“Gunpowder Moon” by David Pedreira. Harper Voyager, copyright 2018. 288 pages, trade paperback, $14.99
Fifty-five years in the future, governments on planet Earth have been crippled by environmental disaster and Marine veteran Caden Dechert supervises a US energy-mining outpost on the moon. Dechert directs a small tight-knit crew whose job is to extract Helium-3 to power fusion reactors back home in the United States.
Four or 5 other nations on Earth mine for the same natural resource on the moon and Dechert feels pressure from the home planet to meet constantly growing production quotas. When sabotage of US mining equipment takes place in a remote lunar location, Dechert makes a solo reconnaissance jump into a dark lunar crater using a jet pack and finds circumstantial evidence to implicate the Chinese in the tampering.
The sabotage at one site is followed shortly by a small explosion elsewhere that kills Cole, an American miner, and spurs the first murder investigation on the moon. Because of such controlled access in space, the death investigation effectively becomes equivalent to a locked-room mystery and must be investigated quietly because of the small number of suspects with opportunity and access.
In a lunar environment where even small miscalculations can have deadly consequences, Dechert follows clues that suggest his outpost has become ground zero in a political power struggle between the US and China that transcends the issue of natural resources. Dechert gets assistance in solving the conundrum from his immature boy-genius propulsion engineer and a beautiful, but world-weary, female safety officer who is able to leverage some of her political connections on earth to gather information.
During the investigation, Dechert must step cautiously in order to prevent tipping his hand to either his Chinese opposite number, with whom he is on friendly terms, or to the militarists within his own chain of command. His position is truly sitting on a powder keg and the burnt metal smell prevalent on the moon only serves to remind him of past conflicts, including his previous military service in the war-torn Middle East back stateside. At one point, his civilian mining crew is forced to host a squad of Air and Space Marines on what appears to be an intentionally provocative military mission that can only serve to increase tensions with the moon denizens of other countries.
“Gunpowder Moon” is Florida journalist David Pedreira’s first novel and it compares favorably with Andrew Weir’s “The Martian” in its level of dramatic intensity if not in the use of full-fledged characterization or the degree of scientific accuracy and specificity employed in the narrative.
Lisa Kobrin is the Reference Manager and Genealogy Librarian at the May Memorial Library. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (336) 229-3588.