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Review: Moon Hoax

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Moon Hoax
by Paul Gillebaard
Dream Access Books, 2012
hardcover, 405 pp.
ISBN 978-0-615-45576-1

Thrillers typically require the reader to be willing to suspend their disbelief to at least some degree, in order to accept plot circumstances that, on their own, sound implausible at best but are needed to propel the story through its twists and turns and enhance the drama. The problem is finding out just how much suspension of disbelief the reader is willing to accept: stretch the bounds of the incredulous a little too far, and the reader will shake his or her head and mutter something to the effect of, “Well, that’s not believable,” breaking their attention, and interest, in the story.

Paul Gillebaard struggles in finding that balance in his novel Moon Hoax. The novel begins with a Chinese human mission to the Moon (certainly plausible) that lands on the lunar farside (sure, why not) in secret (um, okay.) Once there, they install a laser weapon (well, this is a thriller, after all), pick up some Moon rocks, and return to Earth. The Chinese then go before the UN and proclaim that they have evidence that the US faked the Apollo landings (say what?).

The novel begins with a Chinese human mission to the Moon (certainly plausible) that lands on the lunar farside (sure, why not) in secret (um, okay.)

The US must defend its geopolitical honor and prove that the Apollo missions happened by sending people back to the Moon to provide new photographic evidence of those missions. (But what about existing such evidence, such as images of the Apollo landing sites returned by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)? In this novel, LRO hadn’t yet launched, and when it did, that Chinese laser swiftly and secretly took it out.) The US cobbles together a mission and brings in a CIA agent and former astronaut, Peter Novak, to fly it, with some help from Russian friends. The hitch: in addition to returning images of the American (and secret Chinese) landing sites, as well as hacking into the Chinese laser to disable it, the mission is a one-way affair.

That mission at least starts with a modest requirement for suspension of disbelief. With the Space Shuttle retired and no successor vehicle available, Novak and a Russian cosmonaut launch into Earth orbit on a commercial resupply vehicle built by a company closely modeled on SpaceX (the company is SpaceQuest, with its Newton 9 rocket and Galileo spacecraft.) Once at the International Space Station, they install a VASIMR engine on a Soyuz vehicle docked there, and use that to fly into lunar orbit. Unfortunately, Gillebaard depicts VASIMR as a high-thrust engine that quickly boosts the Soyuz to the Moon; in reality, VASIMR would produce low but continuous amounts of thrust, and would require a hefty power supply: hardly ideal if you’re in a hurry to get to the Moon. They are in a hurry, as the Chinese are chasing them: Gillebaard has them pick up speed by jettisoning a Soyuz module en route, but only after the VASIMR engine was turned off.

Those flaws might be at least partially remedied by a good story, but Gillebaard’s plot is rather straightforward, and his characters and their dialogue a bit flat. (The mission itself doesn’t lift off until about two-thirds of the way into the book.) And why would China go through all this effort to secretly send humans to the Moon and try to publicly claim the Apollo missions were faked—something that could only antagonize its biggest trading partner? On that, the book is silent: we’re left to assume that, perhaps, the Chinese Politburo screened the Fox TV show “Did We Land on the Moon?” or something. Gillebaard has a sequel, called Space Hoax, planned for publication next year. Perhaps that can answer that question without overly straining the reader’s suspension of disbelief, as this book too frequently did.