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Building Harlequin’s Moon by Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Earth is being ravaged by rogue AIs and nano-technology and a group of “pure” humans make the choice to leave for the planet Ymir to restart and be free. Unfortunately for one of the ships (The John Glenn), something catastrophic happens and they must stop to replenish their fuel supply. This requires a planet and workforce which are both severely lacking given their location. The answer is to create a planet using the moons of the system they are stranded in and create a workforce to allow them to continue their journey. Seems like a simple plan, but events involving people are rarely simple.

PROS: Some excellent characters playing on both sides of the issues presented in the book, and I enjoyed the questions raised by the status of the people raised on the terraformed moon.
CONS: Time jumps where action on the moon appears to stand still, and a need for a bit more backstory on the events that caused these people to leave.
BOTTOM LINE: An excellent book that raises some interesting questions about what it is to be human and what is considered acceptable behavior when your goals are at risk of never being reached.

MY REVIEW: Brenda Cooper and Larry Niven have been collaborating for several years now with most of this work being done as short stories. This is the first book the two have created and it is a pretty well done effort. The story takes place on the terraformed moon of Selene orbiting a gas giant (Harlequin).

There is some interesting science used here when discussing the creation of the world and the ships, but the story is more about the restriction of technology. Specifically about restricting technology to those born on Earth and keeping those born on Selene living lives without access to many of these things (nanotech and cryogenics which regenerate tissue and revitalize the people, and advanced information available in the AI that helped navigate the ship.) This is where things get interesting in that the Earthborn who fear the AIs and nano-tech are also utilizing them extensively in their trip to Ymir. They restrict access to these since the children of Selene are really intended to help build the antimatter generator and would not have been needed if the ship had not broken down. As the story flows, the conflict between those of Earth who view the children of Selene are a tool and the children themselves continue to escalate.

There are some wild timescales involved in this book with the start of the novel and the end being well over 60000 years apart, but this was acceptable early in the book considering most of that time was the creation of Selene itself. This was a pretty neat concept and one I had not considered when terraforming is discussed. In the book, they actually pull together a series of moons and comets form another – which is why it takes such a long period of time, and why I was happy that there were breaks in the action while the crew waited for the dust and planet to settle after each collision. Later in the novel, there is a side arc involving the retrival of an asteroid to provide a shelter from solar flares. This retrieval takes a much shorter period of time (given the earlier time scale), but during this time the events on Selene are pretty much left to their own devices. This disturbed me in that it felt that the events on the planet were paused while Gabriel is away on this task, Only when he returns and is somewhat close to Selene do events start to flow again for the moon.

Ultimately, the book asks the question do the ends truly justify the means with respect of the people on the John Glenn, and it is this question and discussion that I found most interesting in the book. The humans on the ship had planned to make their way to a distant planet, but due to no fault of their own were now stranded, and the only way to finish the journey is the creation of a workforce and fuel generation facility. Given the experience they had back on Earth, this work cannot be fully accomplished using nanotech and AI since those things are best to be controlled. Therefore, they must procreate and create a population on the moon that would serve their needs. This population is simply a tool to provide the John Glenn with fuel and when that task is complete the tool can be discarded or abandoned. The problem is that this tool is not a mechanical entity – they are living breathing humans who are also the children of the people aboard the John Glenn. This conflict and eventual resolution is what made this book very good in my opinion. It really makes you think about the behavior of the Earth born since they had a set of goals that transcend their current situation. It is this conflict and discussion that really drew me into the story and watched it evolve. There are some stereotypical characters in the book, but many were well done including the artificial intelligence from the ship.

3 Comments on Building Harlequin’s Moon by Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper

  1. Connor Poole // January 3, 2006 at 10:17 pm //

    I thought this book was very good:D. It might have been a little more interesting with some background of earth but it was still good. Both the characters and the questions they pose make you think about the future and what is acceptable in certain cituations. The one thing this book does unlike most sci-fi novels is really get you rooting for the characters and it gets you interested in their lives as well as in their goals.

  2. Allan Hansen // August 14, 2006 at 1:32 am //

    I liked this book and thoughout had difficulty putting it down. The characters are very well described and the problems they face are believable.

    A minor distraction: When moving around in the air inside a rotating sphere or cylinder there is NO GRAVITY anywhere and there is NO ACCELERATION. It’s only when you contact the cylinder/sphere that the friction force gets you going and you’ll eventually move at the same speed. At that time, the wall will exert a force on your body that will FEEL LIKE gravity, but is really just the same as the force you feel when you drive your car around a bend in the road.

    Both this book and at least one written by Jerry Pournelle show this misunderstanding of the physics inside a cylindrical/spherical rotating spaceship.

  3. i wnt 2 learn more coz people ars ever saying guys are in moon

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