Visions of Paradise

Friday, March 11, 2011


Moonfall is the only Jack McDevitt novel I had not read yet. Even though he is my favorite current writer, all of his other novels which I have enjoyed (with the exception of Time Travelers Never Die) combined far-future views of Earth with glimpses of that future’s history, and strong doses of sense of wonder wrapped around interesting mysteries. But Moonfall was different from those novels. It was a near-future disaster novel / thriller about a giant comet which crashes into the moon and threatens life on Earth.

But I could only hold out so long before getting a copy of the missing novel to read. In spite of my love of McDevitt’s fiction, I did not have particularly high expectations for Moonfall, and I am pleased to say that I was wrong: those expectations were easily surpassed in what was a very enjoyable novel. Much of the book’s first half concentrated on the people working and studying on the moon at the time of the comet’s sudden arrival. Fortunately, there were no colonists there yet, so it was anticipated that there were sufficient numbers of “micro-buses” and spacecraft to evacuate in the few days’ notice. While that seems incredibly short notice for the arrival of a comet, considering that they are generally spotted while still out in the Oort Cloud with many months’ advance notice. McDevitt used his one “stretch the disbelief” moment with some mumbo-jumbo about a giant comet traveling ten times faster than the typical celestial visitor.

However, an unexpected emergency with one micro-bus causes a delay in the evacuation, so it turns out one less rescue mission than necessary will be possible, stranding a half-dozen people on the moon when the comet hits. The novel’s second half shows the effects of the impending comet’s arrival, as well as the aftermath of its striking the moon, on refugees from the moon itself, on various orbiting space stations and on Earth. The bulk of the time though is spent with those half-dozen people who are the core of the novel, the last group of refugees on the moon who attempt a stunning, last-second escape. They include:

• the vice-president of the United States, who was attending a ceremony on the moon and decided at the spur of the moment that it was his duty to be the last person standing on the moon who would thus “turn out the lights and close the door.” Of course, he made that claim before the incident with the micro-bus which made it unlikely all the moon’s residents could be evacuated;

• an international news reporter who decided incorrectly that the government would never allow the vice-president to endanger his life, so he also decided to stay until the last group out. Little did he know that the vice-president had stayed against the direct orders of the president;

• a non-denominational minister who experiences a spiritual boost while on the moon followed soon by his questioning a god who would endanger all life of Earth so capriciously;

• Evelyn, an administrator on the moon who becomes the confidante of the vice-president;

• the pilot and co-pilot of the micro-bus who endanger their own lives attempting the risky last-minute rescue.

After the comet hits the moon–AND THIS IS A BIT OF A SPOILER–the moon breaks up, and large portions begin descending on Earth, causing considerable damage when they hit inland, and devastating tsunamis when they land in the ocean (I finished reading this book the night before the earthquake in Japan and the resulting tsunamis, which felt a bit weird). Moonfall follows the efforts of several groups to survive while the last group of moon refugees are still struggling to escape.

McDevitt avoided most of the tired clichés of some disaster novels, with only one portion about a right-wing group which decides to do everything possible to prevent the rescue efforts on Earth. All in all, this was a strong and enjoyable novel, in large part due to the group of last refugees who became real people easy to care about. While not quite on the level of his Alex Benedict or Academy books, or his best standalone Infinity Beach, Moonfall is still highly-recommended.


  • McDevitt sounds like a classic sf writer (that is a complement). We need more traditional sf writers in addition to the ones who are breaking new ground. There will always be room for authors who use traditional sf themes with a modern writing style.

    I definitely need to read more of McDevitt's work. Did you see that Echo was nominated for a Nebula?

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 4:21 AM  

  • McDevitt has had 10 novels nominated for Nebulas since 1996, including winning in 2005 for SEEKER, one of his best novels. Apparently the members of SFWA feel as strongly about his fiction as i do.

    When you read him, keep in mind that most of his fiction falls into 2 series: ALEX BENEDICT (my favorite stuff) and ACADEMY (only slightly less good). My favorite stand-alone is INFINITY BEACH.

    By Blogger adamosf, At 7:35 AM  

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