By Alan Smale



476pp/$26.99/July 2022

Hot Moon

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Fifty years ago, Apollo 17 was the last vehicle to take humans from the Earth to the Moon, carrying a crew made up of Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Harrison Schmitt to our nearest celestial neighbor. Alan Smale's novel Hot Moon postulates a world in which the American's continued to Apollo program at least through the end of the decade, when Apollo 32 carried Vivian Carter, Dave Horn, and Ellis Meyer to the moon. Furthermore, even before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, the Soviet Union had already landed Nikolai Makarov and Svetlana Belyakova on the moon, achieving the ultimate win in the space race.

Smale, who works for NASA when he isn't writing science fiction, follows Carter, the first female lunar mission commander, as she nears her goal of walking on the lunar surface and doing geological exploration in a previously unvisited portion of the moon. Unfortunately for her, the docking between her command module and the Columbia space station in lunar orbit, goes awry with a group of Soviet cosmonauts attack the space station, taking the American astronauts in it hostage.

Carter and her lunar module pilot, Meyer, are able to land on the moon, but at the Hadley lunar base rather than there original target. Although welcomed by the astronauts there, all of the Americans, both on the moon and in orbit, find themselves part of a political game being played between the Soviets and the Americans on Earth and in lunar space. While the Americans do not appear to know what is going on and have all communications with Earth jammed, the Soviet cosmonauts are positive that the American base is hiding weapons, both nuclear and conventional, to use against the Soviet Union.

Hot Moon is an interesting political thriller in that most of the intrigue is taking place nearly 385,000 kilometers away from the protagonist and the villains are mostly 120 kilometers away in orbit. Nevertheless, the activities in both of those places has a direct impact on Carter and the other astronauts who refuse to desert their post on the moon despite threats from the Soviets. Instead, they prepare themselves for a siege and Carter wins up taking a long walk on the moon reminiscent of Geoffrey A. Landis' Hugo Award winning story "A Walk in the Sun."

If Hot Moon has an issue, it is one of plausibility. The Soviets landing on the mon first is plausible, the continuation of the space race through the 1970s leading to significantly more missions by both countries may be plausible, as well as the lunar colonies and lunar orbital station. However, by the time Smale is finished, it seems as if sending people from the Earth to the Moon is as easy as taking the train into the city. At the same time, the details of space travel that Smale is able to offer provide a sense of verisimilitude to the novel and the various astronauts and cosmonauts follow established protocols.

Smale handles his large cast of characters well and Carter has distinct relationships with all of them, sometimes with a long history dating back to her days in astronaut training, sometimes newly established since meeting them on the moon, and sometimes through their reputation before she ever met them. Rather than depict the astronaut corps of 1979 as a close-knit fraternity, Smale shows it as a group with petty rivalries, strong friendships, and differing opinions of how to get their job done.

Hot Moon offers a tense thriller on the surface of the moon that is clearly grounded in the Apollo missions for the late 1960s and early 1970s. The hardware and processes are familiar to anyone with an interest in that period and Smale presents the action in a manner that is believable, if the reader can accept the escalation of lunar exploration and the increased number of humans who have been boosted into space and the ease with which it has been done. Characters are well represented with complex interpersonal relationships, although the main focus remains on Carter and most of the individuals are seen through her eyes.

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