It's the 21st century, and all is right with the world. Or so it seems.
Vice President Charlie Haskell, who will travel anywhere for a photo op, is about to cut the ribbon for the just-completed American Moonbase. The first Mars voyage is about to leave high orbit, with a woman at the helm. Below, the world is marveling at a rare solar eclipse.
But all that is right is about to go disastrously wrong when an amateur astronomer discovers a new comet. Named for its discover, Tomikois a "sun-grazer,"an interstellar wanderer with a hundred times the mass and ten times the speed of other comets. And it is headed straight for our moon.
In less than five days, if scientists' predictions are right, Tomiko will crash into the moon, shattering it into a cloud of superheated gas, dust, and huge chunks of rock that will rain down on the earth, causing chaos and killer storms, possibly tidal waves inundating entire cities...or worse: a single apocalyptic worldwide "extinction event."
In the meantime, the population of Moonbase must be evacuated by a hastily assembled fleet of shuttle rockets. There isn't room, or time enough, for everyone. And the vice president, who rashly promised to be last off ("I will lock the door and turn off the lights"), is trying to figure out how to get away without eating his words.
In Moonfall,McDevitt has created a disaster thriller of truly epic proportions, featuring a cast of unforgettable characters: the reluctant Russian rocket jockey entrusted with the lives of squabbling refugees; the woman chosen to be first on the moon; the scientist who must deflect the "possum" (POSSible IMpactors) knocked from orbit or witness the end science itself. And at the center of it all is Charlie Haskell, the career politician who discovers his own unexpected reserves of only himself and his country, but for all humankind.
Moonfall,is a spellbinding tale of heroism and hope, cowardice and passion played against the awesome spectacle of human history's darkest night.
Totality Monday, April, 8, 2024
Cruise Lier Merrivale, eastern Pacific.5:21 A.M. Zone (9:21 A.m. EDT)
The Merrivale was bound for Honolulu, four days out of Los Angeles, when the eclipse began. Few of the passengers got up to watch the event. But Horace Brickmann, who'd paid a lot of money for this cruise, wanted Amy to understand he was a man with broad scientific and artistic interests. Yes, he'd told her last night while they stood near the lifeboats and listened to the steady thrum of the ship's engines and watched the bow wave roll out into the dark, total solar eclipse. Wouldn't miss it. To be honest, it's why I came. And when she'd pointed out that the eclipse would also be visible across much of the United States, he'd added smoothly that it wasn't quite the same.
She'd hinted she'd also like to see the event. Amy had been beautiful in the starlight, and his heart had pumped ferociously, bringing back memories of his twenties, which he recalled as a time of romance and passion. It was Horace's impression he'd terminated the various relationships of his youth, much to the despair of the women; that in those early days he had not been ready for serious commitment. But still there were times he woke in the night regretting one or another of his lost paramours. He wondered occasionally where they were now and how they were doing.
It was an odd sort of dawn, Sun and Moon clasped together in a cold gray embrace. The ocean had grown rough and Horace sat in his chair sipping hot coffee, wondering what was keeping Amy. He tugged his woolen sweater down over his belly and reminded himself that it was dangerous to look directly at the spectacle. Most of the other early risers had brought blankets, but Horace wanted to cut a dashing figure and the blanket just didn't fit the image.
To his consternation, a voluble banker whom he'd met the previous day appeared before him, greeted him with the kind of cheeriness that's always irritating early in the morning, and sat down in an adjoining deck chair. "Marvelous experience, this," said the banker, lifting his eyes in the general direction of the eclipse while extracting a folded copy of the Wall Street Journal from a pocket of his nautical blue blazer. He tried to read the paper in the gray light but gave up and dropped it on his lap.
He began to chatter about commodities and convertibles and price-earnings ratios. Horacel's eyes swept the near-empty decks. A middle-aged man at the rail was watching the eclipse through sunglasses. A steward strolled casually over and offered him one of the viewing devices the ship had been distributing. Horace was too far away too hear the conversation, but he saw the man's annoyed expression. Nevertheless, he accepted the viewer, waited until the steward had turned away, dropped it into a pocket, and went back to gazing at the Sun. The banker babbled on, fearful that the Fed would raise the prime rate again.
The wind was beginning to pick up.
The steward approached Horace and the banker, holding out the devices. "You don't want to look directly at it, gentlemen," he said. Horace took one. It consisted of a blue plastic tube about six inches wide, with a tinfoil disk attached to one end. "Point it toward the eclipse, sit," said the steward, "and it'll project the Sun's image onto the disk. You'll be able to watch in perfect safety." The tube was decorated with the ship's profile and name. Horace thanked him.
She was now twenty minutes late. But Amy had an eight-year-old daughter to take care of, so there was a degree of unpredictabillity in any rendezvous.
He became aware suddenly that the banker had asked a question. "I'm sorry," Horace said. "My mind was elsewhere."
"No problem, partner." The man was finishing up with middle age. He was oversized and prosperous-looking. His hair was shoe-polish black, and the deck chair complained whenever he shifted weight. "I know just what you mean."
A deep dusk had settled over the ship. The banker cleared his throat and essayed a quick look at his watch. He had to raise his arm, so that the face of the instrument caught a reflection from a porthole. It seemed almost as if by consulting the time he was exercising control over the event. The last of the gray light drained from the sky and the corona blazed out, pale and somber. Horace heard awed conversation and drawing in of breath.
The stars emerged, and the ocean was swallowed up in the dark.
"Wonderful thing, nature," said the banker. "Beautiful."
Horace mumbled an appropriate response.
Over the course of an hour or so, the event concluded, the eclipse passed, and the banker went in to breakfast. Amy didn't show up, and the Merrivale plowed through a sea that remained gray and unsettled.
Horace stayed in his chair a long time. A damp chill had stolen over him. Later, wandering the decks, he saw Amy and her daughter at a dining table with several others. She was deep in animated conversation with a man Horace had seen going off the high-dive yesterday. He lingered for a moment but she never looked up.
It was as if the shadow that fell across the ship had touched the heart of the world.
Space Station L1, Percival Lowell Flight Deck. 8:03 A.M.
There was never a time we didn't know that the canals were bunk, that Percival Lowell's network of interconnecting lines, and the areas that darkened, in the summer as the water flowed, were just so much self-delusion.