I walked into Gunpowder Moon thinking of it as a mystery, but it is really more of a thriller. It benefits the most from the strength of the lead—Caden Dechert—and the carefully drawn vision of a plausible future on the moon.
Every lunar walker since Apollo 11 has noticed it: a burnt-metal scent that reminds them of war. Caden Dechert, chief of U.S. mining operations on the edge of the Sea of Serenity, thinks the smell is just a trick of the mind—a flashback to his harrowing days as a marine in the war-torn Middle East back on Earth.
It’s 2072, and lunar helium-3 mining is powering the fusion reactors bringing Earth back from environmental disaster. But competing for the richest prize in the history of the world has destroyed the oldest rule in space: safety for all. When a bomb kills one of Dechert’s diggers on Mare Serenitatis, the haunted veteran goes on the hunt to expose the culprit before more blood is spilled.
As he races to solve the first murder in the history of the Moon, Dechert gets caught in the crosshairs of two global powers spoiling for a fight. Reluctant to be the match that lights this powder keg, Dechert knows his life and those of his crew are meaningless to the politicians. Even worse, he knows the killer is still out there, hunting.
In his desperate attempts to prevent the catastrophe he sees coming, Dechert uncovers a conspiracy that, with one spark, can ignite a full lunar war, wipe out his team . . . and perhaps plunge Earth back into darkness.
Gunpowder is more of a thriller than a mystery, but it isn’t entirely effective as the former. The plot never reaches inside you and squeezes an organ or two like the best thrillers do. At least not until the end, when things truly teeter on the brink of lunar war. The best parts were the science fiction aspects. Especially when things start heating up at the end and Pedreira throws a lot of cool military SF at us—bullet-size smart rockets and smart antimissile arrays and shoulder-fired micro-EMPs. Pedreira does a great job sketching out a future on the Moon, and really hammers in just how dangerous operating on the Moon will be.
The characterization is a bit of a mixed bag. Pedreira does a really good job with the characters who get his attention, but too few do. Pedreira sketches a plausible future where the United States and China are engaged in a new space race—this time to mine the Moon. The United States was left on the level of China by the Thermal Max. “Two trillion tons of methane hydrate had bubbled out of the Pacific Rim with almost no warning in the North American spring of 2058, enveloping the planet in a Venusian shroud.” That environmental catastrophe—and the human fallout—left three billion dead.
Pedreira has the annoying habit of occasionally switching between referring to characters by their last names and referring to them by their first names, much to my confusion.
4 of 5 Stars.
Disclosure: Harper Voyager sent me a(n unsolicited) review copy of Gunpowder Moon.
DJ has an interview with Pedreira up at My Life My Books My Escape.