Frontier Mine on the Moon – Crater by Homer Hickam #scifi #sciencefiction #review #bookreview

craterCrater Trueblood is an up-right, low-key teenage hero. He is born and raised on the Moon with an unworthy best friend, a crush on a girl he only argues with, and – soon after the story begins – a new job he can’t seem to get right. He also has a gillie – a fascinating “biological machine” that sits on his shoulder (even the shoulder of his space suit) and runs his communications. At first gillie seemed to be simply an odd detail in Crater’s life, but as the story progresses, gillie becomes more significant and I enjoyed him – it – whatever.

Hickam’s whole story is like the gillie. It starts as an idea about mining Helium-3 to sell to an energy-starved Earth (if you care about how Helium-3 is used, read Hickman’s science-based note at the end) – a nifty look at the characters, dangers, and technologies involved in a Wild West sort of mining colony. Then Crater joins a convoy on a dangerous journey across the lunar surface to retrieve a package for the mine boss, and the story expands. There are dangers, big and small, along the way, and several groups of lunar inhabitants, including some humans who have been genetically tweaked to be very different from normal people.

Hickam’s writing style is straightforward and sparse and he weaves in facts about the Moon.

At the end of the story, Crater has achieved a lot but is uncertain about his future. Hickam leaves other loose ends that will lead into the next book in the Helium-3 series. A few of the unexplained elements are important, like the motivation of the bad guys and the welfare of friends, but since the main plot line is resolved, I thought the ending worked.

The standard writing bugaboo of “show, don’t tell” get’s ignored a few times –

First step about to fall - NASA

First step about to fall – NASA

sometimes as straight “telling” but there is also a side trip with tourists to Tranquility Base, the first lunar landing site. Since that trip is tangential to the main story, it’s close to a “telling.” But it was short and interesting – there’s a factoid about the fate of Neil Armstrong’s first footprint on the Moon that I must look up sometime to confirm.

I had a couple issues with the book. My Epub version had quite a few places where a new paragraph began in an odd place – like the middle of a sentence or in a block of dialog. While I noticed this, it didn’t interfere with my reading, so no big deal.

Towards the end, Hickam uses a technique I happen to dislike. After allowing me to ride along inside Crater’s head, privy to his thoughts and feelings, a character tells him something that Hickam won’t share with me. I realize this adds suspense for some readers, but it just annoys me. Especially since the story would have worked just fine if Crater had been left in the dark until Hickam was willing to tell us readers, too. And then he did it a second time! Sheesh.

Crater has a four star rating on Amazon, with 117 reviews. I guess not many readers are bothered by the trick of keeping secrets from the reader. I only noticed one negative review that specifically mentioned it. Some reviewers thought it started too slow. Others noted it was “geared towards a younger crowd,” and I do think younger tween readers will enjoy it (though there is death and destruction), as well as older readers who simply want a light read. Some reviewers noted the book reflects conservative ideas about society and Christian Values, but I think those themes are included with a light touch.

On balance Crater is a pleasant summer read.


Eclipse – Haiku by Kate Rauner

In the moon’s shadowSolar_eclipse_of_October_23_2014_sunset_Minneapolis_Ruen3
What I think I know grows dim
As night swalows day

Inspired by te 2014 partial solar eclipse. There was also a sunspot group visible without magnification. Note I didn’t say “to the naked eye.” Never stare at the sun. It’s not the eclipse that burns your eyes – it’s the sun, and the sun can harm your vision any day. I hope North Americans took the time to view the event through a solar filter or with a pinhole projection. I saw a 40% eclipse. That’s not enough to notice a drop in light levels or air temperatures. I bet most people didn’t even know anything was happening.

PS: I didn’t realize until days later that the big sunspot group was causing some people to freak out: solar flares erupting

Lunar Eclipse #science #space #moon #eclipse

Screenshot from Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) (1902) Public Domain in US

Early science fiction rocket arrives at the Moon in 1902 movie A Trip to the Moon

The world presents unto our eyes
Shapes and shadows, shifting lines
Our human brains do excel
At finding patterns that may tell
So in the moon the things we’ve seen:
A man, a rabbit, hands, a queen.
Just as clouds above cause rain,
All things above cause joy or pain.
When the moon turns rusty red
The normal night was turned to dread.
Will heaven’s fight drop on us soon,
As demons, jaguars bite the moon?
Drum and howl, chant and sing;
The moon’s restored, we always win.
Is it less now that we know
The moon is deep in Earth’s shadow?
Tonight I’ll see with my own eyes
A hint of nature’s scope and size.

by Kate Rauner

NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University PIA14021

The far side of the moon, which we Earth-bound observers never see

There will be viewing parties in many places. I’ll watch from my own deck, but if you’re in Los Angeles, consider where an astronomer (in official eclipse-dispersing wizard’s robe and hat) and the public gather on the observatory’s front lawn with telescopes—and with noisemakers. Their public program from 7 pm to 2 am sounds great – too bad I’m too far away to attend.

Learn more about moon myths; for example: There are quite a few to choose from at


Power From the Moon

moon tycho crater  sunrise

Tycho Crater on the Moon at sunrise – a tough place to install solar panels

The Japanese firm Shimizu, one of the largest architectural, engineering, and construction firms in the world, has drawn up plans to install a ring of solar panels around the moon’s equator .  The collected energy would be beamed back to Earth.  While this strikes me as a publicity stunt, it is an intriguing idea.  The benefits are easy to see: no power plants fueled by coal or gas or uranium; no mining for those resources either.  No acres of solar panels or ridges lined with wind turbines.  Power receiving stations could be scattered around every nation, reducing the need for large transmission lines.  Cost savings would be big.

Problems would be even bigger.  Receiving stations will be out of range about half the time, so maybe we’ll still need to generate on Earth’s surface.  Half the panels will be on the night-side of the moon at any given moment, lowering overall efficiency.  The installation will be vastly expensive.  For the 6,800 mile length of the lunar equator, Shimizu proposes a width of 248 miles.  That will require 1,686,400 square miles of solar panels, which Shimizu claims would generate 13,000 terawatts.  At a cost for panels of $0.65/watt (and I’ve seen higher estimates), that’s roughly $6,500,000,000,000,000.  That’s $6.5 quadrillion (I had to look it up), and it’s just for buying panels here on Earth.

It’s still intriguing.  How would we run such a project?  First we’d need a station that can safely receive the power.  Then we’d want a factory to manufacture the panels on the Moon. And robots to install and maintain the panels.  We’d start small.  Imagine a robotic factory with half its output being another robotic factory.  Just leave it churning away on the Moon.  Someday, the entire surface could be covered in panels.  If they were exceptionally efficient and absorbed all wavelengths of visible light, we’d never see the Moon from Earth again.

Would we owe rent to anyone for the installation?  The United Nations 1967 publication “Outer Space Treaty” states space is the “province of all mankind” and not subject to claims of sovereignty.  The international Moon Treaty of 1984 forbids private ownership of extraterrestrial real estate.  (Sorry – that deed to an acre of the Moon you got for your birthday is just a gag.)  But I bet lots of people would want a say in the project.

So I think Shimizu is pulling a stunt, but maybe it foreshadows a real project in the future.  Maybe thinking outside the box means thinking outside the planet.

It’s Getting Crowded Up There

UPDATE on Mangalyaan:  “India’s first mission to Mars left Earth’s orbit early on Sunday, clearing a critical hurdle in its journey to the red planet.

[Meanwhile] China, a keen competitor in the space race, has considered the possibility of putting a man on the moon sometime after 2020 and aims to land its first probe on the moon on Monday.

It will deploy a buggy called the ‘Jade Rabbit’ to explore the lunar surface in a mission that will also test its deep space communication technologies.”


New Discoveries from Ancient Bombardment

GRAIL twinsThe moon may seem familiar, and you might think there is little to discover since men left footprints there decades ago.  But new discoveries are answering an old question.

During the 1960s,  Apollo mission planners worried that the landers might crash due to odd gravity fluctuations they found on the moon. NASA has discovered the source of these gravity fluctuations, thanks to the recent GRAIL mission.  GRAIL’s twin spacecraft pinpointed dense regions called mass concentrations, or mascons, which exert strong gravitational pulls. Continue reading