‘Luna: New Moon’ is an epic Western set on the moon

(cover by Victor Mosquera/Macmillan)
(cover by Victor Mosquera/Macmillan)

Luna: New Moon is a western that just happens to take place on Earth’s moon in the 22nd Century. Ian McDonald set the debut novel of his epic saga on a dangerous world with its own versions of a gold rush and range wars. This is a classic empire story about rival families looking to out-compete—and out-fight—each other for control of the moon’s natural resources.

The moon knows a thousand ways to kill you. That’s rule one and it rules everything.

By the start of the novel, the third generation of human colonists has been born on the moon. Cities have been carved into the rock, but the surface remains deadly. The poorest residents live in slums at the top of huge towers, unshielded from solar radiation. The rich dwell in lavish compounds far below. The first scene is an initiation ritual—which is scientifically plausible—in which a group of young people dash naked across the surface, but not without consequences.

Nothing tells you that you are not on Earth any more like exhaling at one price and inhaling at another.

Everything on the moon has a price. All lunar residents are fitted with a contact lens that shows their purchased levels of the Four Elementals—air, water, carbon and data. How breathable air gets to the purchaser is never made clear. Two people in the same room can have different oxygen levels; when one character accepts a higher-paying job, the volume of her breaths immediately increases.

author ian mcdonald
Author Ian McDonald (Rex Features)

People say the moon is hard; no, people are hard.

Much like George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones (1996) series, McDonald conveys the epic scope of his novel through many different point of view characters. He switches frequently from one character’s perspective to another, but spends most of his time with members of Corta Helio, the Helium 3 mining company founded by Brazilian ex-patriot Adriana Corta. The Cortas are a family of upstarts looking to break into the elite levels of lunar society. In failing health, Adriana is preparing to hand over control of Corta Helio to one of her children: Rafa the charmer, Lucas the schemer, Ariel the talker or Carlinhos the fighter.

[T]his is the most sexually liberated society that has ever existed. Lunar Globo doesn’t even have words for straight or gay. Everyone is on the spectrum somewhere.

There are no taboos on the moon. Most of the characters are bisexual. Marriage contracts or nikah can be for a limited number of years with no requirement of monogamy. Characters are distinguished from one another by their sexual proclivities, with a couple of sex scenes crossing over into gratuitous territory. One character is trans (referred to as neutro), which is only made clear through the use of Alter pronouns. Another grossly fat pedophile bears a striking resemblance to Dune’s (1965) Baron Harkonnen.

Kenneth McMillan as Baron Harkonnen in David Lynch's 1984 adaptation of Dune (Universal)
Kenneth McMillan as Baron Harkonnen in David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Dune (Universal)

There was no law, no justice; there was only management.

The highest authority is the Lunar Development Corporation. All relationships are governed by contracts, and a good lawyer always allows her client a way out. The best lawyer on the moon is Ariel Corta, whose ace in the hole is her willingness to personally participate in trial by battle. The only criminal justice system is family feuds, which leaves those without powerful connections at the mercy of those who do. Indeed, Ariel’s willingness to literally fight to win a case is a perfect strategy because no one would dare risk her family’s wrath by hurting her—even when it is she who throws down the gauntlet.

When Dragons fight, everyone burns.

Helio Corta is a power on the raise, the youngest of the Five Dragons. Their chief rival is Mackenzie Metals, an Australian company that was the first to exploit the moon’s resources and Adriana Corta’s employer before she left to start her own company. Corta and Mackenzie work crews skirmish regularly on the moon’s surface. Then the rivalry escalates after a mysterious attempt on Rafa Corta’s life.

Life is a series of doors that can only open one way. We can never return.

As inhospitable as the moon is, it is the only home these characters will ever know. Anyone who has spent more than two years there becomes physically incapable of surviving in earth’s gravity. This is what makes it the ultimate frontier story. The moon is both home and hell. And as one characters realizes, “The only way to transform hell, to even survive it, is to rule it.”

About Matt Hlinak

Matt Hlinak
Matt Hlinak is an administrator at Dominican University, just outside of Chicago. He teaches courses in English and legal studies. His short stories have appeared in 'Sudden Flash Youth' (Persea Books 2011) and several literary magazines. 'DoG' (2012) is his debut novel.

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