When I was almost finished Far Harbor, I needed a new book for this week’s post, so I grabbed Elizabeth Moon’s Lunar Activity and had no idea what to expect. Elizabeth Moon isn’t exactly an unheard of author, with both a Nebula award and the Robert A. Heinlein award to her credit. I figured I was in for a ride, but had no idea. Lunar Activity is a set of short stories about the future, written way out in the country. They look upward and inward, to a future that isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
The future is hard. Society isn’t post-scarcity, so life goes on based around meaner needs for higher tech things. In ABCs in Zero-G, a group of paramedics in space struggle to design a space suit that will let them perform basic first aid, even. Spacesuits are designed to be impregnable, so when a worker in a suit gets a crush injury, it’s nearly impossible to free them to get vitals and treat the injury directly. In A Delicate Adjustment, viable human embryos are used for experimentation, in a world rife with overpopulation but filled with couples who yearn for a child. Gravesite Revisited tells the tale of ancient peoples beset by graverobbing time travelers, and Gut Feelings shows how far someone will go to protect the future tech that will keep them alive, and what they learn along the way. Despite being a set of disparate stories, there are a lot of commons themes.
This isn’t your fancy post-scarcity Star Trek future. In an era of cloning, life extension, and cancer eating gut worms, there are haves and have nots. The future that Moon paints has dramatic advances in spacefaring and biology, but very little in the way of energy or communication. A family still uses winches and cranes to haul up houses from the bottom of the lake that used to be southern Louisiana, and takes terrible risks to do so. Labour and computation is still done by people. Small businesses exist still, from family contractors in Too Wet to Plow to the dojo, music store, and Christian bookshop shown in Gut Feelings. It’s a world where time travelling anthropology is possible, but where scholars aren’t worried about paradoxes as they steal grave goods from their long dead ancestors.
Everyone in the future wants stability. They want it like oxygen, like it’s a many splendoured thing, like it will lift them up where they belong which is a little better off than where they are but not too much better off because dreaming big gets you crushed like a tiny bug. They dare to dream of a somewhat less mediocre life, and that’s enough. The struggle of the future is the struggle to make it through the day. Leonard, the protagonist of Gut Feelings is described as someone who “…tried being good, the easy way for a boy with no talent for athletics, no personal beauty, and not enough belief in life to sample its pleasures.” Many of the other characters fit this mold, either reaching for a tarnished brass ring just beyond their grasp, or seizing on small aggressions to cling to what they have.
The future is mine. Presented as a society where people’s stability is constantly in jeopardy, Moon’s stories become tales of the individual looking out for number one. My budget, my power, my finances, my interests. The characters who muster the empathy to see past this are rarely the heroes of the stories, but the guides, who encourage people to place the well-being of others ahead of themselves.
But the future is great. It’s a place where if you get hurt in space, a team of medics rushes to help you. Where a big Mediterranean dude named Hank runs a dojo, and where past people are too smart for time travelers. Where a lady named Louanne stands up, and a rich guy named Milo gets feathers. Like all good stories about the future, they’re really stories about the present, where the struggle is to look up and look forward from the everyday.
Lunar Activity is really good. It’s diverse and weird and sometimes a little heartbreaking but sometimes glorious. It offers a look at a future that’s brilliant and mundane. On the Milnean scale, it’s a definite Kanga. It sees a little further ahead than everyone else, and frets about it while they’re playing.