September 1, 2014

Red Moon by David S. Michaels & Daniel Brenton

Red Moon.

Red Moon (Breakneck Books).

   Recently, we had the distinct pleasure of reading Red Moon  by David S. Michaels & Daniel Brenton. It is a near future action thriller that posits an alternate history; could the Russians actually have secretly landed on the Moon before Armstrong? The book itself is a fascinating look into the clandestine Russian Moon program, and an interesting glimpse at what might have been. Warning; spoilers beyond! 

   The setting is 2019, and a new space initiative has come to the Moon in search of the “Mother Lode” a rich deposit of Helium 3 that will solve the free worlds’ energy woes. This in fact is a real idea. What is discovered in the aptly named Sea of Crises is totally unexpected; a 60′s vintage Russian lander! Covered up as the unmanned probe Luna 15, the lander was to have “scooped” Apollo 11  and landed the first man on the Moon on what turned out to be a one way suicide mission. This isn’t as far fetched as it sounds; there were ideas early on to land a man on the Moon on a one way trip, resupply him periodically, and then return him when feasible. Intrigue and double crosses soon follow, as more evidence both in Moscow and on the Moon come to light. Several of the “Firebird” (The name of the ill-fated Russian lander) documents were in the “Above Top Secret” range. Maybe they have Elvis’ brain and the recipe for new Coke, as well!

Proton. 

The monsterous N-1 Proton heavy lift rocket (Credit: NASA.gov).

   The authors obviously did their homework; the enormous Proton rocket and several elements of the early Soviet space program were real beasts. Much has been said about the American Apollo program; very little has ever been mentioned about is shadowy Soviet cousin. The Russians were in the habit of revealing accomplishment only when or if they were successes. Hence the United States enlisted volunteers via the Moonwatch program in an effort to keep tabs on them. It even led to the ridiculous, such as Project Blue Book  to investigate UFO’s, and Project Star gate to investigate remote viewing claims. Such was the hysteria of the Cold War; if the Russians were doing it, how could we afford not to? Cool side note: anyone remember the old 70′s “Project U.F.O“ TV series? It was like the X-files without Scully!

   But I digress… another cool facet of the book is a good description of what it’s actually like on the lunar surface. Again, the writers did their homework… right down to the lunar soil having a “gunpowder smell” which was a real description given by Apollo astronauts upon return to the command module. As the new NASA initiative amps up over the next decade, a new generation will become familiar with adventures on the lunar surface.

 Aries.

The next generation of lunar rockets…the Aries spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/artist’s conception). 

  The action itself picks up toward the tail end of the book.  As Project Prometheus explores the cold war era landing site, intrigue and double crosses abound, both on the Moon and on the energy starved Earth. What happened to cosmonaut Belinsky? What were his last moments like? The timeline flashes between 2019 and 1969 through-out. As the crew is desperately seeking the almost mythical source, time is running out. Renewed hostilities between the East and West mirror old cold war sediments as a modern US and Europe face off with the Chinese and Middle Eastern blocs in the form of the “Caliphate” (sound familiar?)

   One tiny error; I ran a simulation for the date of September 3, 1969 as seen from the Sea of Crises; sorry guys, sunset wasn’t even close! A tiny mistake, I know…but it was fun to watch the Earth never set, as the doomed cosmonaut would have!

   But much of the history is real. The authors obviously did their research on the early space program. Not many “alternate histories” weave reality in so skillfully. The Proton and Luna 15  were all real creations, and the idea all too plausible. As we return to the Moon, hopefully to stay this time, the old Apollo missions will move to the forefront of national conscience.

Luna 15

The failed sample return mission Luna 15 (Credit: NASA.gov).

   Read Red Moon, to get a glimpse of an earlier, forgotten era. And hell, the intrigue makes it just good fun! Although the Cold War may be fading away into history, its lessons do not. Folks forget just how desperate those times were! Hopefully, there will be a peaceful, Antarctica-like effort to establish a permanent lunar presence the next time ‘round.  

  And check out the Red Moon  website; you can even download three chapters free of charge!

…and note the concern of early cosmonauts in this cool “Dear Leonid” letter!

And finally, for more on the secret Soviet space program check out this online Nova episode!

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  1. [...] Moon: Probably one of the best sci-fi books we had a chance to review this year. Red Moon  posits an alternate, secret history of the Soviet Lunar program, one that’s more believable [...]

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