« Reading List: Sunburst and Luminary | Main | Reading List: Atomic Energy for Military Purposes »

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Reading List: Wrench and Claw

Howe, Steven D. Wrench and Claw. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services, 2011. ASIN B005JPZ74A.
In the conclusion of the author's Honor Bound Honor Born (May 2014), an explorer on the Moon discovers something that just shouldn't be there, which calls into question the history of the Earth and Moon and humanity's place in it. This short novel (or novella—it's 81 pages in a print edition) explores how that anomaly came to be and presents a brilliantly sketched alternative history which reminds the reader just how little we really know about the vast expanses of time which preceded our own species' appearance on the cosmic stage.

Vesquith is an Army lieutenant assigned to a base on the Moon. The base is devoted to research, exploration, and development of lunar resources to expand the presence on the Moon, but more recently has become a key asset in Earth's defence, as its Lunar Observation Post (LOP) allows monitoring the inner solar system. This has become crucial since the Martian colony, founded with high hopes, has come under the domination of self-proclaimed “King” Rornak, whose religious fanatics infiltrated the settlement and now threaten the Earth with an arsenal of nuclear weapons they have somehow obtained and are using to divert asteroids to exploit their resources for the development of Mars.

Independently, Bob, a field paleontologist whose expedition is running short of funds, is enduring a fundraising lecture at a Denver museum by a Dr Dietlief, a crowd-pleasing science populariser who regales his audiences with illustrations of how little we really know about the Earth's past, stretching for vast expanses of time compared to that since the emergence of modern humans, and wild speculations about what might have come and gone during those aeons, including the rise and fall of advanced technological civilisations whose works may have disappeared without a trace in a million years or so after their demise due to corrosion, erosion, and the incessant shifting of the continents and recycling of the Earth's surface. How do we know that, somewhere beneath our feet, yet to be discovered by paleontologists who probably wouldn't understand what they'd found, lies “something like a crescent wrench clutched in a claw?” Dietlief suggests that even if paleontologists came across what remained of such evidence after dozens of millions of years they'd probably not recognise it because they weren't looking for such a thing and didn't have the specialised equipment needed to detect it.

On the Moon, Vesquith and his crew return to base to find it has been attacked, presumably by an advance party from Mars, wiping out a detachment of Amphibious Marines sent to guard the LOP and disabling it, rendering Earth blind to attack from Mars. The survivors must improvise with the few resources remaining from the attack to meet their needs, try to restore communications with Earth to warn of a possible attack and request a rescue mission, and defend against possible additional assaults on their base. This is put to the test when another contingent of invaders arrives to put the base permanently out of commission and open the way for a general attack on Earth.

Bob, meanwhile, thanks to funds raised by Dr Dietlief's lecture, has been able to extend his fieldwork, add some assistants, and equip his on-site lab with some new analytic equipment….

This is a brilliant story which rewrites the history of the Earth and sets the stage for the second volume in the Earth Rise series, Honor Bound Honor Born. There is so much going on and so many surprises that I can't really say much more without venturing into spoiler territory, so I won't. The only shortcoming is that, like many self-published works, it stumbles over the humble apostrophe, and particularly its shock troops, the “its/it's” brigade.

During the author's twenty year career at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, he worked on a variety of technologies including nuclear propulsion and applications of nuclear power to space exploration and development. Since the 1980s he has been an advocate of a “power rich” approach to space missions, in particular lunar and Mars bases. The lunar base described in the story implements this strategy, but it's not central to the story and doesn't intrude upon the adventure.

This book is presently available only in a Kindle edition, which is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Posted at November 27, 2019 20:29