This alternate history scifi novel is part of the “Lady Astronaut” series, with this third book as a companion novel to the second book, which followed the story of the first lady astronaut, Elma York, on her way to Mars.
The Relentless Moon is set in 1963. It had been 11 years since a meteor struck the East Coast in 1952 and destroyed most of it. The U.S. Capital is now in Kansas City. The focus of this book is on Nicole Wargin, wife of the Governor of Kansas. Nicole is also still serving as an astronaut although, as she often reminds us, she is over 50 years old and (secretly) suffering from arthritis, among other maladies, that if known about would end her career.
Scientists and politicians on Earth have been working on a space program, headquartered on the moon, to get as many people off the planet as possible, since the Earth has been in a self-destruct mode since the meteor incident, with tidal waves, fires, floods, and other climate-related disasters. But a terrorist organization, nicknamed Icarus, resented the dedication of resources to the privileged few who could qualify for outer space, and its clandestine members were causing havoc wherever they could. Nicole was determined to help root them out. As she mused, opponents to relocation didn’t seem to realize that “the Earth was like the Titanic. It was going to go down. We didn’t have enough lifeboats for everybody, but that didn’t mean we shouldn’t try to save as many people as we could.”
On Nicole’s next trip to the moon, the space team experienced terrorist acts themselves for the first time, and Nicole and her colleagues desperately tried to stop the damage. The fate of the Earth was literally at stake. There was not only the matter of physical threats, which were of course of the most concern. But also, the sense of community in space was at risk as well, because of fear and suspicion spreading like a contagion after each new act suggesting treachery and treason from within their own ranks.
Evaluation: I had problems with this book because I didn’t like the main character, Nicole. She seemed entirely too self-absorbed, with an overriding sense of self-importance that stood in contrast to the other, more sympathetic and altruistic characters. Her health problems dominated the story, and I was alienated by her anger over other peoples’ attempts to help her.
The amount of time it took these highly qualified and intelligent people to understand there was sabotage going on seemed unrealistic, as did the somewhat ham-handed romance scenes. In addition, given the racism and sexism prevalent at that time – reflected in the story as well – it was unclear to me (although I had not read the previous books in the series) how all these women and people of color made it into the program.
When the author stuck to how the lunar colony was set up and operated, however, I enjoyed it much more. I should note my impressions seem to be in the minority; this series has been extremely well received.
Published by Tor, 2020