Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Moon

Kim Stanley Robinson is one of my three or four favorite science fiction writers.  Red Moon, which just came out, is not his best, but I like it. 

The action takes place in 2047 in China and on China’s future colony on the moon. The main viewpoint character is a young American named Fred Fredericks, who seems to be on the autism spectrum.  

He goes to the moon to deliver a secure two-way communication device based on quantum entanglement, and is framed for murder by mysterious Chinese political conspirators.

He becomes involved with a pregnant young Chinese woman, Chan Qi, who is both the spoiled, proud daughter of a powerful member of the Politburo and the figurehead leader of a vast Chinese protest movement.

They escape capture, flee, are captured again, escape again and flee again back down in China and up on the moon again. 

The growing relationship of these two characters, so very different in personality and cultural background, is the emotional core of the novel.

The second most important viewpoint character is Ta Shu, an elderly poet and celebrity Chinese poet, who takes a liking to Fred and tries to befriend him.  He engages in conversations with various old friends that provide the reader with background information on Chinese history, culture and current and future problems.

Ta Shu sees Chinese history and culture as continuous. and the Communist regime as the latest Chinese ruling dynasty, not as a revolutionary break with the past.

Then there is a rogue agent within the Chinese Great Firewall surveillance network, who is trying to track Qi and Fred while trying to teach an artificial intelligence program, nicknamed Little Eyeball, to think autonomously.

Robinson’s future China has benefitted from Xi Jinping’s reforms, of which the most important he sees not as  the Belt and Road Initiative (aka the New Silk Road), but landscape renewal and restoration.  The benefit is not only repair of the environmental damage created by China’s rapid industrialization, but in reduction in the amount of poverty and improvement in public health.

China in 2047 is the world’s foremost economic and technological power, and has used its new wealth and knowledge to colonize the southern hemisphere of the Moon, leaving the northern hemisphere to late-comers—the USA, the European Union, Brazil and other great powers.

But many problems remain.  First and foremost among these problems is a vast underclass, comparable to unauthorized immigrants in the USA, consisting of 500 million poor peasants who have left their villages without authorization to seek a better life in the cities, but who are mercilessly exploited because they are outside the protection of the law.

The goals of the protest movement are to abolish the hukuo system, which forbids Chinese to change residences without permission, to restore the “iron rice bowl” (guaranteed job security) and to establish the rule of law.  None of the characters wants to overthrow Communism, only to make the Party live up to its ideals.

Offstage in the novel, another protest movement is building up in the United States.  A mass movement has brought down the U.S. financial system by simply refusing to pay debts, and withdrawing from the financial system and investing in a Bitcoin-like Internet currency called Carboncoin, based on sequestered carbon.

Red Sun is an interesting and hopeful view of the future.  It has the merits of a typical Robinson novel.  It is full of interesting descriptions of future landscapes, both Chinese and lunar, and full of interesting information and speculative ideas.

It also has Robinson’s characteristic faults.  There is as much exposition as story, and the plot, if you stop and think about it, does not entirely make sense.  If you’re not interested in speculative ideas, this is not for you.  I like ideas and I liked this novel.

Red Sun is part of an inter-related series of novels that began as a future history and now is an alternative history.  If you are interested in other novels in this series, I recommend you start with Antarctica, Galileo’s Dream) or New York 2140.  Then, if you’re game, you can go on to the Mars trilogy, the Green Earth trilogy or 2312.

Or read the hilariously funny Escape From Kathmandu based on Robinson’s experiences mountain-climbing in Nepal.

LINKS

Kim Stanley Robinson.info: the reference site for Kim Stanley Robinson.

Author Kim Stanley Robinson Talks China and Lunar Settlement in Novel ‘Red Moon,’ an interview for Space.com.

Excerpt from Red Moon.  Ta Shu speaking.

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