Ian McDonald on Luna and his debts to The Godfather and Barbara Taylor Bradford
All books draw on the existing literature. No one writes in a vacuum, and I drew on rich lodes of family saga, very few of them science-fictional
Ian McDonald: In Luna, I’m really telling a family saga. This family just happens to be a corporate dynasty mining the Moon, but, to rephrase Count Leo, ‘all family sagas are alike’
You know, that Tolstoy guy had it right. This is how he opens Anna Karenina: ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ The rest of the book unpacks that. In Luna, I’m really telling a family saga. This family just happens to be a corporate dynasty mining the Moon, but, to rephrase Count Leo, ‘all family sagas are alike’. They’re about marriage and betrayal, children and hope, rivalry and hurt and unrequited love across the years. Justice and revenge, loyalty and war and the forces that try to split people up, versus the stronger forces that bind them together. And to be honest, no one really wants a saga about a happy family. We want to see those characters put through hell (and sometimes, because of their delicious flaws as people, they put themselves through hell). We want to see redemption, and sometimes failure, and occasionally triumph against the odds. It has to be against the odds. No one cares about easy victories.
In Luna, I’m telling the saga of the Corta family. Adriana Corta is the Girl from Nothing, fleeing a terrible recession in Brazil to work on the Moon, where she sees a unique opportunity. She builds a major dynasty – one of the Five Dragons, the clan empires that dominate the industrialising moon – and in the process makes friends and terrible rivals. As the story opens, she’s old, looking for a succession to Corta Helio. But can her children stop fighting each other long enough to save the company from its many enemies?
All books draw on the existing literature. No one writes in a vacuum, and I drew on rich lodes of family saga. Not all of them science-fictional. In fact, very few of them science fictional. There’s an old Lancashire saying: ‘clogs to clogs in three generations’. The first generation builds the wealth, the third generation squanders it.
That’s the key to the book: we see Adriana, her children, and her grandchildren right from the start. I want you to have doubts about whether her sweet playboy grandson Lucasinho is capable of handling the succession, and to hope for the potential in her younger grandchildren, Robson and Luna. Because there’s another inspiration at work here: Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Woman of Substance. Emma Harte is a model for Adriana Corta: they both come from humble backgrounds to stellar achievements, they both fear for the inheritance as their children’s rivalries threaten to tear the business apart. I send Adriana a little further, but that’s where the money is: on the Moon. It’s the new boom economy. If you can make it there, you canmake it anywhere.
And that brings up another inspiration: Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. I wanted to capture the feeling of a city shaping itself, of boom and lawlessness; where disputes are settled with violence and wealth talks. A dangerous place, where allegiances are matters of life and death and politics is weak. And people dress well! Too much science fiction has terrible fashion sense. Luna is a world where you use 3D printers to print your clothes. When you’re finished you recycle them and print out something new. So, with a world of fashion to choose from, why not dress in the style of that most stylish of decades, the 1950s?
Which gives me an elegant segue into another family story that was a key inspiration, The Godfather II. It’s one of those rare sequels that is better than the original. I wanted to be able to tell Adriana’s origin story as well as the story of her children and the fate of her company and family. The movie has the perfect structure: the ongoing story of Michael Corleone destroying the thing he is sworn to protect, cut with the flashback story of how Don Vito built the family in the first place. Clogs to clogs... I borrowed it shamelessly. The Five Families of New York (both real and fictitious) inspired the Five Dragons. Five of anything is an interesting number, in terms of drama. It means that there can never be equality; one against one, two against two. There will always be an imbalance of power, constantly shifting alliances not to be outnumbered, and that’s much more interesting to a writer than a simple dualism.
Relationships inside the Corta family were fun to explore: the oldest son, Rafa, is the Golden Boy; his younger brother, Lucas, is the dark genius. It’s Thor and Loki, if Thor had anger management issues, and Loki was a bossanova fan unable to tell his son the one thing they both need to hear: that he loves him.
Ultimately, what I found is that family sagas are about love. Love gone wrong, or missing the target (or hitting the wrong target) or just unable to speak. This is what Tolstoy really means when he says about every unhappy family being unhappy in its own way. Or, to put it another way, the greatest thing you ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.
Luna: New Moon is published by Gollancz, £16.99
Ian McDonald was born in Manchester in 1960. His family moved to Northern Ireland in 1965. He now lives in Belfast and works in TV production. The author of the Chaga books set in Africa, McDonald is a leading science fiction writer. River of Gods won the BSFA award in 2005.