These days, everything is political. And when I say that, what I mean is that everything has always been political, but now people with the privilege to live an apolitical life are awakening to that privilege — or angrily complaining about its “removal.” Such is the case for certain SF readers who lament the supposed introduction of politics into their science fiction. “Why do we have to make everything political?” they lament, while ignoring the inherent politics of, say, Robert A. Heinlein.
Kim Stanley Robinson is one of my favorite science fiction writers, and one reason for that is that he’s always been directly political. Going at least as far back as the Three Californias trilogy (my earliest exposure), Robinson’s work always wrestles with the political implications of its nuts-and-bolts scientific speculation. Certainly that’s the case with Red Moon (2018), a near-future tale of political speculation and international intrigue set in the early days of humanity’s establishment of permanent moon settlements. It begins when Fred Fredericks arrives at a station on the moon’s south pole, to deliver a quantum communication device to an important Chinese political figure. The simple exchange nearly kills him, implicating him in an assassination attempt. Traumatized, Fred quickly finds himself a bemused bargaining chip in an internecine struggle between various angling factions on the predominantly Chinese moon. This thrusts him into the proximity of Chan Qi, the daughter of a powerful Chinese politician and a major figure in a movement for change in her country. Chan Qi’s unprecedented lunar pregnancy has created additional political problems. Fred and Chan Qi are soon fugitives, ricocheting from the moon to China and back while unseen political forces work to leverage them toward uncertain political ends.
It’s odd and probably misleading to say this about a weighty, 450-page novel, but Red Moon feels kind of slight, at least by Robinson’s robust standards. For all its richness, the core of the story is small: a nuanced, unexpected connection-under-fire between its interesting fugitive duo. Joined by unfortunate circumstance, Fred and Chan Qi serve as eyes on a detailed future, their journey enabling the reader to explore both a nascent moon society and a rich near-future China. It’s still a robustly designed science fiction novel, with plenty of rigorous speculation about its moonbound setting, advances in space travel, quantum computing, and global political upheavals on Earth. But the story feels close and intimate, even as its unlikely pair navigate a momentous and far-reaching geopolitical struggle. (Also of note: there are additional viewpoint characters, most notably the likeable Ta Shu, an influential Chinese poet and podcaster who befriends and helps the pair. Ta Shu recurs from an excellent, earlier Robinson novel called Antarctica which, if I remember correctly, is borderline non-speculative.) Overall, Red Moon is another bracing, thoughtful read from one of the field’s preeminent practitioners, and certainly another worthy addition to Robinson’s epic body of work.