Published by Harper Voyager on February 13th 2018
Genres: Science Fiction
When I first found out about Gunpowder Moon, I knew I had to read it. I’m a sucker for a good sci-fi mystery in space, and the novel’s lunar setting further sold me on it.
But this is not just another one of your simple murder mysteries, and the main protagonist is not your typical detective. It is the year 2072, and Caden Dechert is a former Marine heading up a US mining operation on moon. He’s a good leader, drawing from his war experience back on Earth as he mentors his team and takes the new recruits under his wing, teaching them all about safety and survival on the lunar surface. Anything from a small leak in a suit to a speck of moon dust getting in the machinery can lead to fatal results, and no one is more diligent or careful than Dechert when it comes protecting his crew.
So when an explosion occurs, killing one of his young miners, everyone is shocked. No one believes it to be an accident, and sure enough, an investigation finds clear signs of sabotage. There are plenty of suspects to go around, but the top brass arriving from Earth are quick to point fingers at the Chinese, who run a rival mining company near the Americans’ base of operations on the edge of the Sea of Serenity. Dechert, however, is not so sure. He knows tensions between the countries are already on edge, with both sides itching for a fight. Unwilling to jump to conclusions—and hoping to avoid an all-out war—he launches his own investigation in search for evidence.
It’s a straightforward enough story, and in fact, Gunpowder Moon is not a very long book, its streamlined plot leaving little room for much filler or downtime. The driving pace gave this novel the feel of a high-octane thriller, making it a very quick and easy read. If anything, I thought the narrative could have used some slowing down, especially during pivotal moments where the author could have furthered increased the tensions or emphasized suspense.
To Pedreira’s credit though, he didn’t skimp on characterization or world-building. Caden Dechert was a wonderful protagonist, well-written and fleshed out. I was able to sense his commitment to his work and to his crew in everything he said and did. I also enjoyed the flashbacks to his life in the military, fighting in the Middle East. These sections gave us a deeper understanding into his personality, as well as possible insight into why he valued the status quo on the moon. War on Earth was ugly, and Dechert would do anything to stop all that death and violence from coming into his new life.
Gunpowder Moon also painted an intriguing picture of lunar life. The desolate landscape notwithstanding, everything about the moon—sights, smells, tastes, and sounds—was described and brought to life in stunning detail. That said, it’s the social aspects I found even more compelling. An entirely different culture exists on the moon that newcomers from Earth would never understand, giving a whole different dynamic to the relationships between the characters. A code of honor among lunar residents was strongly implied, especially for the miners who put their lives on the line every day. It didn’t matter who you were or where you came from; if someone was in need of help, people were always willing to give it, even if those involved were from a rival corporation or country. Thus, a murder meant that the killer had to be extremely motivated, a sticky fact that made Dechert’s quest for the truth that much more complicated and difficult.
No doubt, sci-fi fans seeking fast-paced action and clever intrigue would enjoy Gunpowder Moon. Ironically though, I found that the novel’s mystery plot actually played second fiddle to the wonderful depictions of the politics and culture of lunar life. But while the story could have been stronger, David Pedreira made up for it with excellent world-building and character development, which I felt were the book’s greatest strengths. An entertaining read overall.