THE RELENTLESS MOON
By Mary Robinette Kowal
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Mary Robinette Kowal's sequel to The Calculating Stars and The Fateful Sky, The Relentless Moon is a very different type of book than its predecessors. Rather than focusing on Elma York, this novel explores the life of Nicol Wargin, one of York's colleagues, and picks up in the middle of the events that are described in The Fateful Sky, given the background of what is happening in the Earth-Moon system. The novel has one of the most accurate titles I've ever seen.
Wargin was a supporting character in the original novel and didn't always have the easiest relationship with Elma, so part of The Relentless Sky is a rehabilitation of the character to make her more sympathetic to the reader than she was in the previous novels. To that end, Kowal shows Nicole's private live with her husband, Kenneth, who is serving as the governor of Kansas, as well as her relationship with other characters from the earlier novels, including Elma's husband and other friends. Kowal is successful in this and the reader quickly comes to care for Warbin.
The action is split between Warbin's life on earth with her husband and her life at Artemis Base on the moon. The first part helps establish her character and relationships and opens with a demonstration that not everyone on Earth is supportive of mankind's quest for the stars, even in the aftermath of the meteor strike that opened the series. These Earth Firsters have targeted Nicole's husband, Nathaniel York, and the IAC, requiring that Nicole's next launch to the moon take place from an alternative location in Brazil.
Even as Nicole arrives at the moon, disaster strikes, with a disastrous landing. From this point, the pace picks up and the moon really does become relentless. Artemis Base and the outposts they've established on the moon are complex systems which must work properly to keep everyone on the moon safe and alive. Unfortunately, failures do happen, there is the possibility, or even the probability, of sabotage, and then there are non-technological failure points as well. Kowal continues to inexorably increase the stakes and Nicole not only has to deal with the problems that are arising on the moon, but also with the personality issues that are now happening because of the moon's increased population.
The Relentless Moon is a very different novel than the earlier books in the series, seemingly owing more of its heritage to science fiction novels like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kowal has written a hard science fiction novel, but has not skimped on the human aspects and her characters come to life, not just Nicole and her inner circle, but many of the supporting cast of characters. In some cases, Kowal gives the reader an alternative understanding of characters previously seen through Elma's eyes, just as she is able to flesh out the events which were radioed to the spacecraft in The Fated Sky by showing the reader the full extent of what was happening on earth. At the same time, knowing how much was happening behind the scenes in The Fated Sky makes the reader very cognizant of how much must be happening on Earth that Artemis Base is only peripherally aware of.
Nicole's adventures on the moon create a more familiar novel than The Calculating Stars or The Fated Sky, possibly because the reader is already familiar with the changes to the world Kowal has introduced, but also because mysteries set on a lunar (or other colony) have precedent within science fiction. Kowal does bring a uniqueness to the novel in her choice of characters, which give Artemis Base a truly international feel, as well as the rigor of her scientific explanations. This world is a far from perfect place and its people can be as petty as in reality, but it is a world which has a lot to offer and is well worth returning to.
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