(cover image from Amazon.com)
To Crush the Moon (2005) is the fourth and final volume in Wil McCarthy's Queendom of Sol series (check out my reviews of the others here), and IMHO, it's a superb conclusion to a masterpiece of science fiction.
Like the previous two volumes (but not the first), there's an initial chapter from the far future which sets up a flashback to tell another story. But unlike those, the flashback takes up only half of this book. The last half finishes the story in real-time.
This book features Conrad Mursk as a main character, as in the previous two volumes, but also Bruno de Towaji, who was the hero of the first book, The Collapsium. So you really need to have read all three previous volumes before starting this one.
Of course, if you've already read those books, you probably don't need to hear my comments about the conclusion. But I'm going to tell you, anyway. :)
Note that I'll avoid spoilers here (if you've read the first book, at least). That's particularly easy to do because those prologues, starting with the second book, The Wellstone, have already shown you what to expect - the collapse of the Queendom, the 'murder' of the Earth and other inhabited planets, their high technology lost.
But it's not quite that bleak. As one of the characters notes, the good times don't last forever, but neither do the bad times. I loved The Wellstone, which was the first of these I read, because I felt that it was optimistic hard science fiction. And despite everything, I think I'd describe this book that way, too.
In the first half of To Crush the Moon, Conrad Mursk returns to our solar system. Indeed, it is he who ends up crushing the Moon - managing the project, at least. With immortality, the Queendom is bursting at the seams with people, and a smaller Moon - with the same mass, thus a higher gravity and a shorter day - would be a pleasant home for billions.
Alas, as we've known since the second book in this series, the Queendom doesn't survive. At that point, the story skips ahead 2000 years, finishing the story we've been following, in brief snippets, for several volumes (most of which were filled with ancient history, by their standards).
I won't say much about the last half of the book, except that it's exciting and... unexpected. Yes, despite those prologues I've complained about, the story still surprised me. McCarthy did the same thing with Lost in Transmission, and he does an even better job of it here. The Murdered Earth, the Shattering, the Glimmer King - all made perfect sense, but weren't quite what I expected.
Well, as I said earlier, it's a superb conclusion to a real masterpiece of science fiction.
PS. Below, I've continued with a couple of comments that didn't fit anywhere else. If you're a real glutton for punishment, read on.
1. Earlier in the book, Bruno comments on the Fatalists: "Do they lack imagination? Do we? 'Everything has an end,' they insist. 'Let's engineer it, peacefully and with love.' By which they mean the vaporization of innocents, the sabotage of shielded archives. Bah! I say everything has a solution, and we've only to find it."
The Fatalists have give up. And like fanatics everywhere, they want everyone else to think the same way. Well, I have nothing particularly against suicide, but I do oppose murder. And heroes don't give up. I really admire that mindset.
I've always liked that... engineering mindset that every problem has a solution, too. Maybe it's not true, but we should certainly act like it is. And there's nothing admirable in giving up. If there's not a solution - or if we just can't find it in time - we might fail. But we'll fail on our feet!
This kind of thinking seemed to be pretty common in classic science fiction, and it's one of the reasons I loved it. I have little interest in dystopias, and I have no interest at all in hopelessness. We have to keep fighting, no matter what (not just in fiction, either - please take that as a political statement in these troubled times).
2. Oddly enough, to my mind, these people of the future seemed to have some general, if unspecified, religious beliefs, even a vague hope - though not really an expectation - of life after death.
As I say, that seemed odd, but then, it seems odd to me that so many people believe that stuff even today. But in the context of this story, I was surprised that the religious angle was mentioned, but not developed.
After all, if you never die, you can't be judged by some god. If you never die, you can't be rewarded with Paradise or sentenced to Hell. Or, if that's your faith, you can't be reincarnated. So what did churches have to say about immortality? It's never mentioned.
The characters sometimes express a vague hope for life after death, and that was always a bit jarring, I thought. On the other hand, the Fatalists seemed to be motivated by religion, at least in part, but we don't learn much about them.
To my mind, it seemed to be either too much religion or not enough. If religion was at all important in the Queendom, I would have expected immortality to throw a huge monkey wrench into the gears. And if not, why mention it at all?
This isn't a big issue, not at all. But I did think it was odd.