Series: Lady Astronaut #3
Published by Tor on July 14, 2020
Genres: Alt-History, Science Fiction
Format: Kindle or ebook
Source: the publisher
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Also in this series: The Calculating Stars
Also by this author: Shades of Milk and Honey, The Calculating Stars
Mary Robinette Kowal continues her award-winning Lady Astronaut series, which began with The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, with The Relentless Moon.
The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC's goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.
Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
The Relentless Moon: Riveting SF
The Relentless Moon is terrific! It absolutely lives up to the previous books in the series. The novel is gripping, suspenseful, and sometimes wrenching, with moments of levity that never detract from the deadly serious situation in which the characters find themselves.
There is so much I want to say, but I can’t without spoilers. The Relentless Moon takes place on Earth and on the Moon, during the time frame covered by The Fated Sky, and is told from the point of view of astronaut and governor’s wife Nicole Wargin, a secondary character in the first books. Those who have read The Fated Sky will understand the need to change narrators in order to tell this part of the overall “history,” since Dr. Elma York is altogether elsewhere during the events of book. Readers of the series will also anticipate at least one of the major events that occurs in The Relentless Moon… but believe me, knowing something about what’s coming doesn’t diminish the rising suspense and tension in the least.
Kowal is an excellent writer who really knows her craft.* Her characterization is topnotch. Nicole’s character and voice are distinctly different from those of Elma, the narrator of the first two books. Nicole’s personality is harder, more worldly (or cynical), though she projects a smooth and polished persona befitting a governor’s wife. She is also an occasionally unreliable narrator, at least when it comes to certain aspects of her life or personality… and no, I’m not going to tell you what, only that all becomes clear eventually.
Although the book is written from the point of view of a white woman, the cast is racially diverse. The international astronaut program and colonization program both include individuals from a number of different countries, as well as both white and black Americans. Two of the major secondary characters — good friends of Nicole’s — are black pilots; another is a Taiwanese woman who works as a computer. Since the time frame is the early 1960s (albeit an alternate timeline), race inevitably arises as an issue at times, with several incidents of overt racism and unconscious bias on the part of some secondary characters (most of them minor.)
Nicole’s perceptions of other characters are important throughout the novel, for reasons I can’t specify, but that will be obvious as you read it. The book reads like a mystery, or perhaps a thriller. Kowal expertly builds a feeling of tension and impending danger throughout, racheting up the stakes for Nicole and the rest of the lunar colony’s astronauts and colonists. I could hardly put the the book down! At the same time, I found it too intense for middle-of-the-night insomnia reading; instead of falling back asleep, I would have read straight through the night.
Kowal’s worldbuilding is equally strong. She really does her research, both through reading and by corresponding with experts, and it shows. Everything feels and sounds realistic, from piloting a small plane on Earth to the design and function of the lunar colony modules. You have only to read the Afterword to see how much care and thought Kowal puts into making sure every aspect of the book makes sense and is scientifically feasible.
As wonderful as The Relentless Moon is, I recommend reading The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky first. The first book sets up the premise on which the entire series rests, and the second covers events which greatly impact what happens in TRM. While I think I could have followed everything that happens in TRM without having read TCS and TFS, my background knowledge gained through the first two books gave context, depth, and urgency to the characters and situations in TRM.
If you enjoy audiobooks, it’s a fantastic way to experience this series. Mary Robinette Kowal is a professional audiobook reader as well as a writer, and she did a fantastic job on the first two books. I didn’t have the opportunity to listen to The Relentless Moon, but I’m sure her narration is just as good. And of course, one of the joys of listening to an author read her own work (well!) is that all the voices, emphasis, and interpretation are as close as possible to what she had in mind while writing the book.
*Ms. Kowal co-hosts the Writing Excuses podcast with Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells. It’s always interesting and informative to listen to her and her colleagues discuss the craft and techniques of writing.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- COYER Quarantine Edition (2020)
- POPSUGAR Reading Challenge 2020