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Red Moon Paperback – September 10, 2019
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"Enjoyable and thought-provoking...[Robinson] is one of contemporary science fiction's great scene-setters."―SF Chronicle on Red Moon
"...as convincingly textured and observant as we've come to expect from one of the finest writers of his generation."―Locus magazine on Red Moon
"...as nuanced a portrait of connection between two people - two people who may never admit out loud that they've come to care for each other even the slightest bit, even if only as partners in survival -- as we've seen in science fiction in quite some time. Robinson nails the dynamic. Bravo."―SCI-FI magazine on Red Moon
"New York may be underwater, but it's better than ever."―The New Yorker on New York 2140
"Massively enjoyable."―The Washington Post on New York 2140
"Science fiction is threaded everywhere through culture nowadays, and it would take an act of critical myopia to miss the fact that Robinson is one of the world's finest working novelists, in any genre."―Guardian on New York 2140
About the Author
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Revolution is the central theme
In Robinson's telling, China and the US share superpower status in the world of 2046. Both countries are in a pre-revolutionary state, with millions of their citizens becoming increasingly restless. Democracy is breaking down in the United States, and a chaotic new leadership transition is underway in Beijing. Revolution is the central theme in Red Moon.
In the US, millions of people are moving their money from the banks to a new cryptocurrency, which causes the banking system to fail. Their demands include "a universal basic income, guaranteed healthcare, free education, and the right to work, all supported by progressive taxation on both income and capital assets."
In China, "the billion" internal migrants and urban poor are mobilizing to exert pressure on the leadership as it heads into its 25th Party Congress. They demand the restoration of the "iron ricebowl" (guaranteed job security, steady income, and benefits ), the rule of law, the elimination of the Great Firewall, and a semblance of democracy that allows grassroots pressure to make itself felt at the top.
Robinson demonstrates a sure grasp of political dynamics in his account of these revolutionary developments.
A story anchored in a small cast of characters
Robinson succeeds in painting on such a broad canvas by zeroing in on a handful of principal characters. The action swirls around just two of them: a Chinese "princessling" who is leading the country's grassroots insurrection, and an American quantum mechanics technician whose life becomes entangled with her on the Moon. Other characters include a nameless analyst and the Artificial Intelligence he is programming, an aging man whose travelogues have made him a star in the Cloud, and a young American woman in the Secret Service who reports directly to the US President. Robinson is a skilled writer, and every one of these characters becomes believable in the telling.
Kim Stanley Robinson's new novel is a flawed but engaging tale
The action in Red Moon shifts abruptly on too many occasions, as the two central characters flee, evade capture, are then recaptured . . . repeatedly. This becomes tiresome. Robinson might have made the point with a single repetition. And at times, especially in the thinking of the analyst and his AI, the text is difficult to decipher. The story is worth sticking with for the insight it offers into the revolutionary process. But it's not always fun to read.
About the author
Kim Stanley Robinson has written a total of 19 novels and a slew of short stories to date. (You can find a complete list of his works here.) Robinson's doctoral thesis, published in 1984, was The Novels of Philip K. Dick. But it's difficult to see Dick's influence on his work. Dick wrote about the ephemeral nature of reality and the search for identity; the characters in his novels frequently lost touch with reality, as Dick himself often did. Robinson's novels are grounded in hard science and a deep understanding of the social sciences.
Robinson's latest book is RED MOON, a novel that is apparently in the same timeline as that of New York 2140. The moon has been colonized mostly by the Chinese; they basically control the south polar region of the moon, while the north polar region is left for everyone else. The year is 2047, a year that I felt was wildly optimistic to have full colonization of our satellite until I read that the Chinese are launching an expedition to the far side of the moon, and I'm now wondering just how far off Robinson really is.
The story, such as it is, kicks off with an American bringing a revolutionary (now that I think about it, that's a funny way of putting it) quantum communications device to the moon as part of a deal made with the Chinese administration there. He gets caught up in a successful assassination attempt, and thus begins the wild ride of Fred Fredericks (the American) and his unlikely involvement with a Chinese revolutionary named Qi as they traverse the moon north to south and back again, and while they're at it, travel back and forth from the Earth to the Moon as well. But all that running around the moon and the Earth have almost nothing to do with that communications device. That little item was just a way to get the story started.
Robinson recently stated in an interview in Locus magazine that RED MOON was about the Chinese colonization of the moon. Quite frankly, I don't buy that. Qi's father is involved in the latest Chinese dynastic succession on Earth. Qi is a wild card in that story. Her father is involved, but she is extremely outspoken in her opposition to the Party. She is also pregnant, which happened while on the moon and is not allowed. She is sent to earth, along with Fred, early on in the story to get her off the moon and hidden so the embarrassment to her and her father can be hidden from the authorities. From that point on, the story deviates from that of Fred and the communications device to that of the next great Chinese dynastic succession. One note about Qi's pregnancy. I'm not really sure what it adds to the story, unless I'm missing some subtle point (always a possibility). There certainly is a great deal of symbolism between her pregnancy and the new regime on Earth. But beyond that, I'm at a bit of a loss.
And this is why I don't think this book is about the Chinese colonization of the moon. Just as Robinson originally wanted to write a book about financial markets and ended up with NEW YORK 2140, he wanted to write a book about the next great Chinese dynastic succession, and he was able to do so by setting it in the future and showing how technological advances would affect that succession, while at the same time showing that the succession really still is a succession, no matter what causes and influence it.
Robinson is well known for being an ardent supporter of infodumps, and is not shy about including them in all of his novels. RED MOON is no different, although this time around the infodumps are not always about science - although we get more than our share about the colonization of the moon. They are about Chinese philosophy, government, finances, history, and motivation.
They are about Chinese society, and eventually how all these things led to where we are in RED MOON. To this reviewer, it all points to the fact that Robinson wanted to write about the succession, not about moon colonization. The colonization was just a convenient vehicle for telling his story.
Yes, I know, who I am to say what Robinson's motivation really was for writing the book? I can't argue with that point of view. To put a bit of a gentler spin on the novel, it sure seems to me that he wanted to tell the succession story, and that I could be wrong about that.
Don't get me wrong. RED MOON is well written. As was once put to me about something else entirely, it's written in a way that would make your high school literature teacher proud that you read it. But like most of Robinson's other novels recently - the notable exception being AURORA - it's light on traditional story telling structure and plot.
As with NEW YORK 2140, multiple narrators are used in the audio production. I liked the way the multiple narrators were used in that book, but not so much here in RED MOON, and I'm not sure why. I guess they just didn't work for me this time around. Also, I feel like Joy Osmanski was under-utilized. She read very few chapters in comparison to the two male narrators. In any event, the narration was serviceable and worked well enough; it just wasn't as outstanding as the narration in NEW YORK 2140.
I could say the same for the novel itself.
The characters are shallow and impossible to relate to.
The action is disjointed and incoherent.
The settings are not credible.
The socio-political background is pure fantasy.
It's just free associational junk; pop political/sociological gibberish.
Oh but wait! There's more to come!
Save your money.
Top international reviews
That is the set up for a hard sci-fi thriller of what might be described as bi-global scope. On the moon a treaty prevents militarisation and colonisation, but the Chinese dominate the south pole while the rest of the world are dotted round the north. When a US ship lands at the south it doesn't create a diplomatic incident, but tensions are raised. Meanwhile, on the rest of the moon private enterprise is building a foothold. On Earth Qi's return is the catalyst for both popular revolution and for a war of succession at the top of the party. On the other side of the world, America is also in turmoil, as the populace are in economic rebellion, switching from the dollar to a green on-line currency.
In the same way that so much British fiction, science- or otherwise, is currently inflected with a post Brexit tone, this has a whiff of post-Trump. Author Kim Stanley Robinson recognises the forces of grassroots discontent which are currently fuelling global populism. His sympathies are not, however with the orange one. This is a classic Robinson book where he takes an optimistic view of human nature, and tying in to another regular theme of his work, there is a strong eco-strand in his popular rebellion. This repetition of past themes also comes up when some (currently) minor characters visit a private lunar colony which has much in common with the "new age hippies in space" tone of the Mars sequence. Robinson does, however, take a very gentle side swipe at his idealists trying to build a new world, pointing out how much easier it is with wealth behind one.
While I described this as a thriller, it is at times contemplative and leisurely. In an early section Fred and Qi are hiding in a flat in Hong Kong and have long conversations which intertwine revolutionary Chinese politics and quantum physics. Ta Shu's poetry regular inserts itself into the narrative.
The relationship between Fred and Qi is also more nuanced than one might expect from a genre novel. It is the story of two people with absolutely nothing in common learning to rub along. There is believably no hint of romance.
That said, the hard sci-fi is very strong at both a human level, with the difficulty of movement in 1/6th terran gravity a continuous theme, and at a technological level, with the protagonists zipping around on and in any number of rail-gun launched space capsules, moon rovers, and lunar trikes. There is also the question of an AI released onto the internet by a hacker hidden in the Chinese Security system.
As it heads towards its cliff hanger conclusion (yes this is apparently the first in a sequence), the pace accelerates significantly as characters fly between earth and moon, and race across the lunar surface dodging missile strikes before launching into an unknown future.
Robinson is always firmly at the intelligent end of science fiction, but with a tendency at times to step over into pretentiousness. Here he approaches the boundary, but manages to stay on the right side. A triumph.
One final thought - there are sufficient eco logical themes here to suggest that the next book might be Greem Moon.
I wasn't as taken as some reviewers with the characterisation, either, which strikes me as pretty stereotyped.
Worth reading, I suppose, but by no means up to Robinson's best level.
When Fredericks' business meeting goes terribly wrong, he is unwittingly caught up in a political mess related to the upcoming communist party congress. Our third lead is Chan Qi, a princessling whose important father may be about to become president of China. However, she appears to be on the wrong side of some of the politics that Fredericks finds himself caught up in. We spend our time with these three main characters, travelling in China, to and from the Moon and around on the moon.
I have to say, I did not enjoy this book, so much so that I was very close to quitting reading it after about a third. I found the constant references to Feng Shui really irritating, and there seemed to be no plot or storyline - just a rambling poet, a privileged young woman and a strange American. Things did pick up though, and I enjoyed the middle section, which focused on the moon colonisation and life there. However, the end was another disappointment - it just stopped.
I have read and enjoyed KSR previously (esp. the Mars trilogy) so I will be reading more of his stuff, but this was a real disappointment.
Doubtless the illustrious KSR has something to say but sleep, or just about anything else, was preferable to the creeping paralysis of inattention. Please go and write about something that matters. Or at least is interesting.
This is not your typical Kim Stanley Robinson -novel. After reading at least ten novels from Robinson this book feels like it's written by someone else. Especially the pages between 91-221 are filled with conversations about Chinese culture and "infighting" bureaucracy, and nothing really happens. After this political tirade the characters are exactly in the same situation they were 130 pages before. Usually I like political science fiction (one of the reasons to read KSR) and Chinese politics is a subject I'm interested in, but in this novel I found a lot of boring trivia about recent (and imaginary) history of China, the kind of information you learn in high school. Also the 'radical' political views are quite simple and childish compared to other political sf-writers like Cory Doctorow.
Maybe mr Robinson noticed the thin layer of sf himself and decided to add a third viewpoint character of AI to this novel. But those episodes told near to AI are like dull imitations of early Gibson. Horrible. This novel has even less sf'nal attitude than KSR's Washington-trilogy!
So, be warned: there are plenty of random ideas to like in this novel, e.g. the visions about Chinese colonization of Moon, the lunatic architecture, "free crater" society and "documented anarchy", but every time mr Robinson comes near to Earth in his fiction, the result is worse than his average writing style.
The ending is probably the worst I ve seen - I actually thought I was missing pages. Clearly he tried to leave the door open for a second part which I will not be buying.