Novel: Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald’s impressive body of work expands with Luna: New Moon (2015), the first half of an inventive, intense duology that further cements his status as one of science fiction’s most talented and consistent writers. In the early twenty-second century, five powerful corporate families vie for control of Luna’s various natural resources and growing industries. Corta Hélio is the fifth and newest of the “Five Dragons,” an ambitious cartel that has made its fortune providing Helium-2 energy to Earth. Founded by Brazilian immigrant Adriana Corta, the family is entering its third generation, firmly ensconced as a power to be reckoned with—a position strengthened through a weave of opportunistic marriage contracts and entangling alliances with the other Dragons. But Corta Hélio’s power is about to come under fire from a mysterious unknown threat, forcing Adriana’s five children—leader Rafa, schemer Carlos, powerful lawyer Ariel, soldier Carlinhos, and shifty outsider Wagner—onto the defensive, to protect the interests of the family and their burgeoning financial empire.

Even if I hadn’t known that the author has described this series as “Game of Domes,” I’d like to think I’d have recognized Luna: New Moon as the potential hit television series it seems destined to become. Equipped with maps, glossaries, even a dramatis personae, it boasts the sprawling cast, fascinating complexity, and emotional twists and turns of popular episodic TV in the vein of Game of Thrones or The Expanse. Hopefully, they’ll do it right, because McDonald’s vision of the future is vivid, gripping, progressive, and gloriously diverse. As usual, McDonald draws liberally from non-western sources to enhance his future worldbuilding; his moon combines aspects of Brazilian, Chinese, Ghanaian, Russian, and other Earth cultures into a convincing, uniquely Lunar melange. Similarly, he avoids an expected sexual default for his characters: the moon is a decidedly fluent place, its people falling on an open-minded spectrum that eschews the traditionally hetero-normative. These sociopolitical elements are refreshingly forward-looking, even as they’re layered atop familiar soap-opera power struggles, harsh-environment survival scenarios, and emotionally charged action sequences. This moon is an unforgiving frontier world ruled by cagey negotiation and feudal politics, and McDonald first lures you with its schemes and mysteries, before ultimately engrossing you in its epic crises.

In my estimation, the sheer scope and ambition of McDonald’s body of work previous to this book—which includes the remarkable River of Gods and The Dervish House—made him a legitimate candidate to be a future SFWA Grand Master. Luna: New Moon only strengthens that impression, leaving me very anxious for the concluding sequel.

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