Book Review: “Luna: New Moon” by Ian McDonald

Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald’s latest story live up to our expectations, a complex and strange story, set in a gritty technological future—filled with actual people trying to make it. If you haven’t read his other works, go to your library and check them out.

In this case, the setting is the moon about a hundred years from now. About a million and a half people live on the moon, mining it for minerals and Helium 3 to power Earth’s fusion plants. He fleshes out awe inspiring technology and the society that has developed.

The moon is technically run by the Lunar Development Corporation, so everyone on the planet is an employee not a citizen. Everyone has a chip implanted in their eye that continuously ticks down their resource usage, air, carbon, power, and data. If you run our of money, you are cut off. When you die, you are recycled, possibly to pay off your debts.

There is no government, no criminal or civil law. There is only contract law, which permeates all human interactions. Everyone is under contract, possibly many contracts. The culture is a wild blend of Earth derived ideas, and has developed a really, really, really free wheeling sexual ethos. The common argot does not even have words for straight or gay, only a spectrum of preferences. And humans can get very creative when they are free to make it up any way they want. At points we can only gape and , like one new immigrant in the story, say, “Goodness!”

In this environment, the society is extremely unequal, with the “Five Dragons” at the top. These five extended families/corporations control key economic monopolies, and operate as aristocratic fiefdoms, with many retainers, servants, and employees, dynastic marriages, and private armed forces.

Much of the story is about the internal and dynastic struggles of these families. The characters are realistic, if larger than life. But the super rich do tend to be peculiar, because they can do whatever they want. I can’t say I liked most of these bastards, but we are allowed to see glimpses of humanity and continue to hope that the little people will come out OK. Not likely, but we wish it so.

Of course, the technology is amazing, nearly magical in some cases, but totally believable. Giant orbital slings, huge rolling solar foundries,astonishing nano and biotech, and so on.

And much of the social organization is straight out of Silicon Valley’s playbook: everyone is networked and has personal agents, everyone is constantly executing micro contracts, corporations have data about everything and everyone, and everything is organized around “producing value for the stockholders”.

I’m trying to say, this is a really fine book.

And there is plenty of room for sequels: the fights are not over, there are deep waters that he hasn’t visited yet, and hints at some important secrets yet to be revealed.

It also occurs to me that, McDonald may have intended this to be a fitting tribute as we come up on the fiftieth anniversary of Heinlein’s seminal “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. Yet another miserable, oppressed lunar colony, with a twisted libertarian philosophy. Yet more political violence in a pressurized rat maze where death is only a few inches away. Yet another lesson in There Ain’t Any Such Thing As A Free Lunch.


  1. Ian McDonald, Luna: New Moon, New York, Tor, 2015.


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