Moonseed is a speculative science fiction novel written by Stephen Baxter. Originally published in 1999, Moonseed is part of a series of novels called the NASA Trilogy which also includes Voyage and Titan. These books explore the possibilities of the American Space Program if circumstances were slightly different.
It Eats Planets. And It’s Here. It starts when Venus explodes into a brilliant cloud of dust and debris, showering Earth with radiation and bizarre particles that wipe out all the crops and half the life in the oceans, and fry the ozone layer. Days later, a few specks of moon rock kicked up from the last Apollo mission fall upon a lava crag in Scotland. That’s all it takes . . .
Suddenly, the ground itself begins melting into pools of dust that grow larger every day. For what has demolished Venus, and now threatens Earth itself, is part machine, part life-form: a nano-virus, dubbed Moonseed, that attacks planets.
Four scientists are all that stand between Moonseed and Earth’s extinction, four brilliant minds that must race to cut off the virus and save what’s left of Earth–a pulse-stopping battle for discovery that will lead them from the Earth’s inner core to a daredevil Moon voyage that could save, or damn, us all.
I wouldn’t say that Moonseed was a good book, but I enjoyed reading it. In a way, it’s similar to Armageddon or Deep Impact. The story starts out with Venus exploding, that was all I knew about the plot before starting Moonseed so I assumed it was going to be like Seveneves.
However, the plot went off in a way I didn’t expect. I like these sorts of hard science fiction books because the story is based on real science. I think to an extent Stephen Baxter did try that, but the plot went off in a direction I wasn’t expecting. It’s kind of like a Dan Brown book, it’s fun to read but you’re not in it for the historical accuracy.
The main character in Moonseed was a scientist called Henry Meacher, at first he came across as quite whiny and annoying. Henry moves from the US to study a moon rock at the University of Edinburgh. According to Henry everything in the UK is backwards and definitely not up to the standard he’s used to in the US. It made him quite unlikable.
PROBLEMS WITH THE PLOT
Stephen Baxter also spends a lot of time describing the geology around Edinburgh, I guess this is relevant to an extent. The Moonseed carried on Henry’s rock from the Moon eats bedrock. So geology is quite important to the plot. But there is only so much geology talk I can take before getting bored.
I think the way the story is told is the real downfall of the book. Moonseed begins with introducing a huge cast of characters, the story is told through their point of view so this is understandable. But it felt like some of these characters were only in the story to narrate what is happening during the disasters which occur all over the planet.
It got to the point where I was expecting the story to end with all the main characters dying. Similar to Cloverfield. It becomes quite depressing when most of the book is one character dying after the other. When stories focus on huge natural disasters you need some small element of hope that everything will be fine in the end. I didn’t get that with Moonseed.
In fact, the way Baxter wrote the story he made this problem worse. At one point Henry decides NASA has to go back to the Moon. This is imperative because the Moonseed came to Earth from the Moon. But it wasn’t clear exactly what going to the Moon would do, how it would fix what was happening on Earth. In the end, it turned out Henry did have a plan all along. This just wasn’t communicated to the reader so it would create a twist in the final part of the book.
Speculative fiction works because it changes the rules slightly. The idea behind this novel is what would happen if NASA was slightly different. It brings back a particle which eats bedrock. That’s fine if the plot just continued with that it would be believable. If it was based on real science just a slightly different setting.
But then it turns out this Moonseed particle was left by aliens, and it’s creating a solar sail. In fact, the aliens are trying to help humans. Imagining science being a bit different is fine, so is aliens. But I felt that having both in the same story was too far. It would have worked exactly the same if this Moonseed wasn’t an alien, it was just something new. Adding the alien aspect didn’t make any difference to the story. It was just there to explain why the Moonseed was on the Moon.
It’s like in Seveneves, you can speculate that the Moon blew up because of aliens, but that is just speculation, it’s mentioned once then never again. The story focused on what happens because the Moon blew up, not why it blows up.
The story feels frustrating in the way it has been told. I almost feel it would have worked better as a film than a book. It’s easier that way to show what is happening without having to make a connection with a specific character. I think it would have been preferable to being introduced to a character just for them to be killed off.
I wouldn’t say Moonseed was good, but I did enjoy it. I love a good disaster film, the worse the better. It isn’t going to be scientifically accurate, but you have a fun time. Just look at 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow. But it’s still a fun story. I think if you go into Moonseed with that attitude it should be fine.