Rogue Moon

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Rogue Moon
Original cover, with lurid and misleading precis of the plot.
First edition cover
Author Algis Budrys
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction novel
Publisher Gold Medal Books
Publication date
1960
Media type Print (Paperback)
Pages 176
ISBN NA

Rogue Moon is a short science fiction novel by Algis Budrys, published in 1960. It was a 1961 Hugo Award nominee, losing to Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz. A substantially cut version of the novel was originally published in F&SF; this novella-length story was included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two, edited by Ben Bova. It was adapted into a radio drama by Yuri Rasovsky in 1979.

Rogue Moon is largely about the discovery and investigation of a large alien artifact found on the surface of the Moon. The object eventually kills its explorers in various ways—more specifically, investigators "die in their effort to penetrate an alien-built labyrinth where one wrong turn means instant death",[1] but their deaths slowly reveal the funhouse-like course humans must take in moving through it.[2]

Synopsis[edit]

Cover of the 1968 Coronet Paperback Edition

Dr. Edward Hawks runs a top-secret project for the U.S. Navy, using the facilities of Continental Electronics to investigate a large, deadly alien artifact found on the Moon. Volunteers enter and explore it, but are inevitably killed for violating the unknown alien rules in force within the structure. Hawks "must continue to send duplicates into the artifact, however, because each one moves a little closer to finding a way through the alien labyrinth"[3] and, thus, closer to understanding what it is.

Vincent "Connie" Connington, Continental's head of personnel, tells Hawks that he has found the perfect candidate for the next mission. Connington is amoral and manipulative, openly testing Hawks and anyone else he meets for weaknesses. He takes Hawks to see Al Barker, an adventurer and thrill-seeker. Hawks also meets Claire Pack, a sociopath of a different kind. Where Connington covets power, and Barker seems to love death, Claire enjoys using sex, or the prospect of sex, to manipulate men. Connington wants her, but she stays with Barker because he has no weaknesses in her eyes. Hawks has to appeal to Barker's dark side to persuade him to join the project. Claire tries to get under Hawks' skin while simultaneously playing Connington off against Barker.

Hawks has created a matter transmitter, one which scans a person or object to make a copy at the receivers on the Moon. The earthbound copy is placed in a state of sensory deprivation which allows him to share the experiences of the doppelgänger. However, none of the participants have been able to stay sane after experiencing death second hand.

Barker is the first to retain his sanity, but even he is deeply affected the first time, exclaiming, "...it didn't care! I was nothing to it!" He returns again and again to the challenge, advancing a little further each time. Meanwhile, his relationship to Claire deteriorates, even as Connington continues his disastrous attempts to win her, at one point receiving a severe beating from Barker. Eventually, Connington announces he is quitting, and Claire leaves with him.

Meanwhile, Hawks starts a relationship with a young artist, Elizabeth Cummings, and expresses his torment over the project to her. Finally, Barker announces that he is almost finished finding a way through the artifact. Hawks takes Elizabeth to a romantic location and declares his love for her, then returns to the project. He transmits himself as well as Barker to the Moon, where his duplicate joins Barker's on the final run.

Together, the two weave their way through a series of bizarre landscapes containing death traps. Emerging from the other side, Hawks tells Barker that they cannot return to Earth. The equipment on the Moon is too crude to transmit a man back safely, and even if it were possible, there are already people living their lives. All the men working on the Moon are duplicates, mostly Navy men, all volunteers. Hawks elects to remain outside the base until his air runs out. Barker returns to try to be transmitted back anyway.

Back on Earth, Hawks removes his isolation suit and finds a note in his hand, which he knew would be there. It reads simply, "Remember me to her."

Characters[edit]

  • Dr. Edward Hawks, 42, an unmarried scientist, "a black-haired, pale-skinned, gangling man who rarely got out in the sun." As administrator, he is put in charge of learning the reason for an alien artifact having been placed on the cold, dark, far side of the Moon. He has been sending United States Navy volunteers, and suffers guilt because they become insane after the twinned experiences of being teleported to the Moon and then trying to make sense of the crazy logic of the artifact.
  • Vincent Connington, Continental Electronics' Director of Personnel, who wears cowboy boots and proposes to Hawks that they ask Al Barker to volunteer. He tries uselessly to flirt with Claire Pack.
  • Al Barker, a "daredevil of a man who has spent his life defying death;" Connington calls him "a man famous for split-second decisions. Always the same ones." He likes to taunt Hawks by saying, for example, "morituri te salutamus," but comes to respect Hawks (perhaps because Hawks replies, "I've also read a book"). Barker works successfully for the project: "each time Barker moves farther through the artifact" by inches, he maps "a route through the enigmatic structure."[3]
  • Claire Pack, Barker's girlfriend, who flirts with both Hawks and Connington but knows she prefers the manliness of Barker. She has some sort of sado-masochistic bond with Barker; even when he hits her face in public, she says without irony, "Isn't he grand? Isn't he a man?"
  • Elizabeth Cummings, a young woman who meets cute with Hawks and forms a romantic bond with him. She is an artist with a witty sense of humor. When he chooses to die on the Moon, he regrets that he did not stay with her, after all.
  • Sam Latourette, Hawks's chief assistant. Sam is protective of Hawks and at first dislikes Barker, not understanding how Hawks can quietly put up with Barker's ceaseless insulting jokes.
  • Benton Cobey, the Continental Electronics president, a small, aggressive man with an undershot jaw and a bald skull; he consults with Hawks about their project.

The Alien Artifact[edit]

The reader is told about the artifact only through dialogue, which adds to the mystery. Hawks describes it to Barker:

There's only one entrance into the thing... it is a place where the nature of this formation permits entrance by a human being, either by design or accident. It cannot be explained in more precise terms, and it can't be encompassed by the eye or, we suspect, the human brain... Other men have died to tell us the following things about its interior: "A man inside it can be seen, very dimly, if we know where to look. No one knows, except in the most incoherent terms, what he sees. No one has ever come out; no one has ever been able to find an exit; the entrance cannot be used for that purpose. Nonliving matter, such as a photograph or a corpse, can be passed out from inside. But the act of passing it out is invariably fatal to the man doing it..." (Chapter 5)

Themes[edit]

Science fiction scholar Jeff King wrote that the novel's major themes are "the meaning of life and humanity's yearning to transcend death. Algis Budrys uses the trip through the alien labyrinth as a metaphor for life." Therefore, "Barker's discovery when he makes it completely through the alien structure" is that "a person must create himself or herself." King adds that a secondary theme is: "Human beings are possessed of more than the ability to reason and to function in the physical universe. They also feel, and development of that quality is as important as development of any other."[3]

Another theme, beyond self-creation, is self-definition. Claire enjoys taunting the different men about their degrees of manliness; Barker and Hawks have their own ideas of self-worth. When Barker shows off his rash handling of his new car, Hawks is unimpressed.

Barker slowly took the keys. Hawks climbed out of the car.
"How are you going to get to the city?" Claire asked as he walked past the steps.
Hawks said, "I walked long distances when I was a boy. But not to prove my physical endurance."
Claire licked her lips. "No one manages you worth a damn, do they?" she said.
Hawks turned and paced steadily toward the sloped driveway.
...
"Are you going to walk all the way back into town?" Barker bawled out hoarsely. "You chicken-hearted son of a bitch!"
Hawks turned around. He came back and stood with his hands on the edge of the passenger side, looking down at Barker. "I'll expect you at the main gate tomorrow at nine in the morning, sharp."
"What makes you think I'll be there? What makes you think I'll take orders from a man who won't do what I would?" Barker's eyes were sparkling with frustration. "What's the matter with you?"
"I'm one kind of man. You're another."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Barker began beating one palm against the steering wheel. What began as a gentle insistent nudge became a mechanical hammering. "I can't understand you!"
"You're a suicide," Hawks said. "I'm a murderer." Hawks turned to go. "I'm going to have to kill you over and over again, in various unbelievable ways. I can only hope that you will, indeed, bring as much love to it as you think." (Chapter 1, Part 5)

A reviewer for SFF World disagreed with Jeff King, considering the novel to be about death or dying; he referred to Arthur C. Clarke when he opined, "Rogue Moon seems to be initially a great exploration puzzle, about a large alien artefact found on the surface of the Moon. All attempts to explore it leads to the intrepid explorers being killed or going insane in various ways, but their deaths slowly reveal that the process of dying is the point: that and by dying in various ways by moving through it humans learn something about themselves, as presumably would the aliens, should they still exist. It is a Clarkean test, an ordeal that humans must pass in order to evolve and develop beyond their present state. As this shows, Rogue Moon is a deeper and more complex novel than we expect at first."[4]

Reception[edit]

The novel was chosen in 2012 for the SF Masterworks series by publisher Victor Gollancz Ltd.

David Pringle included the novel in his book Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels (Xanadu, 1985, ISBN 978-0-947761-10-3).[5] Nick Rennison and Stephen E. Andrews, similarly, included it in their 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels (London: A & C Black, 2007, Series: Bloomsbury Good Reading Guides, ISBN 978-0-7136-7585-6).[6] In this latter book, featuring a foreword by Christopher Priest, "100 of the best science fiction titles are reviewed and a further 500 recommended. This book allows you to browse by theme, including categories like 'science-fiction and film adaptations'..."[7]

In contemporary reviews, Alfred Bester called Rogue Moon "one of the finest flashes of heat lightning to dazzle us this year," saying it "has come very close to realizing our ideal of science fiction, the story of how human beings may be affected by the science of the future." Bester, however, faulted the ending as unresolved, declaring that Budrys "brought his book to a semi-cadence at exactly the point where it cried for completion."[8] In counterpoint, James Blish declared the novel "a masterpiece... not only a bequest but a monument." He found that Budrys had "cunningly constructed his ambiguity" in the novel's conclusion, and proved "that a science fiction novel can be a fully realized work of art."[9]

Preeminent science fiction scholar/critic John Clute said that, in comparison with Budrys's earlier novels, such as False Night (1954) and Who? (1958), Rogue Moon is "much more thoroughly successful" and "now something of an sf classic":

A good deal has been written about the highly integrated symbolic structure of this story, whose perfectly competent surface narration deals with a Hard-SF solution to the problem of an alien labyrinth, discovered on the Moon, which kills anyone who tries to pass through it. At one level, the novel's description of attempts to thread the labyrinth from Earth via Matter Transmission makes for excellent traditional sf; at another, it is a sustained rite de passage, a doppelgänger conundrum about the mind-body split, a death-paean. There is no doubt that AB [Algis Budrys] intends that both levels of reading register, however any interepretation might run; in this novel the two levels interact fruitfully.[10]

Graham Sleight, another science fiction scholar, writes that Rogue Moon takes the themes of Who? — "identity, ethics, memory, scientific obsession — and intensifies its gaze on them. But it also has a new concern, death. Like its predecessor, it uses an almost arbitrary science-fictional device to examine an existential question, in a way that a mimetic novel never could." Then Hawks hires Barker: "It appears, though it's scarcely the point of Rogue Moon, that there's a complex permitted route through the artefact, and that any deviation from it will be fatal. Therefore, ultimate success for Barker will be to emerge on the other side of the artefact."[11]

Jeff King wrote, "Rogue Moon was written relatively early in Budrys's career, yet his style is fully evident. He employs an almost minimalist approach that calls for careful word selection to paint vivid pictures while studiously avoiding flowery, overlong sentences. Like others of his well-known works, this is a short novel, seemingly Budrys's preferred length."[3]

Reviewer John DeNardo, in a 2005 review, gave the book 3 out of 5 stars, saying, "The artifact was an intriguing puzzle; the story kept interest levels up. ... The premise is an intriguing one." DeNardo adds that "the ability to duplicate people on the Moon" provides "a nice healthy dose of wow factor." But he grew bored with the characters ("too much of the book centers on the characters of Hawks, Barker, Claire (Barker's lover), and Vincent Connington (the personnel director). While their stories are somewhat interesting, I really wanted to see more of the BDO," and he recommends to readers "the novella on which it was based."[2]

Graeme Flory granted the book "Nine and a Half out of Ten", saying that the novel

isn't so much about the science fiction as it is about the people trying to make sense of it all. In fact, the science fiction elements are shoved firmly (but politely) to one side to make room for the attention paid to the relationships between the main characters. It's a move that pays off like you wouldn't believe... Budrys really seeks to lay bare everyone who appears in the novel and it is done with varying degrees of success in relation to his own obviously high standards here. On the whole it worked very well indeed for me. Is Rogue Moon an SF Masterwork then? I'm going for 'yes' but it could just as easily be no (in terms of the thematic balance)... Rogue Moon is a very clear example of what the gentle application of science fiction elements can do to bring out the very best in the rest of the plot. The end result here is masterful.[12]

Allusions[edit]

  • Barker says sardonically to Hawks, "morituri te salutamus," better known in English as "We who are about to die salute you."

Trivia[edit]

Budrys dedicated the book to Larry Shaw.

The novel begins with an epigraph:
Halt, Passenger!
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so shall you be.
Prepare for Death, and follow me.
--New England gravestone motto

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Charlesdee (July 31, 2011). "Not a Stunt: Algis Burdrys". www.worldswithoutend.com. Retrieved February 18, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b DeNardo, John (February 18, 2013). "REVIEW: Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys". SF Signal. "A mysterious, alien artifact is found on the Moon and discovered to be deadly to anyone who enters it. With the help of duplicating technology, people are sent in to investigate it, usually dying within seconds of the last explorer. In this way, the artifact is mapped out little by little." 
  3. ^ a b c d King, Jeff (2002). "Rogue Moon". In Fiona Kelleghan. Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature 2. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press. pp. 458–460. ISBN 1-58765-050-9. 
  4. ^ Yon, Mark. "Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys". SFFWorld.com. Retrieved February 18, 2013. 
  5. ^ Von Ruff, Al. "Publication Listing for Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved February 18, 2013. 
  6. ^ Von Ruff, Al. "Publication Listing for 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved February 18, 2013. 
  7. ^ "100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels". WorldCat. Retrieved February 18, 2013. 
  8. ^ Bester, Alfred (June 1961). "Review: Rogue Moon". The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction 20 (6): 104. 
  9. ^ Blish, James (June 1961). "Review: Rogue Moon". The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction 20 (6): 105. 
  10. ^ Clute, John (1995). "Budrys, Algis". Collier, John. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (Updated ed.). New York: St Martin's Griffin. p. 170. ISBN 0-312-09618-6. 
  11. ^ Sleight, Graham (June 2008). "Yesterday's Tomorrows: Algis Budrys". Locus. Retrieved February 18, 2013. 
  12. ^ Flory, Graeme (17 January 2012). "Rogue Moon – Algis Budrys (Gollancz)". Graeme's Fantasy Book Review. Retrieved February 18, 2013. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]