Earthdark starts up immediately after the events of Crisis on Conshelf Ten, featuring the same first person narrator, Kepler Masterman, now edging very close to age 16. Kepler has now returned to his home on the Moon, ready to readjust back into his life and his relationship with his fiancée, Ann.
Things, however, are not that simple. The lack of gravity feels right, but everything else is frustrating and wrong. Kepler finds himself unhappy with the food, the blandness, the regulations—nearly everything, actually, constantly comparing his surroundings to better things on Earth, even after Ann sharply reminds him that in his six month stay on Earth, his intolerance of gravity meant that he didn’t see much of it.
This doesn’t help.
And even apart from culture shock, Kepler has a number of other issues to deal with: namely, spies, saboteurs, and the realization that he may not be able to trust his father.
The Moon, after all, has not one colony, but two: the colony where Kepler lives, which focuses on science, research, and eventual independence from Earth, and a mining complex, Aristarchus, run by a soulless corporation, LEMCON. Readers wondering how Hughes feels in general about large corporate conglomerates will not be left in much doubt. The only kind thing I can say about LEMCON, and I’m stretching here, is that the company does arrange to have rather decent food sent up to the moon—real food, not the synthetic stuff that the colonists over on Kepler are trying to swallow. Otherwise, LEMCON is a terrible employer—failing in everything from safety standards, employee housing, honesty and (apparently) standard accounting practices, and that’s before we mention their tendency to hire mercenaries and people with decidedly questionable backgrounds. A few paragraphs along and I was thinking kindly thoughts of Halliburton in comparison. And as the cherry on top, they’re also extremely sexist, though to be fair their refusal to hire women is probably just as well for the women.
For that matter, all of the bad guys and some of the good guys in this book are a bit sexist. When Kepler and Ann are kidnapped, for instance, it takes the bad guys all of two seconds to decide who is going to do the cooking, and let’s just say this is a pretty gender based response. The miners are all men, and although the main colony isn’t overtly sexist, only two women in this book have the chance to say anything: Ann and her mother. And although Ann’s mother is a highly skilled, Nobel prize winning biologist, she’s pretty much entirely left out of the main plot.
Ann herself, though, makes up for a lot of this: the cooking and a few other moments aside, she announces early on that she’s not going to put up with Kepler’s crap (I cheered her on) and, better yet, doesn’t. She investigates her father’s disappearance on her own, turning to Kepler only when she needs practical assistance, and she, not Kepler, discovers the air lock to the ultra-secret moon hideout, and when trapped, immediately suggests exploration. She’s practical and intelligent, and when she runs away from a fight, it’s to get help and save people. Go, Ann, go.
Her growing relationship with Kepler is also handled very well. As Kepler notes, the two were initially matched by psychological tests, not by friendship, let alone mutual attraction. Kepler’s departure and return just serves to emphasize how very different the two are, both in background and personality, casting doubt on some of those psychological tests. It also becomes fairly clear that the community just doesn’t have that many young couples to match up, so the testing is….maybe not as awesome as it should be. But it’s enough to give them a level of trust, which becomes necessary as Ann and Kepler start their investigations—and realize that something might be happening on the other side of the moon.
The side that never sees the Earth.
The side that—supposedly—no one ever visits, because it’s earthdark, and communication systems (since the satellites are all on the earth-facing side) don’t work.
Most of the book from there is a non stop action/spy book, complete with a bit of zipping around in jet packed moon suits, which seems like the sort of thing we all should do more often. It’s helped by some solid worldbuilding: the scientists, and Hughes, have definitely put thought into how, exactly, a moon colony dependent on earth for everything from food to water to entertainment would work, and why some people might welcome the barren environment anyway: Ann’s passionate defense of the Moon colony is one of the best arguments I’ve ever heard for starting one up. If I’m dubious about some aspects—in my personal opinion, pairing 40 kids off into the supposedly correct psychological matches is going to result in at least some failures—I’m impressed by others: the “once a day” parties (not quite as frequent as this may sound, since “day” here means the lunar day), sunrise on the moon, the carefully planned work and living shifts.
The main flaw, in fact, is external to the main text: a timeline given in the beginning, which notes that Kepler was born on the moon in 1990, shortly after the founding of the moon colony, which obviously didn’t happen. It’s probably best to just skip this page, and instead focus on the rest of the book, which gives hope that we might yet have working colonies on other planets, even if several decades—perhaps centuries—after Hughes hoped we might. And which also gives me the distinct sense that however genuine Hughes’ love and concern for earth environments, terrestrial and marine, might have been, in her heart she always preferred the moon.
Alas, Mari Ness is now increasingly convinced that she will never step on the moon. She lives in central Florida.