Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald

Gollancz, 2017, 390 p, including i p derivation of Wolf Moon, i p map of the Moon’s nearside, iii p Glossary, iv p Dramatis Personae and ii p Lunar Calendar.

 Luna: Wolf Moon cover

Not long into this second of McDonald’s “Luna” sequence of novels, the rolling city of Crucible, surmounted by solar mirrors focusing the sun’s rays into the enormous smelter for which it is named and beneath which its inhabitants live, the source of the power and influence of Mackenzie Metals, one of the Five Dragons (the families which effectively control everything on the Moon,) meets the end which we have suspected it would since the moment McDonald introduced it in the previous book Luna: New Moon. Software hidden in its controlling programming is activated to misalign the mirrors; with catastrophic results.

At first surprisingly, McDonald makes very little of this potential set-piece, certainly much less than he did the destruction of Boa Vista, the city of the now fallen Corta family, in the previous volume. But then, the focus of his Luna books is, or seems to be, that particular family. Corta Hélio, their firm which mined the helium-3 which powered the fusion reactors which keep Earth going, is now no more, its functions taken over by the Mackenzies. A few of the Cortas have survived, notably Lucas, who has enlisted the help of the Vorontsovs (the clan in charge of the Dragon which transports cargo between Moon and Earth) and made the dangerous decision to accustom himself to Earth gravity to travel there and prepare the way for his revenge. The narration, in that urgent present tense which permeates a lot of modern SF, also follows Robson Corta, a ward of the Mackenzies, lawyer Ariel Corta, Lucas’s son Lucasinho, and Wagner, one of those “wolves” who are affected by the Earth’s phases. A significant addition to the cast is Alexia Corta, Queen of the Pipes, who keeps the water supply flowing in her Brazilian township till she inveigles herself into Lucas’s orbit and becomes his right-hand woman.

MacDonald’s decision almost to underplay the fall of Crucible becomes understandable as it sets the scene for what can only be described as total war between several Moon factions. Certainly a great deal of mayhem is involved. Almost as an incidental the Eagle of the Moon dissolves the Lunar Development Corporation before he himself is deposed. Along the way MacDonald subtly slips in references to previous works of speculative fiction, “The company of wolves wheels on,” “Earth is a harsh mistress,” “The bone clocks.”

A neat touch is Lucasinho’s contention that in a society where just about everything can be printed and recycled, cake is the perfect gift as it has to be hand-crafted. Admittedly he was saying this in extremis to distract his young companion from impending doom but it was a welcome light-hearted aside.

McDonald’s Luna does not present as an appealing place in which to live. Its people are for the most part even less appealing. It was ever thus with pioneers.

Pedant’s corner:- USianisms intrude -ass for arse, curb for kerb, shit for shat – yet we have manoeuvre. “‘Oh can I?’ Dr Volikova and again Lucas heard the amusement in her voice,” (has a “said” missing,) “Death is nothing. Not even not nothing,” (not even not nothing? “Not even nothing” is more parsable,) as in the previous volume the “2”s of CO2 and O2 are rendered as here in normal type and not as subscripts CO2, O2, lip-sticks (lipsticks.) “None ask to see the lip-gloss-smeared bruises.” (None asks,) “insisted that that Lucas Corta would inherit” (only one “that” needed,) “‘I think you should go back to you seat,’” (your seat,) “‘That’s there a Corta left to ask?’” (That there’s a Corta…) “was she doing it all?” (doing it at all.) Elamentals (Elementals,) “in Ariel’s’ entourage” Ariel’s,) “a third squad of hired blades secure the doors,” (a squad secures the doors,) “the maids’ uniform,” (it was one maid so maid’s.) “Jinji brings down a personnel capsule down” (only needs one “down”,) “the pod AI warn” (the AI warns,) “Communications seems to be down” (communications is plural, so “seem to be down”.) “Foods shortages” (Food shortages) “He feel sick” (feels,) “‘And you are withered old scorpion’” (a withered old scorpion.)

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