Thursday, August 6, 2020

Review: Hûw Steer's 'Ad Luna' brilliantly reimagines the first science fiction story

Cover of Ad Luna
Title: Ad Luna
Author: Hûw Steer
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 424
Published: July 4 2020

What Goodreads has to say:

The Moon is on the brink of war.

Alexander Dio, an officer of the Vulture Dragoons, flies in defense of the Lunar people against the monstrous armies of the Sun. He is ready for war - or at least he thinks he is.

But when Dio's patrol finds a crashed ship out in the Sea of Tranquility, his life is turned upside-down. Because the ship is not from the Moon, and its captain is unlike anyone he's ever known.

His name is Lucian, and he comes from the Earth.

Based on the ancient Greek story by Lucian of Samosata, this epic voyage of discovery goes back to the very beginning of science-fiction.

What I have to say:

Back in the second century AD, this Greek guy named Lucian of Samosata wrote an outlandish story about a trip to the moon. 

OK, so he wasn't just some Greek guy. He was a pretty cool dude who was also a scholar, politician, teacher, and first-class satirist.

He wrote A True History to poke fun at historians and travel-writers who would write "true," in-depth accounts of places they'd never visited. To one-up them, Lucian wrote a story about his voyage to mythical islands, the sun, moon, and stars. In doing so, he unwittingly created the first science fiction story.

Hûw Steer, author of The Blackbird and the Ghost, admits to wishing Lucian's book was a little longer. (It's only 53 pages). So, as you do, he wrote his own, longer version.

And folks. It. Is. Epic.

Imagine battles atop giant three-headed vultures, fire-creatures who live in the heart of the sun, and massive space spiders that spin new worlds, and you'll have a little bit of an idea how awesome Hûw Steer's imagination is. 

Couple that with engaging characters, weighty dilemmas, and a great prose style, and you might see why I enjoyed this book so much.

Let's be honest, though. I also liked it because it combined three of my all-time loves: classic lit, Greek stuff, and space. 

Our main character is Dio, a young lieutenant in the army of Lord Endymion, ruler of the moon. The enemy is Phaethon, ruler of the sun and its race of Solars. Both the Solars and the Lunars (Endymion's race of moon-dwellers) are bent on settling the Morning Star, and the result is a long-standing war between the two peoples. 

Things get more complicated when a guy named Lucian of Samosata (hey) shows up with a ship of earth-dwellers who've accidentally landed on the moon. Now, Dio has to balance fighting for his people with entertaining a group of alien tourists. 

From there, there's intense battles between the Solars and Lunars, a fiery prison located on the sun, and a lot of tense, life-or-death negotiating. It's a ride. (Like, one day I just camped out in my yard and read this book for several hours until I finished it, because I couldn't stop.)

I haven't actually read A True History (now on my to-read list), so I can't say how the two stack up or how faithful Ad Luna is to the original. It's certainly an interesting thought experiment to see things like centaurs, dryads (or something similar, anyway), and mythical spiders translated into the medium of space. 

It's equally intriguing to see how Greco-Roman hot button topics like slavery play out on alien planets, and it's fun to think about the mythical Endymion becoming Lord of the moon and leading a whole race of alien people when, according to the Greeks, he's just locked in eternal slumber.

In the end, I'll fall back on what Lucian tells Dio when the latter remarks that neither of their races will believe the stories they tell: 

"It does not matter. Whether a good story is true or not, it is still a good story."

Since this is a heck of a good story, I think Lucian of Samosata would approve.


Until tomorrow.