Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Moon

cover art for Red MoonI seem to be on a minor Kim Stanley Robinson kick. Having just finished The Ministry For the Future, I was drawn to his previous book out of curiosity. Red Moon is somewhat similar thematically through more limited in scope. It’s a tale of intrigue on the Moon, which in 2047 has been most energetically settled by China – thus the title.

As the book opens we’re introduced to two of the three main characters. Both Fred Fredericks and Ta Shu are on a shuttlecraft preparing to land on the moon, though both have quite different missions. Fred is a quantum computing expert who’s delivering a quantum communication device to somebody in the Chinese enclave at the Moon’s south pole. Ta Shu, a feng shui expert, former poet and retired teacher, is the 2047 equivalent of the TikTok star with a very popular travelogue program, visiting the Moon for the first time to tell his fanbase what it’s like there in his folksy yet poetic manner. He’s also there as a feng shui consultant for … someone in the government, but we’re not sure who, to make sure the Chinese bases are being built in a manner that won’t bring bad results. Anyway, the two start talking during the very scary though routine landing and hit it off. Ta Shu is one of those people who has never met a stranger, but fortunately with him it’s mostly in a good way – he’s a genuinely likable character and person. They agree to have breakfast at their hotel next morning.

Most of the book is told in alternating chapters in third person from the perspective of either Fred or Ta Shu. Thus we learn a lot about their internal thought processes and personalities, and we only understand the action via their limited viewpoints. And action there is. After some humorous scene setting in which we learn how hard it is to get around in the Moon’s one-sixth earth gravity, something happens as Fred is delivering the quantum telephone to his customer, which kills the customer (a high-ranking Chinese official) and nearly kills Fred. When he doesn’t appear for breakfast, Ta Shu – who may be more than it appears at first glance – goes looking for him.

Fred is whisked away to a hospital and also charged with murder. This kicks off a diplomatic incident with the smaller American presence on the Moon. It’s around here that we’re introduced to Chan Qi, the young adult daughter of a high Party official back on Earth. She’s being banished back to Earth, ostensibly because she’s pregnant, which is a no-no on the Moon, but there’s actually some political reason that neither Fred nor Ta Shu is privy to, so that remains a mystery to us for a while. Through Ta Shu’s intervention, he ends up accompanying Fred and Qi back to earth, and those two begin a series of adventures that often seem to involve Ta Shu; they end up hiding from various factions and shuttling back and forth to the Moon, as political tensions rise due to a pending change in leadership in China.

There’s one more important though minor character: an unnamed computer technician and security specialist for the Party in Beijing. He has secretly created a powerful AI to monitor and try to assist Qi from deep within the state security system, and he encourages the AI, which he calls Little Eye, to use its programming to learn how to take initiative in its investigations on behalf of the technician.

Robinson is a very good writer and one who uses his art and craft to highlight Earth’s desperate environmental issues and advocate for action. As such, his stories are more idea- than character-driven, and sometimes the characters can seem like little more than bundles of ideas that drive their actions. That’s definitely the way Qi and the unnamed technician felt to me, although Fred and Ta Shu are a bit different. Sometime around the point where Fred meets Qi I realized that he is somewhere on the autism spectrum, which explains many aspects of his thought processes and the way he behaves around other people. It also explained the rather stilted nature of the dialog involving Fred, which in the early chapters I found quite off-putting. When I realized it was purposely written that way, a lot of things about the plot “clicked” for me. I’m neurotypical myself (though a bit introverted) so I can’t say how well Robinson does in portraying the thoughts and feelings of Fred as he progresses through the story. But it was an illuminating experience for me, so I guess Robinson succeeded to that degree.

And Ta Shu … Ta Shu is definitely something like a sage or even a shaman, as well as a kind of a Greek chorus, both commenting on the happenings and moving them forward. Robinson is taking another kind of a chance with Ta Shu, as an American creating a Chinese character and using him to comment on and explain current and ancient Chinese history, customs and thoughts. I particularly enjoyed Ta Shu as a character but I have no idea how a Chinese or Chinese American reader would feel about him.

Thematically, light does a lot of heavy lifting in this book, as does space in many forms: outer and inner, wide open and tightly enclosed. I also felt that in many places, Red Moon was in a running dialogue with Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which I may now have to reread.

Red Moon is a compelling novel, which you can say about many of Kim Stanley Robinson’s books. This book gives you a lot to think about when pondering the near future, especially what it might mean for life on Earth – politically, socially and economically – to have working colonies on the Moon. If you enjoy pondering the possible future of our world and its various systems in light of the way things look today, wrapped up in a story with a certain amount of action and intrigue, Robinson is definitely the author for you.

(Orbit, 2018)

Gary Whitehouse

Gary has been reviewing music, books and more at the Green Man Review since sometime in the previous Millennium. He lives in a mostly hipster-free part of Oregon, where he enjoys dogs, books, music, the outdoors, and craft beer, cider, and coffee.

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