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Moonfall by Jack McDevitt

Moonfall (original 1998; edition 1999)

by Jack McDevitt

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7011124,166 (3.69)18
Out of the blindside of a total solar eclipse comes the ultimate threat to life on our planet: an interstellar comet, travelling at 400+ kilometres per second. And it's headed right for our Moon. Should we panic? Wouldn't you?
Authors:Jack McDevitt
Info:Eos (1999), Mass Market Paperback, 560 pages
Collections:Your library

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Moonfall by Jack McDevitt (1998)


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At first glance, Jack starts in by showing an eclipse, then we get a preview of an unknown comet from another galaxy, invisible except for the elclipse leads to its discovery. What follows is at first a bit of a slow tale with over explanation of vignettes and way too much minor detail, but ends up as a page turner that will grip you to the end.

This story is how people react to stress and unsolvable life threatening situations. A large rock is falling onto the planet from a broken Moon. How do you react?

Some rise to the occasion, some run in fear. Others threaten the discoverer of the comet, somehow blaming her. And some are heroic and pull out at the last minute a solution that saves the planet.

How would you respond to a major disaster? Would you help and rise to the occasion? Or take advantage and steal and try to take over and start a revolution?

It’s a good question and one not normally asked in disaster stories.

Recommended. Can’t wait for Jack’s last Academy book being released this April 2018.
( )
  James_Mourgos | May 19, 2020 |
This surprised me. As far as I can see, it's unconnected to McDevitt's far future space opera series. It's set in (a now alternate timeline) 2024 with an active moonbase and space station. It's belongs alongside Leiber's The Wanderer, Pournelle and Niven's Lucifer's Hammer, and other cataclysmic epics. It follows the common pattern of such works, with multiple independent characters and plotlines, many scenes of unfortunate death, Inferno-style jabs at the author's pet peeves, and so on. It differs from the others that I can recall in not being completely Earthbound. The Moon, not the Earth, is the hapless victim of large fast-moving comet. A substantial portion of the action takes place in space and on the Moon, adding a greater SFnal aspect.

The surprising part was that, despite working off his turf in a somewhat cliched genre, this is probably my favorite McDevitt novel. The characterizations are stronger and more varied than is typical for him, and the action is more compelling. My one complaint is that there's one countdown to doom too many, but even that manages to tie up an earlier thread.

Recommended. ( )
3 vote ChrisRiesbeck | Oct 6, 2018 |
This book was, in a word, chaotic. And in a second word, preachy. It's actually very difficult to determine which of those two descriptors was more upsetting, as I went through the book. Around three-quarters of the way through, I had had more than enough, and I only finished reading to give the book a fair shake.

In all honesty, I rather wish I hadn't.

Let's start with how it was chaotic. This issue should be relevant to any reader, regardless of your philosophical bent.

The chaos begins with simple organization. It seems Mr. McDevitt wanted to have titled sections, but he also wanted smaller breaks within the story. His choice on how to resolve this? Ten titled "chapters" with anywhere between 3 and 13 smaller, enumerated breaks in each. Except that those enumerations restarted with each chapter. So either you had to read eighty pages at a sitting or remember both chapter number and section number, at which point, it would be easier just to dog-ear the page and stop whenever you want. This might not matter at all to some, but it's hardly conducive to a good reading experience, in my opinion. It's just a little sloppy.

But that is probably the least of McDevitt's crimes against fiction in this work. He introduces - and kills off - more characters than most movies have extras. In fact, he introduces so many that it's almost impossible to keep up with them - which is proven by the fact that McDevitt in fact does not keep up with them all. There are a few characters, introduced sporadically, which he mentions again only once or twice, or perhaps never returns to. And he kills so many characters over the course of the book that he finds himself in need of new ones about halfway through, and starts introducing more. Not only does all this make the book a crowded mass of names, places, and biographies appropriate for a dating site, but it cheapens the characters that do survive. Since anyone could die at any moment, whether they had been a narrative influence, present from the beginning of the book, or seemed integral to the story, I quickly stopped caring for anyone. The romance in the book is irrelevant and emotionless, because one or both characters could die at any moment, with neither drama nor reflection.

Tangential to that point is this one: Mr. McDevitt begins the book with a small number of characters and a setting to which he only returns twice in the entire remainder of the book, and only for a paragraph each time. Perhaps I am alone in my thinking here, but I have always believed that the first chapter, the first paragraph, the first character in a story has either a pivotal role or thematic importance. The characters in Mr. McDevitt's opening scene have neither. They are, to put it bluntly, completely irrelevant to the entire book.

Finally, let us examine the prose. For the most part, the book is in third-person omniscient - presumably so we can relate to characters who will soon be dead. But Mr. McDevitt does not appear comfortable writing death scenes, so nearly every death in the book is from an observer's perspective: "So-and-so never saw it coming," "She was dead before she knew it," "He died in the middle of a sentence." If Mr. McDevitt wanted us to care about any of these characters, he should have made their deaths more interesting. Instead, much of the book reads like a historical account of the time when the moon was destroyed by a rogue comet, and this list of people died, and this list lived, and that other list should have been executed for their religious fanaticism.

Which brings me to my second primary point: how the book was preachy. Mr. McDevitt evidently lacks the capacity to understand the mind of a person who has religious faith. For one thing, he asserts that religious people live easier lives than the non-religious, that this ignorance (as McDevitt sees it) is bliss, and that the biggest challenge a Christian must face is explaining away bad events as divine providence. Churches are ridiculous, and things which must be escaped. (See pages 330-331 for these points.)

Furthermore, there can be no intelligent religious people. McDevitt cannot imagine someone being both intelligent and religious; the two descriptors mutually exclusive in his mind. After all, the one religious character who is neither a terrorist nor laughably short-lived is Chaplain Mark Pinnacle, who became a pastor not because he had faith, but because he was rebelling against his father, and Pinnacle had plenty of doubts about the truth of religion. (See pages 160-161.)

Perhaps most telling is how Mr. McDevitt concludes this little escapade. Almost every character in the book, even staunch agnostics (which seem to be the majority of the population for his characters; there are few staunch atheists and no staunch religious protagonists, in spite of every character's concerns about what the silly, religious voters would think), was praying in the final chapter that the mission would succeed... and yet, in the end, the important thing for Charlie Haskell (probably the primary protagonist of the book) to remember is that failure in the mission would mean going back to "inventing religions to give meaning to disease-ridden, violent, pointless lives, and then becoming subjugated by the religions," going back "to refight all the battles against war and disease and superstition," when, "finally, the common effort was bearing fruit." (See page 531.) And of course, success led to the formation of a universal bond among all humankind "that transcended national and religious identities," so much that "even in Jerusalem" (that wretched hive of warmongering, according to the underlying tone), "at long last, an accommodation seemed to have been reached." (See page 544.)

And what's the basic principle of all this? That religion is, at best, backwards, barbaric, ignorant, and foolish. And at worst, it's both malicious and evil, and it seeks to destroy humanity with wars and death, and we need a "common misfortune," brought about not by any god or religious cause, not by karma or dogmatic punishment, but by chance, by Lady Luck, so that we can all come together and achieve world peace.

See? Preachy. And chaotic.

Another humorous quibble is with Mr. McDevitt's ability to predict the future. Writing this book in 1998, he was four years late on his estimation of the first African-American President, and his view of the future of the Internet and other technologies is somewhat lacking... not to mention the sad issue of NASA's defunding, pressing, not the government, but a wide range of private companies into the reaches of space. But of course, he can't be faulted for any of that. It's just fun to note. ( )
2 vote Versor | Sep 7, 2013 |
Jack McDevitt’s Moonfall, first published in 1998, takes place in the mid-2020s, when Earthlings have an active space program and have just finished construction of a large Moonbase that is being officially opened with the participation of dignitaries from many countries. Charles L. Haskell, the Vice President of the U.S. is representing President Henry Kolladner at the ceremony on the Moon. In addition to Moonbase, an interplanetary ship is scheduled to depart for Mars with a multinational crew aboard within days after the Moonbase opening. However, as the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Moonbase is taking place, an amateur astronomer calls the attention of the world’s astronomical community to a strange object in space behind the moon. The object is quickly determined to be an “intersteller object”, i.e., a “cometary body” that originated in another star system. Unfortunately, it is a monster, which is moving at an extremely high velocity and will collide with the Moon in a few days. Scientists issue a warning to the World that the enormous size and extreme velocity of the object is likely to shatter the Moon, which could cause catastrophic damage to Earth. In fact, this may possibly cause an extinction event on Earth. McDevitt weaves a very complex story that unfolds through the struggles of many ordinary people on Earth, through the heroic actions of the pilots and crew of the space planes and other ships that try to evacuate people from the Moonbase, and the selfless and courageous actions of people (especially the Vice President) who barely evacuate the Moon before impact and remain in Earth orbit desperately trying to prevent the devastation of Earth. The story jumps between the perspectives of characters and news media reports of the unfolding crisis to engage the reader in the terror and hardship that ensues. Tension is also created through the unwise decisions of politicians during the crisis and the criminal behavior of those pursuing their own agendas. I thought Moonfall was an excellent science fiction book. The science in this book is well developed and presented in an understandable and satisfying manner. The suspense begins early in the book and continues to increase along with the reader’s anxiety. Likewise, there is plenty of action that continues to grow in intensity and forces the characters, including the Vice President, to endure life-threatening and painful experiences while they attempt to complete complicated unfamiliar operations in the unforgiving environment of space in an effort to save lives on Earth. In addition, the story is populated by a large number of very interesting characters. I believe Moonfall is a first-rate science fiction story and I recommend it to anyone who likes science fiction as well as others who enjoy apocalyptic tales or just exciting stories. ( )
  clark.hallman | Apr 30, 2012 |
A solid, exciting story set in the near future (late 21st century if I remember right) of a comet that slams into the moon and that event's affect on America and the rest of the world. A central part of the story is the vice president's presence on the Moon. He's visiting the moonbase when word of the incoming comet arrives and he must weigh political and moral considerations in his decision about when he personally should leave the moon. Should he be among the first ones out, or the last?

This idea, who sacrifices what, and for whom, is carried throughout the book. It's not a literary novel, thank goodness, so the theme is not analyzed to death. It's just a nice addition to a great story. There's a reasonable amount of action and suspense, but these don't dominate the book.

The science of the book seems reasonable. There are some technical details, but not too many. The emphasis is on the story, not the technology. ( )
  santom01 | Mar 3, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jack McDevittprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ennis, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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For Fran and Brian Cole, the Clearwater Desperadoes
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The Merrivale was bound for Honolulu, four days out of Los Angeles, when the eclipse began.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Out of the blindside of a total solar eclipse comes the ultimate threat to life on our planet: an interstellar comet, travelling at 400+ kilometres per second. And it's headed right for our Moon. Should we panic? Wouldn't you?

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