Review: A Grey Moon Over China by Thomas A. Day

Grey Moon Over China by Thomas A DayA Grey Moon Over China
Thomas A. Day
Tor, 2009 (original published by Black Heron, 2006)

A Grey Moon Over China is near future sci-fi epic with a surprisingly intimate touch that constantly wars with broader scope. It is a struggle that at times makes for an engrossing read and at other times makes for a difficult read. In the near future of this novel Earth is shattered by wars and environment ruin. While people go on about their daily lives the endless war and violence takes its toll. One soldier, Edward Torres, tired of war and violence and look for a peaceful life and quiet place his own, makes a startling discovery on a tiny island: a cheap, near limitless, portable energy source. His discovery creates a domino effect of change as he and his companions restart a failed space program in order strike out and start fresh amongst the stars.

A Grey Moon Over China was a bit of an impulse buy for me. Before punching in for a weekend shift at the book store I had picked up the book and started reading the prologue. Towards the end a particular melancholic passage clenched my purchase:

Walking back up the hill carrying my parcels, I stopped to catch my breath and listen to the silence after crunching my feet on the gravel. She’s like the rest of us, I thought. We pursue our own solitary passions and seldom look up, seldom sense that it we ourselves who form the swelling flood of history, the dark constellation of events we would sooner lay at the feet of other. Until the storm finally gathers, and then we look up and we grow afraid, and we say: This is not what I intended.
And yet, even then, I thought, we do not act. Even then we hesitate, and always for too long.

There was something about that little passage that really struck and cord with me and while that passage doesn’t neatly encapsulate the novel’s plot it certainly captures the novel’s tone.  This is not a novel that lifts you up.  It drifts into surprisingly dark places and in many ways confirms and highlights the immutability of man’s violent nature.

This is precisely the kind of novel that I always find difficult to discuss. A Grey Moon Over China reveals a, if not profound, than at least a crystal clear philosophical ideology with regards to the cyclical nature of violence and human kind’s capacity to harm itself in the pursuit of ideas and dreams that are supposedly for its own benefit. This is an admirable trait in any novel but at the same time there a moments I felt that the novel’s message upstaged the story it was trying to tell. The middle section of the book in particular felt like a particularly long setup with the very clear intention of simply getting the plot and characters where they needed to be. I admit that sounds a bit like an obvious statement, isn’t any novel’s opening designed to progress towards its ending, but in my opinion there is a clear delineation in pace between the first half and the last half of the novel. While stand-alone novels are admirable, especially in a genre so rife with multi-volume epics, but each half of A Grey Moon Over China feels self-contained that I think it would have served nicely, and perhaps flowed a little smoother, had it been approached as a duology.

A Grey Moon Over China spans many years and will frequently jump forward partially due to the fact that space vessels still travel at sub-light speeds. On the one hand this can be somewhat disorienting while on the other hand, particularly in the latter half of the novel, manages to keep the action flowing without breaking up the narrative. While I did find the slower, foundation building, first half of the novel a bit difficult to get through the second half more than made up for it in terms of action, mystery and intrigue. In fact I shot through the second half of the novel in just under a day and might have finished sooner had I not decided I needed to sleep.

This is very much a “big idea” novel and as a result I think in some regards characterization falls by the wayside. There is a lot that happens in 411 pages and little room to explore characters too deeply. Pham Tuyet, a mysterious Vietnamese woman, while handled nicely early in the novel tends to weave in and out of the plot and is frequently quite vexing in both her attitude and in her importance to the proceeding. Day constantly hints at a connection between Pham and narrator Torres yet when that connection is finally revealed in full it felt anti-climactic and was clumsily handled as an a last minute infodump. Charlie Peters is another character who really comes to the forefront of the novel in that second half and his cryptic mutterings, Irish accent, given the remainder of the novel a feel of inevitability that heightens the mystery and tension. Last, but not least, I should mention that any authors wanting to name their characters after pop singers should, in the future, please refrain from doing so. I admit I had to stifle a chuckle every time the character Michael Bolton was mentioned. In a a related note the spider drone robot named Little Bolton was perhaps my favorite character and I really wish he (it) had been utilized more.

A Grey Moon Over China is not an easy book to read but it certainly worth it for those willing to put in the time and the effort. Upon completing the book I couldn’t help but thinking of The Empire Strikes Back. In particular, the cave scene on Dagobah I thought was similar in tone to the novel’s message and the nigh-prophetic warnings of both Madhu and Charlie Peters. It should also be noted that A Grey Moon Over China is Day’s debut novel and, stumbling blocks and difficulties aside, is a rather impressive way to start. Day has a rather unique voice and, while it isn’t particularly flattering in its portrayal of humanity, is a voice worth listening to and one a look forward to hearing in the future.

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