Moon Flights by Elizabeth Moon
Well, here we are in terra incognita again. With the delay between ordering a book and it surfacing as the next book to read, I often forget exactly why I ordered it. Perhaps I saw a review or someone recommended it. Who knows and, truth be told, who cares. It’s all grist to the mill. So this has me looking at a collection called Moon Fights by Elizabeth Moon, (Night Shade Books, 2007). But first, a silly game. Moon Flights? Is that the best the publisher can think of. Is she blue, or have a dark side, are we over her or is there a man on her? Let’s have a shot at doing better next time or make the whole problem go away by ignoring her surname in the title altogether. (PS The jacket artwork by Dave Seeley is not a portrait of the author — it’s supposed to be Ky Vatta. Just keeping you up to speed.)
And thinking about speed, we’re off down the piste with “If Nudity Offends You” — who would have thought living in a trailer park could introduce you to such interesting neighbours. Anyway, this seems to be both good and bad. The prose style is functional with little or no embellishments to lighten the load of the narrative. This places all the carry duties on the quality of the story idea. This seems equivocal. If these neighbours know enough to appreciate that nudity may offend the locals, can jury rig the power supply without incinerating themselves, understand the concept of blackmail, and are in funds, they seem fairly well acclimatised and that makes their departure slightly surprising.
“Gifts” is a coming-of-age story in which youthful awkwardness gives way to a better self-awareness courtesy of a residue of magic in a wooden knife. It has a slight sentimentality about it but avoids excess. A harder-edged version of the same theme crops up in “Accidents Don’t Just Happen — They’re Caused”. Mothers have daughters who grow up to become mothers. In some households, there’s an excess of filial zeal and each new female generation is the social glue holding the kin group together. But equally often, there are strong personalities in play and each new generation is a separate unit, jealously guarding its own. This is a very nicely judged story about a young engineer who has grown up in the shadow of her world-famous mother. When, after years of independence, a mother visits her daughter at work, it’s time for a little plain speaking and bonding (in the engineering sense, of course).
“Politics” is a Heinleinesque story of starship troopers in an opposed landing on a remote planet. David Drake in his Hammer’s Slammers series is my yardstick for this kind of military fiction in which a small group of seasoned warriors are thrown into the melting pot. This skirts round the detail of the action as the story develops, being content to set up the political situation as the context for the landing and then leave it to our hero to explain how it all came out. I suspect it was written as a vignette that might appear in a novel, with the author’s notes as the last paragraph on how to finish the story. But it’s nevertheless enjoyable.
“And Ladies of the Club” is a delightful story of a tax and its unintended consequences. I can’t recall any recent short story in which a lawyer came out looking so good at the end. Professional legal bodies around the world should use this parable as a teaching vehicle. The fun continues in “No Pain, No Gain” which retains the wit of the first if not quite the same level of inventiveness. “Fool’s Gold” sees the joke starting to wear a little thin. Although the idea of a class of female warriors in mediaeval times where magic works is quite amusing, this encounter with dragons is a little laboured. It’s trying to hard too be amusing. That said, the end is pleasing and, in hindsight, saves the piece. “Sweet Charity” completes the foursome and manages to maintain good humour throughout as pirates discover that our ladies don’t pop their corks for anyone so downriver.
“New World Symphony” is another delight, albeit nothing more than a relocation in setting for the old question of the role of an artist in society. Thinking about music? Think Dmitri Shostakovich to understand the complex relationship between greatness as an individual and the fears of a bureaucracy. The supremely gifted are, by their nature, subversive, challenging orthodoxy, pushing on to pastures new and so destablising the current power structures. The boring hacks will always find a place because their art does not threaten the establishment. “Hand to Hand” continues the discussion of the role of music, this time in a society at war. It’s not uncommon to hear the military justify wars by claiming they protect their country’s/world’s cultural heritage, including its music. Yet, for the most part, soldiers are philistines, having no real knowledge of, or interest in, the “arts”. It’s a convenient hypocrisy that this story takes head on. Sad then that I think the story mistakes its target. While it works as a balance between sisters, it fails to reflect the role of the military as the politicians’ arm of enforcement. It’s the elected officials and power brokers who decide when to go to war, and it’s they and their social circle who know and love the “arts”. It’s a class thing and, by and large, the military don’t fit comfortably into whatever passes for the Ruling Class in each society.
“Tradition” is one of these pesky alternate history stories which fail to announce their presence. There’s great power and stimulation in a “what if” story that assumes some change in written history and examines what might have happened. Stories like “Tradition” deliberately change history, but make nothing of it. Although it’s interesting to read a WWI-style naval engagement story, it’s all about the battle, not about the consequences of destroying such a ship at that point in the development of the war. Ms Moon would have been better advised to change all the names and made it straight historical fiction.
It turns out that I’d read “Judgment” before as one of The Dragon Quintet, edited by Marvin Kaye. This is a top-class story of the balance of forces between the Rock Folk, Dragons and the unfortunate humans in-between. I confess to liking my dragons urbane as they walk the world described at length in the Deed of Paksenarrion and Paladin’s Legacy trilogies. “Gravesite Revisited” is a great idea, simply told. When you have a great idea, there’s no need to do anything else. “Welcome to Wheel Days” captures the can-do spirit that all colonists will need if they’re to make a success of “being out there”. Again, it’s success lies in its simplicity. “Say Cheese” completes the run-out with another strong story. This is old-fashioned. I remember stories like this in the 1950s in which the crew of a ship has a problem to solve before they can dock. This is a nice tip-of-the-hat to a respectable idea.
Overall, Moon Flights is a really pleasing collection — well worth the price of admission and, for those of your who worry about these things, still in print as a hardback and a paperback.