Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Menace from Farside, by Ian McDonald

★★★★★ Lots of Fun and Excitement Once It Gets Going

(Hard SF Adventure; Luna) A teenage girl from a very non-traditional lunar family leads her siblings on a dangerous adventure to see the first footprint on the moon. (32,317 words; Time: 1h:47m)

This story has a bit of a slow start, but there’s plenty of fun and excitement once the kids get out onto the lunar surface. This is a good way to get into the author’s Luna series, which includes a number of novels and short stories, because this story is a prequel and pretty much stands alone. See related articles on

"The Menace from Farside," by , published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2019.663 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: The best part of this story is the increasingly dangerous adventure that starts once the kids get out of the airlock and onto the surface. From that point to the end, it’s lots of tension and lots of excitement.

In the process, we get to know all four characters reasonably well, although obviously this is Cariad’s story, in which she grows up a lot. (However, judging from the framing story where she talks to the robotic therapist, she’s still not all that mature.) She doesn’t just want an adventure; she wants to establish her dominance over the rest of her siblings. By the end, she does seem to see that that was the wrong thing to do, and she sees her siblings in a different light.

Kobe seems to be a high-functioning autistic guy, and his real joy is knowing and sharing technical details, but he loves Cariad (like a sister), and will do anything for her.

Cariad’s jealousy of Sidibe almost seems rooted in the fact that Sidibe is much more mature than she is. She’s the closest thing they have to an adult on their team, and she saves them more than once. She’s the “menace” in the title—a menace to Cariad. In fact, the title of this novella is an homage to “The Menace from Earth,” by Robert A. Heinlein, in which a teen girl on the moon who likes to fly in the low gravity deals with the “threat” posed by a woman visiting from Earth with whom she’s sure her “boyfriend” (who doesn’t know he’s her boyfriend) has become infatuated.

Jair is probably the least well-developed character, although it helps to know that “neko” is Japanese for “cat.” For whatever reason, Jair wants to be a cat, or at least be as much like one as possible.

Another big delight is the well-thought-out setting. In the process of the adventure, we learn a lot about the lunar infrastructure and we get at least some idea of just how different the lunar society is from anything on Earth.

Note: From the other books, we know that the “sa” in “sasuit” stands for “Surface Activity.”

Con: The biggest weakness is the slow takeoff. The first quarter of the book is filled with Cariad’s rather petty concerns, even as it lays the foundation for the trip they’re about to take. I’m not sure the framing story (with the robot therapist) adds much either.

A small nit is that I think 2089 is about a hundred years too soon to expect to have this kind of infrastructure on the moon.

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2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. This was a lot of fun. I actually liked it more than the main series. Cariad's teenage (pre-teen?) voice was really well-done. The AI therapy frame made me wonder if it was to help her deal with one or more of her siblings not making it through their adventure. It also added some context when she explained things she didn't think an AI would get.

    1. I love McDonald's work; it's always fun. It was great to meet him in person in Dublin.