The Moon Goddess and the Son, this anthology helpfully informs us, is a novella that was later turned into a longer novel (not all that uncommon an occurrence). And after reading this I wonder what the novel is like, because the novella, at least, demonstrates some of the shortcomings of the shorter-length form of fiction. Donald Kingsbury has an interesting story to tell, but even making this novella as long as he does, he still has to condense a great deal of it. As a result, he robs the story of some of its charm and potency. Maybe a novel could restore that.
Essentially this is about Diana, a girl who wants to escape her abusive family by going to the moon. She runs away from home and begins using men to get what she wants, all the while retaining her virginity until she meets Byron, an actual lunar engineer. He’s a manipulative bastard who isn’t happy that she turns out to be a minor and isn’t happier still when, after he rejects her, she takes up with his son. Charlie has spent his life attempting to foil his parents’ plans for him, but he soon grows besotted with Diana even though she keeps a candle burning for his dad.
Yeah, it’s … complicated.
And this is where the shorter format can’t do the story justice. The chapters within spend more time on exposition and narration than they should. We’re told things that would be better off being shown to us—but Kingsbury can’t, because if he did, this would be … well, it’d be a novel. No wonder he had to expand it. There is so much he wants to cram into here: international politics, space exploration politics, issues of child abuse and sexual maturity, parenting philosophies … though the characters and their actions never seem as complex as they should be, lurking beneath the surface is an intense and magnificent story, just waiting to have the space to stretch itself out and breathe.
As it is, though, The Moon Goddess and the Son feels more like a sketch of a story than a satisfactory story on its own. The characters, though given deep aspirations and attributes, never strike me as very real people. The resolution, compared to the amount of time spent on the setup, is a rushed affair that leaves a lot to be desired.
The writing and plotting is certainly on a higher level—akin more to Profession than Time Safari—and Kingsbury channels well a mythic atmosphere of fairytale-esque fate that cocoons his characters and influences their actions. I just wish that this had been something … more … though I can’t really blame it for having to work within the constraints of its form.
Read as part of The Mammoth Book of Short Science Fiction Novels.