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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Reading List: Moonseed

Baxter, Stephen. Moonseed. New York: Harper Voyager, 1998. ISBN 978-0-06-105903-2.
Stephen Baxter is one of the preeminent current practitioners of “hard” science fiction—trying to tell a tale of wonder while getting the details right, or at least plausible. In this novel, a complacent Earth plodding along and seeing its great era of space exploration recede into the past is stunned when, without any warning, Venus explodes, showering the Earth with radiation which seems indicative of processes at grand unification and/or superstring energies. “Venus ponchos” become not just a fashion accessory but a necessity for survival, and Venus shelters an essential addition to basements worldwide.

NASA geologist Henry Meacher, his lunar landing probe having been cancelled due to budget instability, finds himself in Edinburgh, Scotland, part of a project to analyse a sample of what may be lunar bedrock collected from the last Apollo lunar landing mission decades before. To his horror, he discovers that what happened to Venus may have been catalysed by something in the Moon rock, and that it has escaped and begun to propagate in the ancient volcanic vents around Edinburgh. Realising that this is a potential end-of-the-world scenario, he tries to awaken the world to the risk, working through his ex-wife, a NASA astronaut, and argues the answer to the mystery must be sought where it originated, on the Moon.

This is grand scale science fiction—although the main narrative spans only a few years, its consequences stretch decades thereafter and perhaps to eternity. There are layers and layers of deep mystery, and ambiguities which may never be resolved. There are some goofs and quibbles big enough to run a dinosaur-killer impactor through (I'm talking about “harenodynamics”: you'll know what I mean when you get there, but there are others), but still the story works, and I was always eager to pick it back up and find out what happens next. This is the final volume in Baxter's NASA trilogy. I found the first two novels, Voyage and Titan (December 2012), better overall, but if you enjoyed them, you'll almost certainly like this book.

Posted at June 12, 2013 21:59