A Shaky Resolution: Luna: Moon Rising by Ian McDonald

Award-winning author Ian McDonald began his Luna trilogy in Luna: New Moon, and continued it in Luna: Wolf Moon. Now, in Luna: Moon Rising, the trilogy reaches its conclusion as the war that has raged between the Five Dragons of the Moon (and now has drawn representatives of Earth into the fray) enters its newest stage.

There’s just one major problem with Luna: Moon Rising: it doesn’t feel like a conclusion. It feels, in fact, a lot more like a prologue, like the end of an opening act of some much larger arc. For every thread that’s brought to some kind of conclusion, another one spreads its wings.

Let me state for the record that Luna: Moon Rising is not a good book to read out of sequence. It doesn’t stand alone. I’ve read the two preceding volumes in order (and lost a little detail to memory, as one does) and still feel a little lost among the variety of characters—many with similar names—and factions in play on the Moon. There is both a helpful glossary and a dramatis personae at the back of the book, but the actual assistance this provides in practice is rather limited.

Though perhaps I’d be better about tracking who is which, and who’s aligned to what purposes, if I had succeeded in making myself care about the characters and their purposes with more than a vague creeping horror at how much worse things can get for them, or how many more lives will be ruined by the choices of the adult characters (some trapped, some incredibly egocentric, some destructively selfish, some greedy, some just cold). Apart from the children, who are appropriately self-centred and mostly rather inscrutable—it’s hard to tell what the kids want, except for stability—there’s only one character who doesn’t come across as an unsympathetic asshole, and Marina Calzaghe has exiled herself back to Earth while she still can, only to find that she misses the Moon with everything that’s in her.

It’s been interesting to watch Ariel Corta’s development as a character from completely unsympathetic self-centred asshole to slightly less unsympathetic asshole with a social conscience, an evolution that continues in Moon Rising as she pits herself against Lucas Corta. Lucas has elevated himself to the role of Eagle of the Moon with the aid of the Earth-bound elements that want to exploit the Moon, and who also want to depopulate the Moon and turn it into an automated machine to make money for the Earth. (Though Lucas doesn’t know that part.) Ariel pits herself against Lucas first for the sake of family—for Lucas’s terribly injured son, adolescent Lucasinho—and in the end, for the sake of the future of the Moon.

There are multiple narrative threads here, competing personal and political priorities: Wagner Corta and Robson Corta and the ultimate fate of Bryce Mackenzie; Denny Mackenzie and Darius Mackenzie-Sun and the fate of Mackenzie Metals; Lady Sun of Taiyang and the Vorontsovs; Lucas Corta and Alexia Corta; the University of Farside and the future of the Moon. People die, people have ill-advised flings, infrastructure gets blown up, and the Moon’s bloody-handed, dramatic, and up-close-and-personal legal system is both demonstrated and discussed in some detail. McDonald’s worldbuilding is sharp and glittering, with particular attention to culture: the Moon’s hard-edged ideological libertarianism changing under pressure like carbon to become something similar, but changed.

It’s not that I don’t admire a lot of what McDonald’s doing here. There’s the worldbuilding, and the sense of creating a bigger world. The permissiveness of lunar society, and the ordinariness of its queerness. And his characters are interesting. I want to be able to like them more than I do. (I have a feeling I may have liked them more in the first volume, on rather less exposure.) But in the end, Luna: Moon Rising leaves me cold and unsatisfied, and doesn’t leave me feeling like the story has come to a resolution.

Pity it’s not a longer series. It’d make for a great middle book.

Luna: Moon Rising is available from Tor Books in the US and Gollancz in the UK.
Read an excerpt from the novel here.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and was nominated for a 2018 Hugo Award in Best Related Work. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

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