The murder of a Chinese politician on the moon in the mid-21st century sends a mismatched couple on the run and signals a looming crisis on Earth.
American Fred Fredericks is delivering a secure quantum-entangled phone to Chang Yazu, chief administrator of the Chinese Lunar Authority, but the two have barely shaken hands when Chang slumps to the ground, dead by poison. The confused Fred is accused of the crime, a pawn in a power struggle among various Chinese government factions, who also seek control of Chan Qi, the pregnant daughter of a top party official and the leader of a migrant workers rights movement. The two bounce between the Earth and moon and back in search of a safe refuge, aided at times by poet and “cloud star” Ta Shu, a friend of Peng Ling, the strong contender to become China’s first woman president. The title initially seems like a call back to the first entry in Robinson’s terraforming trilogy, Red Mars, but while the lunar landscape is a source of beautifully described detail and the lower gravity acts as obstacle and asset, this is not a hard sci-fi novel. Rather, it’s a political thriller where the moon is a backdrop and game piece for both China and the United States, two powerful nations facing significant political and economic unrest. A white man writing about Chinese politics and mainly Chinese characters could seem questionable in a publishing milieu that still lacks sufficient diverse voices; all one can say is that as per usual for Robinson, it seems well-researched. It is unfortunate that Chan Qi’s primary qualities are being pregnant and cranky; while tough and passionate, there’s little sign of the charisma typically associated with a populist leader. The more well-rounded Ta Shu is still mostly a plot device: He writes the occasional profound-seeming poem, but he’s mainly there to rescue our heroes at various moments and provide the author’s desired infodumps on physics and Chinese politics. Fred Fredericks (the white man) is the most intriguingly drawn character. While no explicit diagnosis is given, the author offers a vivid and relatively plausible depiction of a man on the spectrum, with social difficulties and a sensory processing disorder.
Not Robinson’s (New York 2140, 2017, etc.) strongest work, but not without interest, either.