Monday, April 22, 2019

Review of Luna: Moon Rising by Ian McDonald

Dubbed by the author himself “Game of Domes”, Ian McDonald’s Luna series to date has taken readers on a science fiction journey in essence similar to George R.R. Martin’s famous series but wholly its own in terms of setting and character. The five dragons alive and kicking, McDonald’s families war over the ‘island’ of the moon, fighting with all tools at their disposal. From corporate maneuvering to outright hostility and assassination, life on Earth’s satellite offers the same quality soap opera drama without being imitative. 2019’s Luna: Moon Rising brings McDonald’s trilogy to a widespread, explosive, and entertaining conclusion.

The threads of story and character introduced in Luna: New Moon and frayed further in Luna: Wolf Moon are at last bound together in Luna: Moon Rising. Picking up events where Wolf Moon let off, the Cortas scramble to take control of the moon in the wake of Jonathan Keyode’s death. The McKenzies, having been bloodied, plot their revenge with Bryce now at the head. The Suns may be quiet, but there is belief behind the scenes the time has come for their zenith once again. Forever seemingly aloof, the Voronsov’s continue to build their infrastructure empire by playing all sides against the middle when profitable. And the Asamoahs continue to look the good guys all the while a select few family members put into action more sinister plans. But with powers on Earth having plans of their own for the moon, the five dragons may not see certain threats before it’s too late.

McDonald perhaps too experienced and wise a writer to bung things up, Moon Rising is likely everything a reader who enjoyed the first two books in the series would want the third and concluding volume to be. The gears of story all kept spinning smoothly together, the novel re-preps the hounds for the chase, finds the scent, and turns them loose for a moon-jarring conclusion that lives up to the tv series Dallas McDonald kept in the back of his head while writing the books.

That being said, there is something off about Moon Rising compared to the first two books. I don’t feel confident identifying the deviation, but my gut tells me the novel’s spread is too wide—that McDonald tried to incorporate too much, and rather than extending the novel to match the level of depth and detail from the first two novels, instead rode a little higher, skimming the top to keep length reasonable. As a result there are more character threads forming the braid of story, but each feels less rich and less prominent, including series’ stalwarts, which in turn partially dilutes the whole. Jumping settings more often to cover the broader cast of characters, it becomes tougher for any author to build a larger sense of cohesion. (Martin resolved this by dedicating whole chapters to characters, whereas McDonald can shift among them even within chapters.) McDonald is still a hell of a writer, but perhaps tried to cram too much in... For the last novel in a trilogy, however, perhaps that’s the way to go?

In the end, Luna: Moon Rising confirms the Luna series as the 21st century inheritor of Dune’s mantle. McDonald expertly building a setting, creating relevant characters, and turning a brilliant plot of human virtue and vice loose on it, space opera rarely comes so satisfying. While several of McDonald’s other novels have more integrity and relevance, in terms of pure entertainment Luna delivers the best of any science fiction series this generation while offering a small taste of leftist zeitgeist. Bottom line: if you enjoyed the first two novels, the third will likewise satisfy—how much, is only relative.

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