The Moon and the Other

By John Kessel
Saga Press, ©2017
Hardback, 608 pages

In the mid-22nd century, humans have colonized the Moon in multiple domed cities. One, the Society of Cousins, is notorious for its matriarchal social structure and free attitudes toward sexuality. Another, Persepolis, is the SoC’s opposite in every way that counts—government, use of space, attitudes toward gender and religion and business, and treatment of its citizens.

Erno, born in the SoC, rebelled at great cost and was exiled as a young man to make his own way in one of the patriarchal lunar cities. Mira came as a child with her mother to the SoC and, through a series of tragedies, is left alone and hostile to the status quo, as well as almost everyone she encounters. Carey is son to one of the SoC’s most esteemed women. Handsome, charming, athletic, he is one of the Society’s most sought-after lovers. Amestris is daughter to one of the richest, most powerful men in Persepolis and wants nothing more than to be respected for her own merits despite the fact that she’s a woman.

As the lives of these characters intersect and intertwine, tensions are growing in the SoC, where men are protesting their treatment as second-class citizens without even the right to vote. Factions clash politically, but when the patriarchal city-states send a committee to oversee the treatment of men in the SoC, the simmering cauldron erupts, changing all their lives forever.

I must admit it took me a little while to really get into this story; it starts out slow, building the societies, the settings, and the characters a little at a time. Later in my reading, I was glad for this. The Moon and the Other is a complex, detailed story with believable tech and settings that I could see in my mind, rich tapestries of social structure, and true-to-life characters with strengths and weaknesses that made them feel especially realistic. And humans being who they are, the events that unfolded in the SoC rang true to what could actually happen, given those circumstances. Perfection is a dream, even for the utopian Cousins. Still, I was charmed by their social structure. I could see myself living among them, easily.

Once I was hooked, I didn’t want to stop reading. It was clear that Kessel was leading me in a specific direction, and I wanted to know where and why. About a third of the way into it, I realized that Moon is a book of comparisons: matriarchy to patriarchy, all the varieties of human gender identity, sexual freedom with sexual repression, goddess devotion to monotheism (though these are undercurrents), open society to closed society, privilege and want, expectation and reality, and others besides. I liked this—it made the conflict even more obvious when I could see something of both sides and how the two would never, ever find common ground. It also seemed to me a fictional illustration of social issues we face right now, in 2017, and how the violence wrought by extremists colors everything that follows.

Personally, I found this book to be an excellent, if heavy, read. This ambitious sci-fi tale has left me wanting more. Even if Moon has no sequel—and I’m not sure whether it will—I’ll definitely check out Kessel’s other works.