Hugo Awards 2021: The Relentless Moon: Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series

Long crisp shadows, still black as night, stretched across the landscape. In the light of the early morning sun, the edges of craters blazed white. The surface blazed with tiny balls of glass from long-ago lava flows and meteorite impacts. Outside, the other modules of the lunar colony looked like a once-grand sandcastle that had been eaten by a sea long-vanished.

The last book in the Lady Astronaut series, Mary Robinette Kowal's The Relentless Moon, was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel this year. The Lady Astronaut series lost out Best Series to Martha Wells' Murderbot series. The action in this installment almost entirely takes place on the Moon base. The classy Nicole Wargin, now something of a veteran, takes the lead as our heroines and heroes fight for the literal survival of the Space Project. And what an antidote to men in 'rumpled gray suits' she is!

The Relentless Moon

While Elma York wings her way towards challenges of her own on the First Mars Expedition (see The Fated Sky), Nicole, Eugene, Myrtle and Helen (who has been bumped off the Mars expedition to make room for Elma) battle with a series of life-threatening equipment failures on the rapidly expanding moon colony – beginning with a crash-landing – that indicate a saboteur in their midst.

Everything points to Earth First; a growing group of citizens taking radical actions to protest against money spent on the space project while people are starving on Earth. A meteorite strike on the U.S. has caused food shortages and climate change worldwide, and is the reason the combined space teams are aiming to establish colonies in space.

I love the way Mary Robinette Kowal describes space travel as both exhilarating, a bit sexy and really challenging. Its all about empowerment - the women are every much as skilled as the men.

Kowal revisits the theme of separation from their loved ones; made all the more difficult when they are targets, on Earth and in space. Kowal has established some really strong connections between her characters in this series, and there's heartbreak and jubilation in equal measure when things come to a head in this finale.

There's dandelion wine, a mystery 'flu pandemic to contend with (oh yes!), and death. And a heck of a lot of detective work to figure out who can be trusted, how to flush the culprit (or culprits) out, and where the bombs are. Bombs?!

With comms down on Earth, the colonists must battle to survive. They're not even sure the IAC (International Aerospace Coalition) is still down there coming to their aid...

The setting of the early sixties took me back to the good old days of sci-fi tv - Moon Base Alpha (Space 1999) and the Thunderbirds.

Kowal adds the issues of the day with an attack on presidential candidate Kenneth Wargin that mirrors the assassination of John F. Kennedy on 22.11.1963, while the racial issues faced by her characters (among everything else) echo Martin Luther King's march on the White House (9.28.1963). And for authenticity, Buzz Aldrin makes a brief appearance.

"Balance couple, OFF." The light in the cabin shifted, and the cold gray metal went warm with the amber of a sunset. As we rolled, a corona of long red and gold streamers rose in the window. It formed a ring that glowed brightest where it brushed the paper-thin skin of atmosphere wrapped around our hidden planet. In the center of that shifting, ethereal halo lay a black velvet orb eclipsing the sun. Earth. Home.

If you're hungry for more, there is also a sequel to The Fated Sky, The Lady Astronaut of Mars, written in 2014 - a sort of side-branch to the main Lady Astronauts series, focusing on Elma's later years.

The Lady Astronaut of Mars

The Calculating Stars won the 2019 Nebula Award for Best Novel, the 2019 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Further reading