"Paul Levinson's It's Real Life is a page-turning exploration into that multiverse known as rock and roll. But it is much more than a marvelous adventure narrated by a master storyteller...it is also an exquisite meditation on the very nature of alternate history." -- Jack Dann, The Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Best Novel You Likely Never Heard Of

No, it's not one of my mine.   And I do this every few years - blog about a novel that's not only one of the best you likely never heard of, but, for what it's worth, is one of the best I've ever read.  I guess I should also mention that the novel is science fiction - which means, it's not competing with Austen or Dickens or Tolstoy or Hemingway.   But I should also say that I think science fiction always has a leg up - a page up? a screen up? - on all other kinds of literature, because science fiction deals with makes us quintessentially human, which I take to not just accept what the universe deals out, not just cope with it, but strive to change the universe itself.

The novel is by David S. Michaels and Daniel Brenton.

You never heard of them, right?

They published a novel, in the year 2000, entitled Red Moon (not to be confused with Michael Cassutt's novel of same name published around the same time, and the half a dozen other novels by the same name published since then). Cassutt's novel is good. Dave Michael and Daniel Brenton's is among the best three or four novels I've ever read, period - as I already said.

The background of the novel: I've always been fascinated by the collapse of the Soviet space program in the 1960s. The Soviets jump-started the space age with Sputnik in 1957. They got the first animals and then the first people up into space. They sent spacecraft – with no people – to the moon. They were on the verge of getting people there.

They inspired John F. Kennedy – in the senses of both wonder and security – to put the U.S. on a course to send a human to the moon and safely back by the end of the decade. Which we did.

But the Soviets never made it. Their move into space hit a strange stone wall. And the lack of continuing competition between the Soviets and us was likely the most significant factor in the fizzling of our own efforts in space.  Forty-five years later, and we have yet to set foot on the moon again, or anywhere beyond the space station.

What happened to the Soviet space program? The death of its mastermind, Sergei Korolev in 1966, no doubt was a grievous blow.  But… I don't know… there were a lot of other talented people working in the Soviet space program. The death of one man, however important, should not have led to the crash of the entire program.

Red Moon provides some breathtaking science fictional answers.

How I found out about the novel: It was at a reading I was giving at a science fiction convention – Balticon (in Baltimore) in the Spring of 2001. David S. Michaels came up to me after the reading, with a copy of my novel, The Silk Code, for me to autograph. Then he pulled a 600-page book out of his backpack, and asked me to please accept it, as a gift.

I wasn't sure what to say. First, traveling back from Baltimore to New York by train (I love driving, but trains even more) is no fun with a heavy bag of books, which I already had. Second, as a writer, I find I don't read as much fiction as I would like – if I'm writing a novel, which I usually am, reading someone else's can throw me off course. But ...

There was something about Dave, and I was already keenly interested in the subject, so I thanked him for the present and added it to my bag (it was filled with non-fiction books, by the way, which I do read when I can).

It was well into June before I had a chance to open Red Moon. And when I did – well, I couldn't put it down. It might as well have been a new Foundation novel. The subject, the plot, the characters, the writing was brilliant. I contacted Dave right away, told him how much I enjoyed the novel. It had been published by a very small press. I told him I would try to get it to the attention of a bigger publisher.

Which I did… But all of this was right before September 11, 2001, when lots of things changed in the publishing world (most of which is headquartered in New York City). And in the aftermath, at least the publishers that I had been in contact with were doing other things, and cutting back their acquisition lists.

And so, nothing more happened with Dave Michaels and Daniel Brenton's Red Moon. I listed it as my #1 favorite first science fiction novel on a list I started on Amazon. (It's a pretty exclusive list. I'd highly recommend Bob Katz's Edward Maret, which is #2 on the list. Wen Spencer's Alien Taste and Larry Ketchersid's Dusk Before Dawn are there, too.  I've put up and expanded the list on Goodreads, where you and everyone can add books and vote on their ranking.)

Amazon's Kindle revolution now has given Red Moon a new life. (I also have a reader review of the novel there.)  Kindle has been doing this for lots of novels, including many of mine.   (The Red Moon paperback is still available.)

If you're at all interested in the space race, what could have been, why what happened — and didn't happen – happened, the extraordinary human struggle to reach the cosmos, give yourself a treat, and get a copy of this novel. Trust me – you'll be caught up in an adventure, in an intrigue of alternate and real history, that you'll never forget.


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