Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: A Grey Moon Over China, by Thomas A. Day

One-sentence summary: Hard SF with epic space battles and interplanetary warfare for people who thought Battlestar Galactica was just too darned light-hearted and optimistic.

I discovered this book almost by accident; it certainly didn't get a lot of buzz when it was published in 2006. It's the author's debut novel, and while it wasn't perfect, I was enthralled by the story.

From the publisher's website:

Army engineer Eduardo Torres is caught up in the world’s raging oil wars when he stumbles onto the plans for a quantum-energy battery. This remarkable device could slow civilization’s inevitable descent into environmental disaster, but Torres has other plans. Forming a private army, he uses the device to revive an abandoned space colonization effort in an ambitious campaign to lead humanity to a new life in a distant solar system.

The massive endeavor faces many challenges before the fleet finally embarks for the Holzstein System many light-years away. But even as the feuding colonists struggle to carve out homes on alien worlds, they discover that they have not left their old conflicts and inner demons behind.

Nor are they alone on this new frontier. Awaiting them are inhuman beings who strike without warning or explanation--and who may spell the end of humanity’s last hope.

Epic in scope, yet filled with searing human drama and emotion, A Grey Moon Over China is a monumental science fiction saga by an amazing new talent. Its original publication by Black Heron Press was named one of the “Best Books of 2006" by Kirkus Reviews.

A Grey Moon Over China starts on an unnamed Pacific island, where Army engineer Eduardo Torres is fighting a war for reasons never specified against enemies who are interchangeable. It's a cynical look at the near future, where the whole world is at war over ever-diminishing resources. Peak oil has come and gone, the environment is a mess. Torres stumbles upon the MacGuffin of the book: technology for generating nearly unlimited power. Instead of trying to save the world with it, he and his companions say, "Fuck the world, we're getting off." And so they build a space fleet, alternately bribing and threatening the nations of the Earth with cheap energy. They are not allowed to just leave peacefully, of course. But leave they do, and when they arrive (through an artificial wormhole) at another star system, they find that the nations of the Earth have followed them, and there's something waiting out there for them. What follows is decades of planning, daring maneuvers, big-stick diplomacy, and warfare. The planets they live on are hard and inhospitable. There is another planet, through another wormhole: Serenitas. An Earthlike planet promising the peace and comfort they left Earth to find. And like crabs in a bucket, the humans who fled into space are constantly tearing each other down to try to be the first to reach it. And there's a space fleet of unknown origin in the way.

Almost nothing goes right for the main characters in this book. They slowly lose their empathy as they spend years struggling for a seemingly futile goal. There are no happy endings. It's depressing, but completely believable, that people would flee a fucked-up world and bring everything they were fleeing with them. In most books, when the protagonists conceive of a daring plan and things keep going wrong, you expect them to somehow pull it off at the last minute. In this book, Lucy yanks away the football every single time. You keep thinking they'll catch a break sooner or later, but nope. Although hope comes in the very end, it's an uncertain hope that follows one catastrophic failure after another.

Day's writing is clear and gritty and descriptive. The characters are all distinct and complicated and sometimes hard to like, but their losses are real and painful. The pacing is a bit uneven -- there are long stretches of plotting, scheming, and non-stop action, then there are long stretches of colonization and years of building fleets and training troops and everyone realizing just how profoundly screwed they are, and then everything gets blown to hell in an instant and they start all over. It's a cynical near-future epic, all sharp edges and shades of grey and defeat being snatched from the jaws of victory, not even remotely cheerful. If you're looking for space opera and heroic victories, pass. But if you like your SF grim and hard, and characters who are mostly moral and understandable but who wind up doing all the wrong things for all the right reasons, you won't be disappointed.

Verdict: A great first novel that I think deserves more acclaim, but not for those who like their SF light or uplifting. I am looking forward to Day's next novel, Ivory Gull. (Not a sequel to Grey Moon.)
Tags: books, highly recommended, reviews, science fiction

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