Friday, August 28, 2020

Review of The Menace from Farside by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald’s Luna trilogy is one of the past decade’s more polished bits of space opera. (I know, I know, it’s technically moon opera.) McDonald calling the storyline “game of domes”, he created a multi-faceted view to a lunar society, and the tensions and conflicts that forced power changes, conflict, and outright war through the lenses of progressive social systems. Such a rich setting, a couple of short stories have spun-off—“The Fifth Dragon” and “The Falls”. There is now a third, 2020's The Menace from Farside.

The novella tells of the adventures of Cariad Corcoran and her small clique of friends. Initially an unspoken rite of passage for the newest member of the group, the four head out of their underground biodome onto the moon’s regolith to find Neal Armstrong’s first footprint. Needing to be a bit mischievous to pull off the stunt, it isn’t long before the group’s daring turns into outright hazard—the dangers of the moon, both physical and political, show up sooner rather than later.

In terms of pure plot, The Menace from Farside is a throwback to yesteryear science fiction: YA adventure on the moon. McDonald uses the setting he created in the Luna novels to good effect, namely the depiction of technology and how human life must adapt to live on the moon. But it’s certainly not fireworks. Where McDonald does inject color into the story is on a line by line basis of dynamic, future-teenage diction. McDonald one of if not the most stylistically versatile writers in the field, here he tunes his ear to the melodies of social media today and extrapolates to create a near-future lunar version for the young. Recognizably English, McDonald nevertheless adds a flash and groove that make it feel different and whatever the future word for “cool” is.

With “The Fifth Dragon”, “The Falls: A Luna Story”, and now The Menace from Farside, we have three additional stories in McDonald’s Luna setting. Unlike what Cyberabad Days did for River of Gods, however, there is not yet enough material to fill a complementary collection. And I would be surprised if there ever were. McDonald composing the majority of the stories in Cyberabad Days while writing River of Gods, the Luna trilogy is (I believe) completed, meaning that it's likely McDonald has moved on to his next project. But, we’ll see. Given the quality of the Luna short fiction compared to Cyberabad Days, however, that may not be a bad thing.

Overall, The Menace from Farside is not a bad story. It manages to hearken back to retro sci-fi in its setting and plot, while being wholly 21st century in its politics, social setup, and usage of tech. While often feeling like YA material, the story is still appreciable by adults—the closer to a dynamic social lifestyle, the better.

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