Red Moon is a magnificent novel of space exploration and political intrigue from New York Times bestselling author Kim Stanley Robinson.
It is twenty-five years since China established the first colony on the moon, and the lives of three people are about to collide.
American Fred Fredericks is making his first trip there, his purpose to install a communications system for China's Lunar Science Foundation. But hours after his arrival he witnesses a murder and is forced into hiding.
It is also the first visit to the moon for celebrity travel reporter Ta Shu. He has contacts and influence, but he too will find that the moon can be a perilous place for any traveler.
Finally, there is Chan Qi. Daughter of the Minister of Finance, and without doubt a person of interest to those in power. She is on the moon for reasons of her own, but when she attempts to return home to China, in secret, the events that unfold will change everything — on the moon, and on Earth.
Release date: June 1, 1968
Print pages: 464
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Listen to a sample
Kim Stanley Robinson
The elderly Chinese gentleman strapped into the seat next to him leaned onto his shoulder to get a look out the window. “Wow,” the old one said. “We are coming in very fast, it seems.”
The white jumble hurtled toward them. Fred said weakly, “I was told we shouldn’t look.”
“Who would say that?”
Fred couldn’t remember, then he did: “My mom.”
“Moms worry too much,” the old man said.
“Have you done this before?” Fred asked, hoping the old man could provide some insight that would save the appearances.
“Land on the moon? No. First time.”
“So fast, and yet no pilot to guide us,” the old one marveled cheerfully.
“You wouldn’t want a person flying something going this fast,” Fred supposed.
“I guess not. I remember pilots, though. They seemed safer.”
“But we were never that good at it.”
“No? Maybe you work with computers.”
“It’s true, I do.”
“So you are comforted. But didn’t people program the computers landing us now?”
“Sure. Well—maybe.” Algorithms wrote algorithms all the time; it might be hard to track the human origins of this landing system. No, their fate was in the hands of their machinery. As always, of course, but this time it was too much, their dependence too visible. Fred heard himself say, “Somewhere up the line, people did this.”
“Is that good?”
“I don’t know.”
The old man smiled. Previously his face had been calm, ancient, a little sad; now laugh lines formed a friendly pattern on his face, making it clear he had smiled like this many times. It was like switching on a light. White hair pulled back in a ponytail, cheerful smile: Fred tried to focus on that. If they hit the moon now they would be smeared far across it, disaggregating into molecules. At least it would be fast. Whiteblackwhiteblack alternated below so quickly that the landscape blurred to gray, then began to spark red and blue, as in those pinwheels designed to create that particular optical illusion.
The old man said, “This is a very fine example of kao yuan.”
“Which is what?”
“In Chinese painting, it means perspective from a height.”
“Indeed,” Fred said. He was light-headed, sweating. Another wave of nausea washed through him, he feared he might throw up. “I’m Fred Fredericks,” he added, as if making a last confession, or saying something like I always wanted to be Fred Fredericks.
“Ta Shu,” the old man said. “What brings you here?”
“I’m going to help activate a communication system.”
“No, for a Chinese agency.”
“Chinese Lunar Authority.”
“Very good. I was once a guest of one of your federal agencies. Your National Science Foundation sent me to Antarctica. A very fine organization.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“Will you stay here long?”
Suddenly their seats rotated 180 degrees, after which Fred felt pushed back into his seat.
“Aha!” Ta Shu said. “We already landed, it seems.”
“Really?” Fred exclaimed. “I didn’t even feel it!”
“You’re not supposed to feel it, I think.”
The push shoving them increased. If their ship was already magnetically attached to its landing strip, as this shove indicated must be the case, then they were safe, or at least safer. Many a train on Earth worked exactly like this, levitating over a magnetic strip and getting accelerated or decelerated by electromagnetic forces. The white land and its black flaws still flew by them at an astonishing speed, but the bad part was over now. And they hadn’t even felt the touchdown! Just as they wouldn’t have felt a final sudden impact. For a while they had been like Schrödinger’s cat, Fred thought, both dead and alive, the two states superposed inside a box of potentiality. Now that wave function had collapsed to this particular moment. Alive.
“Magnetism is so strange!” Ta Shu said. “Spooky action at a distance.”
This chimed with Fred’s thoughts enough to surprise him. “Einstein said that about quantum entanglement,” he said. “He didn’t like it. He couldn’t see how it would work.”
“Who knows how anything works! I’m not sure why he was so upset by that particular example. Magnetism is just as spooky, if you ask me.”
“Well, magnetism is located in certain objects. Quantum entanglement has what they call non-locality. So it is pretty weird.” Though Fred was damp with sweat, he was also beginning to feel better.
“It’s all weird,” the old man said. “Don’t you think? A world of mysteries.”
“I guess. Actually the system I’m here to activate uses quantum entanglement to secure its encryption. So even though we can’t explain it, we can make it work for us.”
“As so often!” Again the cheerful smile. “What is there we can explain?”
The moon now flashed by them a little less stupendously. Their deceleration was having its effect. A white plain stretched to a nearby horizon, splashed with jet-black shadows flying past. Their landing piste was more than two hundred kilometers long, Fred had been told, but going as fast as they were, something like 8300 kilometers an hour at touchdown, their ship would have to decelerate pretty hard for the whole length of the track. And in fact they were still being decisively pushed back into their seats, also pulled upward, or so it seemed, strange though that was. This slight upward force was already lessening, and the main shove was back into the seat, like pressure all over from a giant invisible hand. The view out the window looked like bad CGI. Landing at the speed of their spaceship’s escape velocity from Earth had allowed them to travel without deceleration fuel, much reducing the spaceship’s weight and size, therefore the cost of transit. But it meant they had come in around forty times faster than a commercial jet on Earth landed, while the tolerance for error in terms of meeting the piste was on the order of a few centimeters. Their flight attendant hadn’t mentioned this; Fred had looked it up. No problem, his friends with knowledge of the topic had told him. No atmosphere to mess things up, rocket guidance very precise; it was safer than the other methods of landing on the moon, safer than landing in a plane on Earth—safer than driving a car down a road! And yet they were landing on the moon! It was hard to believe they were really doing it.
“Hard to believe,” Fred said.
Ta Shu smiled. “Hard to believe.”
It was easy to tell when they stopped decelerating: the pressure ended. Then they were sitting there, feeling lunar g properly for the first time. Sixteen point five percent of Earth’s gravity, to be exact. That meant Fred now weighed about twenty-four pounds. He had calculated this in advance, wondering what it would feel like. Now, shifting around in his seat, he found that it felt almost like the weightlessness they had experienced during the three days of their transfer from Earth. But not quite.
Their attendant released them from their restraints and they struggled to their feet. Fred discovered it felt somewhat like walking in a swimming pool, but without the resistance of water, nor any tendency to float to the surface. No—it was like nothing else.
He staggered through the spaceship’s passenger compartment, as did several other passengers, most of them Chinese. Their flight attendant was better at getting around than they were, very fluid and bouncy. Movies from the moon always showed this bounciness, all the way back to the Apollo missions: people hopping around like kangaroos, falling down. Now here too they fell, as if badly drunk, apologizing as they collided—laughing—trying to help others, or just pull themselves up. Fred barely flexed his toes and yet was worse than anybody; he lofted into the air, managed to grab an overhead railing to stop himself from crashing into the ceiling. Then he dropped back to the floor as if parachuting. Others were not so lucky and hit the ceiling hard; the thumps indicated it was padded. The cabin was loud with shouts and laughter, and their attendant announced in Chinese and then English, “Slow down, take it easy!” Then, after more Chinese: “The gravity will stay like this except when you are in centrifuges, so go slow and get used to it. Pretend you are a sloth.”
The passengers staggered up a tunnel. It had windows in its sidewalls that gave them a partial view of the moon, also of one wall of the spaceport, looking like a concrete bunker inset in a white hill, black windows banding it. Concrete on the moon was not actually concrete, Fred had read during the flight, in that the cement involved was made of aluminum oxide, which was very common in moon rock, and made a lunarcrete stronger than ordinary concrete. The landscape around the spaceport looked as it had during their landing, but hillier. Nearby hills were white on their tops and black below. Sunrise or sunset, Fred didn’t know. Although wait; they were near the south pole, so this could be any time of day, as the sun would always stay this low in the polar sky.
Fred and Ta Shu and the rest of the passengers shuffled carefully along, either holding on to the tube’s handrails or hopping up the middle of the tube. Almost everyone was tentative and clumsy. There were many apologies, much nervous laughter.
The sun spilled its jar of light over the hills. The rubble-strewn land outside was so brilliant it was hard to believe that the tunnel windows were heavily tinted and polarized. It might have been easier to move if the tunnel walls were windowless, but it did look wonderful, and the visual fix might also help people adjust to the gravity, affirming as it did that they stood on an alien world. Not that this was keeping people from going down. Fred held a side rail and tried little skips forward. Crazy footwork, ad hoc hopping—it was hard to move! No one had mentioned how strange it would feel, maybe that passed after a while and people forgot. He felt hollow, and without a plumb line to judge if he was upright or not.
Ta Shu moved just behind Fred, smiling hugely as he clutched the rail and pulled along as if on a climbers’ fixed rope. “Peculiar!” he said when he saw Fred look back at him.
“Yes,” Fred said. It was like weightlessness with a downward tropism, some kind of arc in spacetime—which of course was what it was. Frequent course corrections had to be made, but with very slight muscular efforts. Toes could do it, but shoes amplified what one’s toes tried for. Quite awkward, actually. A feat of coordination. Tiptoeing in slow motion. “It’s going to take some getting used to.”
Ta Shu nodded. “Not in Kansas anymore! Where are you staying?”
“The Hotel Star.”
“Me too! Shall we have breakfast together to start our day?”
“Yes, that sounds good.”
“Okay, see you there.”
Fred followed signs to the foreigners’ line for visa control, noticeably shorter than the line for Chinese nationals. Quickly he was facing a pair of immigration officers, and he handed over his passport. The officials gave him a quick look, put his passport under a scanner, and gestured him on. Beyond the controlled area two Chinese men saw him and waved. They greeted him and led him to the next room, which looked like any other airport baggage claim area. Signage was in Chinese characters, with small English script below them.
WELCOME TO THE PEAKS OF ETERNAL LIGHT
Baggage carousels spit out luggage as at home: many black cubes with inset handles, all similar. His had a green handle. When he saw it he hauled it off the carousel, almost tossing it into the air behind him; he spun around like a discus thrower, staggered, caught his balance. He was getting yanked around by a weight of a pound or so! But he wasn’t much heavier, and mass was not the same as weight, as he would have to learn. No doubt the unicaster in his luggage made it heavier or more massive than it looked.
His minders watched him impassively as he spun. When he calmed down one of them carried his luggage for him, so he could hold a handrail with both hands. Gingerly he tiptoed toward the exit, feeling conspicuous, but all the other newcomers were just as maladroit; there were still many low-impact falls, with people embarrassed rather than hurt. The halls were filled with laughter. The moon was funny!
Fred followed his two minders to a narrow room like a subway station, where something like a subway car filled much of the space. They got on a car and the train soon left the spaceport. When it hissed to a stop fifteen minutes later, its occupants tiptoed out into a hall with a long window wall, through which sunlight blazed horizontally, pinning their black shadows to the side of the car. Low buildings studded the Peak of Eternal Light outside the window, but it was hard to see them through the glare. What Fred could see of the surrounding landscape was a harsh mix of black and white, a chiaroscuro that he was quickly coming to think of as lunar normal. The horizon was very uneven and strangely nearby—hard to be sure how near, given the intense light and the clarity, but it looked to be only a few miles. Before he could fully take it in, Fred was led around a corner and down a hall, to a set of windows that overlooked the crater’s interior.
This particular Peak of Eternal Light overlooked a corresponding pit of eternal darkness: this was the famous Shackleton Crater. The sun never shone on this crater floor, nor its interior wall. Once his eyes adjusted, he could see the steep interior wall of the crater curving away to left and right, just visible in a gloom of dark grays. Stacked horizontal lines of lit windows were inlaid into the dark curve below, looking as if an elongated ocean liner had been bent in a curve and then injected into the crater wall; these lit windows cast a faint glow across the crater floor, which gleamed a little, being covered with dusty water ice. The crater was big enough that its far wall was not visible; as the crater wall below him curved away to left and right, it soon disappeared under the horizon. Very murky, this gray-on-black world.
The Hotel Star, Fred was told by one of his guides, was behind one of the lines of windows down there, right next to the American consulate. “Lead on I follow,” he said gamely, and staggered behind the graceful pair to an escalator, where he was very happy to clutch the handrail and hold fast, yet still be making progress. Escalators were great. This one reminded him of the London Underground, moving downward endlessly. When they had descended to a level labeled Floor Six, he got off and fell, struggled to his feet and followed his minders gingerly around the broad curve of hallway to the glass hotel doors, feeling a little seasick, a little headachy, a little dizzy. Lunar g did not feel better than the weightlessness of space, in fact it seemed to him distinctly worse.
The Hotel Star entry was on the inside curve of a curving hallway. His room proved to be just bigger than his bed. His guides left him, promising he would get a wake-up call for breakfast.
He sat on the bed; it was like sitting on a trampoline. He could leap right into the ceiling if he wanted. Then, after a bell tinged three times, he felt vaguely that things were getting heavier. Indeed they were; his bedroom was on a floor of the hotel that was part of a centrifuge ring. After a minute or two, during which the room seemed to be tilting, he found himself being pressed down into the bed with a very familiar, homey pressure: one g. He had been told that it was best to sleep in Terran gravity whenever you could, to minimize the time spent in lunar g. For a trip as short as Fred’s this regime was not mandatory, but it was still recommended, and when the option had been described to him he had decided to take it. Now he snuggled down into the mattress thankfully, his dizziness receding. Things felt right; they felt like home. It was such a relief that he quickly fell into a deep sleep.
When he woke he didn’t know where he was, and jerked and found himself flying off his bed, at which point it came back to him: moon! The centrifuge had obviously been turned off, which was probably what had woken him. He was still lofting in the air over the bed as all this came to him; he twisted, landed on his face. Then he got up unsteadily and saw there was an hour to go before he was to meet his fellow passenger Ta Shu for breakfast. All was well.
As he went through his routine in the bathroom he looked up Ta Shu online, which meant not Earth’s data cloud but rather some kind of local internet. That was still more than enough to give him an introduction to the elderly Chinese man.
Ta Shu: poet, geomancer, feng shui expert, producer and host of a popular travel show on one of CCTV’s cloud platforms. He had written and published poetry from early childhood on, beginning with big painted calligraphic poster poems that included painting in the old styles, but from a child’s perspective. A torrent of poems had proceeded to pour out of him for most of his life after that, until suddenly stopping after a trip to Antarctica; accounts differed as to what had happened to him down there. Subsequently he had become a travel host and ex-poet. It was rumored that he still wrote as much poetry as ever, but not for publication. Through the decades of his travel show he had visited 230 different countries, all seven seas, the North and South Poles, and the top of Mount Everest, which he had reached by balloon, taking advantage of a nearly windless day to drift over the top and step off the gondola’s portico onto it. And now he was on the moon.
Fred wobbled down a broad staircase to the hotel’s dining hall. Ta Shu was there at a table, reading the screen embedded in it and nibbling from a plate piled with Fred didn’t know what. He looked up. “Good breakfast time.” Again his smile struck Fred as unusually sweet and friendly.
“Thanks,” Fred said, and lofted down onto his chair, hitting the mark pretty well. “How did you sleep?”
Ta Shu waggled a hand. “I don’t sleep much. Dreamed I was floating on a lake. When I woke, I wondered what it feels like to swim here. I wonder if they have swimming pools, I must look into that. How about you?”
“I slept well,” Fred said. He looked at the food buffet, which filled one short bar. “My room spun me to one g, but when the centrifuge stopped and I got up, I felt kind of dizzy.”
“Maybe some breakfast will help center you.”
Fred felt both hungry and repelled by food. He shot up and teetered to the food bar, grabbing it to stabilize himself. The usual foods, thank God, as well as a lot of bowls of unidentifiable fruits and mushes. Fred had very definite food preferences. He filled a tiny bowl with yoghurt—hopefully yoghurt—and sprinkled some seeds and grains and raisins on it, wondering if these foods had been grown on the moon or flown up from Earth. Most of it must have been flown up. Balancing his bowl and staggering back to Ta Shu was almost too much for him, but he drifted onto his chair without spilling anything.
“Are you here to do some feng shui?” he asked Ta Shu before starting to eat. Turned out he was hungry after all.
“Yes. Also to record some episodes for my travel show. A trip to the moon! It’s hard to believe we’re here.”
“True. Although it feels so weird, it has to be somewhere.”
Again the beautiful smile. “Yes, we are certainly somewhere. My feng shui can confirm that.”
“So, feng shui on the moon?”
“Yes. Feng shui means ‘wind and water,’ so it should be interesting!”
Long ago Fred had gathered that feng shui was a practice so ancient and mystical that no one could understand it. But his work made him acutely aware that there actually were mysterious forces influencing everything, so it seemed possible that feng shui was some kind of ancient folkloric intuition of quantum phenomena. Not that there were any such phenomena to be intuited, but who could say for sure? There were definitely mysteries, and maybe some of them involved macro-perceptions of the micro-realm. He felt odd perceptions fairly often; or even all the time. So he kept an open mind about it. “Tell me more.”
Ta Shu tapped on the table screen and brought up a round map of the moon that he could scroll around on. “Here’s a feng shui problem for you. See how beat-up the south polar region is by meteor impacts? Including this really giant one, the South Pole–Aitken Basin. Biggest impact in solar system, except for Hellas on Mars. So, I couldn’t understand why so many impacts would come in from the southern sky, it being perpendicular to the solar plane. Where would all those big rocks come from, with only interstellar space above the south pole?”
“Hmm,” Fred said. “I never thought of that.”
“It’s a feng shui thought,” Ta Shu said. “But also, just astronomy. Clarification came to me from astronomer friends. Turns out the super-big impact that made South Pole–Aitken Basin probably happened when this region was nearer to the equator. Then the moon’s rotation over time naturally shifted a hole as big as that to one pole or other, just because of the way a lopsided sphere tends to spin. Like a top balancing itself.”
“Polhode precession!” Fred said. Matching spins was one attribute of entangled particles, so he had had occasion to think about spin, albeit at far smaller scales. He pondered the map as he ate. “So, these peaks of eternal light,” he said between bites. “They’re here because the moon’s polar axis is perpendicular to the solar plane. But I don’t understand why the moon’s axis isn’t parallel to the Earth’s axis, which is twenty-three degrees off the plane.”
“Me neither!” Ta Shu exclaimed, looking delighted that Fred had thought of this. “Seems like they should be the same, right? So I asked my astronomer friends about that too. They told me the moon and Earth formed in a big collision, which tilted Earth’s axis even more than it is now, like fifty or sixty degrees. Since then the two have been in a gravity dance with the sun, and the moon has moved out so far from the Earth that the sun has straightened it up. The sun has straightened the Earth too, but Earth had farther to go, so it’s only reached our twenty-three-degree angle, while the moon is almost vertical.”
“Does that difference mess up your feng shui work?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“So what will you do?”
“I’ll make adjustments. Work on local problems.”
“I’ll visit the Chinese construction in the libration zone.”
“The two edges of the circle, you know—extending up from the south pole along longitudes ninety and one-eighty?”
“Zero longitude being the middle of the near side?”
“Yes, very good. So the same side of the moon is always looking at Earth, of course. Tidally locked. Another part of the gravity dance. Many moons in the solar system are like that.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“But all orbits in the solar system are elliptical. Kepler first understood this.”
“Kepler’s law,” Fred guessed.
“One of his laws. A feng shui genius. So, as one result of this law, when the moon is farther away from Earth in its orbital ellipse, it goes slower. When it’s closer it goes faster. Meanwhile it’s rotating on its axis at the same speed all the time.”
“Wait, I thought it was tidally locked?”
“Yes, but it still rotates—one day per month, you know.”
“So, but it doesn’t quite keep the same half facing Earth. Farther away it slows and we see more of the left side, then two weeks later it’s going faster, and shows us more of its right side.”
“Interesting!” Fred said.
“Yes. This waggling was first noted by Galileo, another very great feng shui master, when he was looking through his telescope. Like a man tilting his face while shaving, he said. He might have been the first ever to notice it. A telescope helps to see it. Libration, it’s called in English. Tianping dong.”
“And there’s new Chinese development running up this zone?”
“Because feng shui experts suggested it!”
“Because in the libration zone, the view of Earth comes and goes. See what I mean? On the rest of the moon it isn’t like that. On the side of the moon facing Earth, Earth doesn’t move, it’s always in the same place overhead. Strange, don’t you think? It just hangs there in the sky! I want to experience this.”
“Yes. Then on the far side of moon, you never see Earth at all. Great for radio astronomy, I’m told. I want to see that too, see if it feels different.
“But in the libration zone, Earth rises into view, then sinks. That brings up all kinds of interesting questions. Should one build on the Earthmost side of the zone, and maximize the time Earth is visible, also the height it reaches over the horizon? Or is it best to build on far side of zone, where Earth might only poke a blue curve over the horizon for a short while? Any difference in feng shui terms?”
“Or practical terms?”
Ta Shu frowned. “Feng shui is practical.”
“Really? It’s not just aesthetics?”
“Just aesthetics? Aesthetics is very practical!”
Fred nodded dubiously. “You’ll have to teach me more about that.”
Ta Shu smiled. “I am a mere student myself. You work with computers, you must do mathematics, yes? Famous for its aesthetics, I’m told.”
“Well, but it has to work too. At least in my case. So, you’re going to visit the libration zones?”
“Yes. I have an old friend up there near the end of the line.”
Fred tapped on the map. “But Chinese stations never go into the northern hemisphere? Why is that? Is that feng shui too?”
“Yes, certainly. A matter of geographic propriety.”
“Not taking too much. The best places on the moon are the poles, precisely because of their water and the wind of solar particles, so again, very feng shui mix of aesthetic practicality. And in feng shui terms the two poles are about the same. China started building on the south pole first. Imagine if we had done the same in the north! Where would the other nations go? It might have been alarming for them. So this is propriety. Always polite to leave room for others. If this is the correct explanation, it’s very tactful.”
“Very,” Fred said. “Who decided?”
“The Party. But also, an ancient Chinese habit. China never did much in the way of territorial expansion, especially compared to some other countries. It looks bigger than it is because of coordinated effort.”
“Is this still feng shui?”
“Oh yes, of course. Balance the forces.”
“So feng shui is a kind of Daoist political geography?”
“Yes, very good!” Ta Shu laughed.
He was easy to please. Fred, who never really intended to make people laugh, was a little startled by this ease, but it was nice too. He nodded awkwardly, and said, “I want to learn more, but I have to get to my meeting with your local administrator.”
“Should be very interesting for you! Shall we meet and have a drink at the end of our day? I want to ask questions about quantum mysteries.”
“I would like that,” Fred said.
Fred was met by a pair of Chinese women in the lobby of the Hotel Star. They introduced themselves as Baozhai and Dai-tai, shook hands with him, then led him to the offices of the local official he was meeting, Chang Yazu.
Fred was still having to use the handrails to move around safely, and the two women glided beside him solicitously, waiting as he struggled to negotiate turns and the like. When they got to the administrative center, they took him to a room that was like a viewing bubble, poking above everything else in the settlement. The horizontal sunlight that was always obtained here threw their shadows all the way across the room. He said enthusiastic things about the view in as genuine a tone as he could muster, and almost met their curious gazes. Crater sublime; starscape amazing. Fred had never visited Earth’s southern hemisphere, and now he nodded politely as his hosts pointed out the Southern Cross overhead, and a blob with a texture like the Milky Way’s, which they said was a Magellanic Cloud. A couple of points of light moving through the stars were apparently satellites in lunar polar orbits. A larger satellite, like a little oblong moon, brilliant on its sunward side and a velvet gray on its dark side, was an asteroid, his hosts told him, brought into lunar orbit for its carbonaceous chondrite. The moon lacked carbon, so chunks of this ast
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