Review: LUNA: WOLF MOON, by Ian McDonald (Luna #2)

“We fight and we die up there; we build and we destroy, we love and we hate and live lives of passion beyond your comprehension and not one of you down here cares.”   (Lucas Corta)

One of my most awaited titles for this year was the sequel to the amazing Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald, that for me had represented a double discovery – a great story and a new-to-me author who captured my imagination with his representation of a complex and merciless society established on the Moon.  When Luna: Wolf Moon came out I did now waste any time in acquiring and reading it, and indeed it was worth the year-long wait. For those who plan on reading it, this review is as spoiler-free as humanly possible…

The colony established on Earth’s Moon has thrived and expanded, in the span of a few decades, into a microcosm society ruled by the Five Dragons, the families who have created their own resources-based empires: the Mackenzies mine the surface in search of rare metals; the Suns deal with software and technology; the Asamoahs are the food growers; the Vorontsovs run the transport systems; and the late-comers Cortas extract the precious Helium3 that keeps the lights running on Earth.  These five families have been at each other’s throats – albeit in a subtle and apparently civilized way – since forever, despite the intermarriages that should have cemented a sort of truce and instead only managed to fuel rivalries and hatred, yet for some time the status quo prevailed until the Mackenzies decided to take matters into their own hands and brutally attacked the Cortas in order to erase them from the face of the Moon.

And so the first book ended, in a mass slaughter that made Martin’s infamous Red Wedding appear like a church picnic, and Luna: Wolf Moon opens some eighteen months later: the few surviving Cortas have either gone into hiding or adopted a very low profile, while the Mackenzies have taken over their rivals’ business and destroyed their enclave, Joao de Deus, in a ruthless tabula rasa operation that speaks volumes about the conquerors’ determination of sending their adversaries into oblivion.  Yet the Cortas are not truly finished because Lucas, one of the surviving heirs of matriarch Adriana, decides to undergo the grueling and potentially lethal training that will allow him to travel to Earth, where he intends to collect the necessary resources and allies to effect a comeback and vanquish the Mackenzies.  And as an added point of interest, the latter are not exactly enjoying their victory, because an inner war for power has started…

To say that I totally relished my return to McDonald’s Moon would be a massive understatement: there is so much in this story to hold my attention – apart from the plot about which I will say no more, because it must be appreciated on its own: the social structure created on the Moon is a fascinating exercise in imagination, as is the frame of mind of the people who have made their home there; and then there are the characters, the majority of which are not people one can easily admire, but are still so fascinating that they kept me glued to the pages not in spite of their shortcomings, but because of them.   The society on Luna seems divided into two neat halves, those who wield power and have the means to live comfortably, and those who work for them and are seemingly locked in a precarious situation, subject to the whims and moods of the Dragons and their families.  There appears to be no middle class as we intend it, and that’s somewhat puzzling – unless the author chose not to mention these people because they were not functional to the economy of the story…

The civilization that grew up on the Moon as the small settlements expanded is a very peculiar one, not exactly lawless (even though the strongest usually prey on the most vulnerable and no one ever raises their voice to object), but rather… anarchic, for want of a better word: you could say that it was the environment that made the rules, not its dwellers, and since Luna is the proverbial harsh mistress, weakness cannot be tolerated there, not in a place whose very nature is focused on killing you with cold, lack of air and water, or unshielded radiation.  Luna is one giant factory geared toward the production of energy and precious materials, where law and fairness have no place or, as one character says at some point:

We’re not a nation state, we’re not a democracy robbed of the oxygen of freedom. We’re a commercial entity. We’re an industrial outpost. We turn a profit. All that’s happened is a change of management. And the new management needs to get the money flowing again.

If the characters are not exactly sympathetic, one cannot avoid feeling invested in their journey, be it one of discovery of oneself, like it happens with Wagner Corta, the man who feels the influence of the waxing and waning Earth as a werewolf of legend felt that of the Moon; or one of vengeance, like the true descent into hell of Lucas Corta, who braves the crushing gravity of his mother’s planet of origin to find the means to restore his family’s power – and there lies one of the best features of the book, the terse descriptions of Lucas’ brutal training and the nightmarish torture of living under six times one’s weight, sustained only by the iron will that’s part of his family’s heritage.

Ian McDonald’s writing is economical, almost stark at times, with no concession to flowery descriptions, and yet it manages to depict the savage, terrifying beauty of the lunar surface, or the most shocking of circumstances with effective clarity, to place his readers right there where events are occurring, and to see them clearly with their minds’ eye.  Lucas Corta’s fight with gravity that I mentioned above is indeed a case in point, the man’s agony portrayed with a cinematic quality that at the same time makes you physically share in the pain he undergoes, all this underlined by a parallel description of the music he listens to as a form of distraction and support, the staccato delivery of the narrative in perfect sync with the music’s rhythm.

And if the writing is outstanding, the story itself is compelling: it jumps from character to character, from location to location, in a perpetual motion that leaves you no time to catch your breath, much like the lunar version of the parkour runners defying injury and death even in the reduced gravity of the Moon. It’s a story told by many voices, examined from different perspectives, and in the end it makes it clear that it’s much bigger than the sum of its parts.  And speaking of ends, this book should have been the second in a duology, and in fact there’s no indication it will be followed by others, but there are too many evolving threads, too many open issues still on the table, that I don’t want to consider the possibility this will be the last time I’ll visit this world.

Please, Mr. McDonald… can we have another book – or more?

My Rating:  

18 thoughts on “Review: LUNA: WOLF MOON, by Ian McDonald (Luna #2)

  1. Good to read another positive review, thanks! I had my hopes tempered a bit as the new KSR didn’t deliver what I expected (review up soon). I’ll get to Luna in a few weeks!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My own experience with Stanley Robinson – with Red Mars – was not very auspicious, and yet I’ve been eyeing New York 2140 lately (is that the one you’re going to review next?) because I’d like to try again this author. Looking forward to your review! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

        1. That should be or. Dutch language phone + autocorrect = disaster. Anyhow, Aurora and 2312 are firmly space oriented. If you want a climate change novel, go for Green Earth, but that’s 1000+ pages. I still have to read the three Californias, Shaman, the Mars trilogy and Galileo’s Dream.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I just clicked over to enjoy your rave review of Luna: New Moon and added it to my tbr. I can’t ignore two 5-star reviews 😀 I’m still familiarizing myself with sci-fi (I’ve always been more of a fantasy person), but this sounds like “space opera” I might really enjoy! Thanks for the two great reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re very welcome, and thanks for reading 🙂
      I must warn you that Luna: New Moon starts in a somewhat confusing way – you are thrown into the midst of things almost without warning – and many readers commented about the difficulty of those first few chapters. So my advice is to keep going on, and you will be rewarded with a great story. Enjoy!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Very good to know, thank you! I’ll make sure to reserve judgement until I’ve finished several chapters first. I can’t wait! 😀


      2. Although at the moment, I’m finally getting to read my copy of The Collapsing Empire, so the Lunas will have to wait at least a little while Lol

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the sound of this series – tbh I hadn’t realised it was a duology – I’ve only skimmed this, I know you won’t have included spoilers but I was being careful. Kind of curious though if this is the end and there are still things outstanding – do you feel disappointed about that or do you think more might be forthcoming?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The story does not close with a cliffhanger, granted, but the end is somewhat open: my guess is that the author wanted to leave himself some room to maneuver just in case…
      I hope he will write something more in this universe, because I find myself quite addicted by this background. Crossing fingers… 🙂


  4. I only read a snippet of this review so I could avoid spoiling myself, but I saw enough to know that I definitely need to get my hands on a copy of Luna: New Moon as soon as possible. Any story that can have you waiting on tenterhooks is one that I’m interested in reading!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Societies developed on the Moon have fascinated me since I read Heinlein’s The Moon is Harsh Mistress, and while this one is now showing his years – both in writing and in themes – McDonald managed to create a culture that’s even more intriguing and complex, one you can lose yourself in. I hope you enjoy these books 🙂


  5. Don’t mind me, just catching up on my friends’ reviews that I missed while I was away! I’m so excited to see your FIVE STAR RATING for Wolf Moon! I confess I didn’t read into the details of your review as I’m about to start this one soon (hopefully…last week made me fall very far behind!) but I am absolutely giddy with happiness that you felt this one lived up to its predecessor. The two of us have similar tastes in sci-fi, so I’m very VERY optimistic at the moment 🙂 Thanks for the review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank *you* for stopping by! 🙂
      I hope you will enjoy this just as much as I did: I admit I was prepared for the possibility of disappointment, since the wait for the new book had created a huge amount of expectation, but this second volume was on the same level as the first one and in the end it left me wanting for more.
      Can’t wait to know what you think about it….


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