Ian McDonald returns to the world of his Luna series (New Moon, Wolf Moon, Moon Rising) for an odd little YA-flavoured novella The Menace from Farside. Odd because it is set many years before the action in the Luna series. When the book opens many of the locations of the Luna series are still under constructions and the central Corta family have only just arrived to set up their Helium3 industry. Which would be interesting if this volume shed any additional light on the events in those books, not even in the way of a prequel but just some glimpse of the politics before the politics. Instead, McDonald presents a small stakes (well, apart from the lives of the protagonists) adventure story.
Teenage Cariad Corcoran is the child of a Luna-style marital arrangement known as a ring. In a ring, each parent has a left and right spouse. Each of these spouses will then be the centre of their own triad and so forth until a complete ring of people is created. When the ring that Cariad is part of starts to break down she face the prospect of a new sister, Sidibe. In order to prove herself to Sidibe, Cariad involves her other siblings, Jair and Kobe, and plans a surface trip to see the landing site of Apollo XI. Nothing quite goes to plan, because, as readers of this series will know, Lady Luna knows a thousand ways to kill you. The story is told in retrospect by Cariad which takes a little of the tension out of the expedition. Although whether the other three teens make it out alive is always a question on the table.
It is the world building, strongly underpinning this tale which is actually the star of this book. While many of the key locations and much of the infrastructure is still under construction at the time of this story. McDonald’s strong sense of his multicultural moon, where social norms are necessarily different and where there is still a frontier kill-or-be-killed attitude to survival – comes through strongly.
But in the end this is a fairly low key, YA style adventure tale that takes advantage of McDonald’s well realised world of Luna. It explores the lives of the first generation of Luna citizens, those who will never set foot on Earth, and the foundations of the society that McDonald explored in much more detail in his Luna series. It will not reveal any secrets or answer any questions from that series but it will tide fans over while they wait to see if that story will continue.