by Jack McDevitt



464pp/$22.00/May 1998


Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Jack McDevitt's latest novel, Moonfall, opens with the future looking bright for space exploration. The Percival Lowell is preparing for the first manned voyage to Mars. Charles L. Haskell is the first Vice President on the moon, officiating at the ribbon-cutting ceremonies for Moonbase, set to coincide with a total solar eclipse. Of course, with a title like Moonfall, the good times can't continue. Moments before Haskell cuts the ribbon, a young woman in St. Louis, Tomiko Harrington, discovers a new comet acting very strangely.

Within hours, Harrington's discovery is confirmed as an extrasolar comet traveling at unheard of speeds which will pass close to the earth. Further calculations reveal that Comet Tomiko will collide with the moon in a mere five days. Even as rescue attempts for Moonbase get under way, President Henry Kolladner assures the American people that they have nothing to fear, despite predictions that the comet's size and speed would result in the destruction of the moon. Kolladner's problems are increased by Haskell's resolve to be the last one out of moonbase and to turn off the lights.

McDevitt has a large cast of characters in Moonfall, ranging from Kolladner and Haskell to space pilots to ordinary people who can't even pretend to have control over the situation. While he generally handles these characters well, and isn't afraid to let some of them die as meteorites strike the earth and tidal waves swamp the coasts, some of them do get lost in the rush. The novel opens with Horace Brickmann on a cruise ship to Hawaii during the eclipse. From his position in an opening scene, the reader gets the impression that he will become a major character in the novel. However, halfway through, McDevitt just drops his story line without resolution.

Much of McDevitt's story is told from an Ameri-centric viewpoint. Although countries from around the world are mentioned frequently as asking for or giving help, McDevitt really doesn't deal with their responses to either the threat of moonfall or their reactions to its reality. Although his Moonbase personnel is multinational, and at one point he even points out that five out of six Moonbase refugees are non-Americans, there is a very American slant to all of their stories, which can, perhaps, be forgiven since Moonbase International is based out of the U.S.A.

There are times when McDevitt's sense of time seem suspect. Although it takes an Saturn V three days to boost an Apollo capsule to the Moon, pieces of the Moon fall to Earth in mere hours. Similarly, the space planes of the twenty-first century seem to be able to fly anywhere in Earth orbit without regards to time.

The faults of McDevitt's novel are not particularly important and don't mar the enjoyment of the book. McDevitt has a clear writing style which allows him to fully participate in the act of story-telling. Furthermore, McDevitt clearly belongs to what Steven Brust once called the "Cool School" of writing. Simply stated he has ideas which, when you read them, make you say, "Wow, that's cool!" without being dropped out of the story. Science Fiction needs more storytellers like Jack McDevitt. With Moonfall, only the third McDevitt novel I've read, he clearly moves into my "must read" stack.

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