, but no higher. At the end, I was visualizing Robinson being interviewed, asked about the main point of the book. His answer might echo the last sentence, three simple words expressed by Fred, as he and Qi once again blast off from the moon. She asks him what will happen next. "I don't know."
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