- Moonbase (#1)
- Part of the Grand Tour universe
- Published by New English Library
- First published in 1996
- Hard SF
- 613 pages
The Moon. Since time began, our nearest celestial neighbour has called to us. Now the Masterson Corporation has established Moonbase, a permanent outpost on the lunar surface. But not everyone is happy with the way the site is being managed. And some are even willing to kill for control of its future . . .
Five books in and Ben Bova still hasn’t disappointed me. Whether it’s on Mars, Venus, New Earth, or the Moon, he is quite simply a phenomenal storyteller. My reading of his Grand Tour universe is skipping all over the chronology of the setting, but that hasn’t impacted my experience negatively at all. There are over two dozen novels in the universe, but aside from the odd crossover character or passing reference to the events of another book, each smaller series is a completely standalone tale. The Moonbase duology takes place over a period roughly concurrent with the Mars books, but you can read one without reading the other. And despite the similar premise of establishing a human foothold on an alien world, they offer radically different stories. Mars was all about the isolated team of scientists. Moonrise is much more concerned with the larger picture of humanity. We spend as much time on Earth as we do on the Moon.
First I’m going to get a pretty big spoiler out of the way. Our initial main character Paul Stavenger is killed off a third of the way through. From there we skip ahead a generation to focus on his son Doug. It’s a bold choice, and one I’ve not seen used much. Especially in a modern world where common practice is to make your audience invested in a character from the start, it really comes as a shock. But, and here is the key thing, Bova makes it work. Aside from ramping up the stakes with the reminder that anyone can die, it gives weight to the legacy Doug aspires to uphold. A lot of Bova’s other work has been calm bordering on serene, so shaking things up with a more action-oriented storyline is a nice surprise that proves there’s more to Bova than just scientific rigour.
Now, a book written in the nineties and set early in the twenty-first century is always going to run into the problem of fiction and reality diverging. Sadly, we do not yet have programmable nanomachines that can build structures in low gravity. Likewise, a permanent lunar presence is still a little way beyond what humanity has actually achieved. But there are smaller moments that make you look twice. When a character looks at someone’s face on their phone, I initially thought nothing of it. Then I remembered the date of publication, and was struck by just how close to reality Bova’s means of communication are. The methods of space travel also hew pretty closely to reality, though I’m not educated enough in aerospace to say how accurate Bova’s depictions are.
Sadly, Bova’s most accurate predictions are the social ones. I try my best to keep real world politics out of this blog, but sometimes fiction echoes reality in ways that are impossible to ignore. Given the events of the past few years (and this past week in particular), the rise of a group like New Morality is more plausible than I’d like. It’s all too easy to see how we might end up in a similar position to the Earth of the Grand Tour.
But don’t let that sour note distract you. For all the dark undertones, Moonrise is a fundamentally optimistic novel. You can move on from trauma. You can build a better world. All you need to do is make a stand. And, ideally, have the backing of a megacorporation.