Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel Red Moon is set in 2147: humanity, and in fact mostly China, has started to develop the Moon, largely as a mining concern, although its surface remains uninhabitable with no prospect of that changing any time soon. It begins when American citizen Fred Fredericks attempts to deliver a quantum phone to a Chinese diplomat called Chang Yazu only for both of them to collapse. Chang dies and Fred’s blamed for his murder. To get him off the Moon quickly and inconspicuously, a local official asks Ta Shu, an elderly videoblogger visiting the Moon for his travel show, to take Fred on as part of his crew; which he does, along with a young woman who’s managed to get pregnant despite this being illegal on the satellite. The young woman, Qi, also turns out to be a political case, being the daughter of a high-ranking politician and a favourite with China’s dispossessed working class. So begins a kind of cat-and-mouse game, Fred and Qi trying to stay ahead of the faction of the Chinese government who wanted Chang dead in the first place, bouncing to and from the Moon while a workers’ uprising brews and a transfer of power approaches in the Communist Party.
It’s a novel that doesn’t seem to achieve very much compared to the soaring ambition of work like New York 2140 and Aurora, but that’s not my main beef with it. Put simply: this is a book about China. Actually not just about China; it purports to present China from an insider’s perspective (namely Ta Shu’s, and occasionally Qi’s), its national philosophy, its thought, the way its people feel about their country and their government. All this from a white American author who has visited China – by his own admission – twice, and once only for 72 hours.
Like. If I’m going to read about China, I’d much rather read about it from an actual Chinese author: in an anthology like Broken Stars, a novel like Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing or Chen Qiufan’s Waste Tide – simply because white authors writing about non-white cultures give publishers an excuse not to publish non-white authors. And because, not being Chinese, I have no idea whether Robinson’s ideas about China are accurate or just convenient fictions.
It’s pretty clear to me that Red Moon is set in the same world as New York 2140: the forming of that novel’s Householder’s Union, and the subsequent federalising of America’s banks, is an important backdrop to the political rumblings in Red Moon. And one of New York 2140‘s big ideas is that the particular both is and is not a good stand-in for the general: that New York’s particular plight both should and should not be taken as a representation of the plight of the rest of the world. So perhaps Red Moon is meant to complicate the picture of the world we get from New York 2140; another example to make the particular more general. Which is interesting! I enjoy following themes and conversations through an author’s work. But I can’t help thinking there was a better way of doing it than writing about a culture Robinson’s never really experienced.