American Fred Fredericks is making his first trip, his purpose to install a communications system for China's Lunar Science Foundation. But hours after his arrival he witnesses a murder and is forced into hiding.
It is also the first visit for celebrity travel reporter Ta Shu. He has contacts and influence, but he too will find that the moon can be a perilous place for any traveler.
“The moon makes people moony. We are all lunatics up here, hoping that the world has gone away.”
With the exception of a few authors I don’t usually read Science Fiction. There are others, like N.K. Jemisin and Iain M Banks, whose work I would like to read. Prior to reading Red Moon, Kim Stanley Robinson was also included in that list. Although primarily a Science Fiction author, Robinson’s novels usually include philosophical, political and environmental themes, when he added a murder to the plot of Red Moon I thought why not.
I can remember as a teenager in the 70’s watching Space 1999, a TV series in which the inhabitants of a base on the Moon are stranded after a massive explosion rips the Moon out of its orbit around the earth. It’s now almost 20 years beyond that date and the last time anyone set foot on the moon was in 1972. Move forward to 2046 and the Chinese have set up a large base at the South Pole of the Moon, the Americans, Russians and various other countries are at the North Pole. Red Moon begins with Fred Fredericks, an American expert in quantum mechanics, and Ta Shu, a Chinese travel reporter, coming in to land at the Chinese base. It’s the first visit to the Moon for either of them and during the trepidation of landing they strike up a conversation. Soon after their arrival Fredericks is implicated in the murder of a senior Chinese official and he is transported to mainland China. Joining him on the flight is Chan Qi, the daughter of a high Chinese official, who is being sent back to China for her own safety. After arriving in China the pair escape and a large part of Red Moon details their efforts to avoid the Chinese authorities and other groups. These parts of the book are a little too drawn out with a lot space given to discussions between the pair. In some cases, like Fredericks attempt to explain Quantum Mechanics, there was just too much technical information.
All is not lost though and Red Moon is more successful with the parts dedicated to Ta Shu and an unknown programmer who’s behind the Great Firewall. Ta Shu is not just a travel reporter, he is a poet and philosopher, whose ailing mother survived the Cultural Revolution and therefore has a deep understanding of the impact that each generation of leader had has on Chinese life. The chapters of the book dedicated to the programmer trying to teach an Artificial Intelligence were my favourites, they were also the funniest parts. Another aspect of the book I enjoyed is the way in which Kim Stanley Robinson imagines the future as a progression from where we are now. This is best summed up by this passage. “Everything about it was old and battered. A slow train, a train that had carried millions of people millions of kilometres, still in service despite all. A train for poor people.”
But what of the murder? In a way it’s almost inconsequential to the story and is only a plot device to put the two main characters together. I’d also say that the pace of Red Moon is almost too slow to call it a thriller. Despite this I do recommend Red Moon because there was a lot to enjoy and learn, especially if you have an interest in China.