Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys

Rogue Moon, published in 1960 by Russian SF writer Algis Budrys, is considered to be part of the ‘New Wave’ of SF in the 1960s and 1970s, which was more focused on literary experimentation than hard science.

An alien object has been found on the dark side of the moon by Americans and a transporter built to materialise volunteers on the moon who then go in to explore what it is. Unfortunately, this results in a very quick and painful death, and retrieving any information on what is in there and what killed them is proving to be very difficult.

An extraordinary kind of person is therefore required who can face death again and again without being driven insane by the experience, in order for science and the human obsession for domination over the unknown to continue its inexorable path forward.

There are only a few central characters in Rogue Moon, with the main focus on the relationship between the obsessive and rigidly self-controlled scientist Edward Hawks, and the daredevil risk taker Al Barker who in his own way is also very self-controlled, defensive, and consumed by the need to find a meaning.

The writing is very different from, for example, Arthur C Clarke’s, with the science not as exact and more fanciful, and the alien object on the moon being more a personification of death rather than a solid place or thing to be explored.

This is a very different book from what I was expecting. Having read Clarke and Hoyle, who were both scientists, I was expecting most of the action to take place on the moon, with an explanation of what the thing is that is up there. This is merely a tool however for Budrys to explore human psychology in the face of such extreme testing. It explores Barker’s personality, which teeters on the edge of having a death wish and needing to prove something to everybody, particularly himself, and Hawks’ cold ambition to unlock the secrets of the alien artefact that clash with the fact that he has to send so many men up there to die in order for him to do this. This is a study of death and how humans approach it, as well as a study of what being ‘you’ actually means, and the role memories play in forming this concept.

This is a difficult book to get a grasp of, as humanity, love and death and what they mean to each of us can be completely different. It is a book of many layers and no answers, and I think that whether a reader likes it or not depends on whether they like the style of dialogue, which is very much like The Great Gatsby in some places, or whether they prefer a stronger focus on the alien object and a more practical, rather than psychological, story. Either way, it is a great piece of science fiction.

9/10 It is a book of many layers and no answers.

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