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Benjamin Percy
Red Moon
Grand Central Publishing/ Hachette Book Group
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-1-455-50166-3
Publication Date: 05-07-2013
534 Pages; $26.99

Date Reviewed:09-02-2013
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013

Index:  Science Fiction  General Fiction  Horror  Fantasy  Mystery

Sense of wonder in a work of speculative fiction is usually evoked by a grand cosmic vision. Writers like Arthur C. Clarke and Frank Herbert, and their modern heirs, Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton, take us out into space to give us perspective on our own lives. But personal, political and cultural visions can prove to be just to be just as wondrous in the right work.

Benjamin Percy's 'Red Moon' is such a novel. Set in a slightly alternate present, where lycanthropy is a disease controllable through drugs, 'Red Moon' turns the world inside out and upside-down with an ease and aplomb that induces a consistently jaw-dropping sense of vertigo. Using satire and looking at the world in a funhouse mirror, Percy evokes a true sense of wonder about cultural matters instead of cosmic gulfs.

It's not a novel of the supernatural, as Percy has craftily given the lycan transformation a science-fictional explanation. But as the story plays out in the alternate world that Percy has carefully constructed, parallel lines cross, reflections are inverted and distorted, and our world is ruthlessly and cleverly savaged as characters we intuitively know are ensnared in a rip-roaring plot that goes off-kilter as fast as reality. 'Red Moon' is marvelously fun and cuttingly intelligent. In those moments you're not reading, it will take a while to get back to the real world. But you return with a raw new perspective.

'Red Moon' wastes no time establishing pace and place. It's relentlessly plotted, and very difficult to put down. We meet Patrick Gamble, an insecure teenager, as he's on a plane which quickly succumbs to disaster. Claire Forrester knows that the knock on the door of her parents' house is not friendly; she makes it out the window before she's rounded up in a sweep of lycan undesirables. The two unrelated incidents quickly snowball into a complicated plot that involves hypocritical politicians, fundamentalist religious fervor, multinational energy economics, homeland terror, strategic wars, citizen surveillance, survivalists and ordinary Americans. Percy's story is consistently engaging and relevant; it's a thriller built from headlines. But he never discounts the smaller, human moments as well, with tenderness and romance always in evidence.

At the center of the book are the characters. Here Percy crafts a cast of people, some of whom are even not necessarily human, who, nonetheless, are all quickly and instantly recognizable, identifiable and sympathetic. To be sure, not all of those you meet are nice folks, but even the worst of them believe that they are acting on the best of ideals and motives. Reading about the worst in fact can really quite pleasurable, because they are so well-drawn. You totally understand the characters' self-justifications for cruelty, even as the cruelty itself is repellent and unnecessary.

But Percy's protagonists, Claire and Patrick, are strong, smart and entertaining enough to keep up with the enjoyably malicious forces aligned against them. Their supporting cast is equally strong and fun to be around. I particularly enjoyed Miriam, who crosses the line between survivor and survivalist. Nobody finishes the book as they begin. Those who manage to make it are scarred by the world they live in.

Percy's brilliance is most evident in cultural and political setting he has created. It's a source of constant wonderment and even awe as he crafts a political landscape where a single character can reflect portions of opposing perspectives in ours. Every political and cultural trend, the history of the last 120 years, is put through a rigorous and complicated set of funhouse mirrors that emphasizes the absurdity of it all. As Claire and Patrick's world hurtles to hell in a handbasket, we can see ours on a set of parallel tracks that still somehow manages to cross and re-cross. Percy makes use of the reading experience to craft a satire so sophisticated, smart and powerful that the fun-level is off the charts. It's the stuff of ten thousand graduate theses one hundred years hence — assuming things go better in this world than in Percy's, which is hardly a given.

'Red Moon' is a wild success a variety of levels. For the raw reader, it's a compulsively-readable thriller that fires off wildly from the beginning and never lets down. It's a book where you look forward to reading all of each page, just to see what Percy has in store. Percy's satiric, sidewise slant on the world is consistently inventive and revelatory, bringing out the true science fiction sense of the new, the feeling of "A-ha!" that makes the world over. With 'Red Moon,' Benjamin Percy pulls off the remarkable feat of managing to make readers look at the world as it is with an overwhelming sense of wonder.

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