Algis Budrys | Fawcett Books | 1960 | 176 pages
After the discovery of a possibly alien artifact on the dark side of the moon, research scientist Dr. Edward Hawks employs his experimental project in an attempt to uncover the mystery surrounding the strange lunar construct.
Dr. Hawks has created a matter transmitter capable of copying a human being on the particle level and beaming the information to a receiver on the moon. The receiver takes this subatomic blueprint and creates a duplicate human, assembling it from available lunar materials. The two identical brains–although separated by cosmic distances–are able to share a telepathic link, allowing the terrestrial human to download the memories from his lunar copy.
However, the alien construct functions as a deadly trap, killing any intruder in a matter of steps. The humans on earth are unable to process the memories of their deaths experienced by their projected selves, and are ultimately driven insane. This dilemma leads Dr. Hawks to seek out a new kind of test subject, one that will be better equipped to withstand the psychic damage created by this strange form of deadly exploration.
Enter Al Barker, a thrill-seeking daredevil who races fast cars and lives for the adrenaline rush of his next brush with death. Manipulated by Vincent Connington, a sleazy personnel director with an agenda of his own, into volunteering as Hawks’ next test subject, Barker seems the perfect candidate for the mission. His psychological makeup suggests that he possesses an inherent resistance to the mortal terrors produced by memories of death.
“A man should fight…. A man should show he is never afraid to die. He should go into the midst of his enemies, singing his death song, and he should kill or be killed…. He must never be afraid to meet the test of his manhood.”
Very little time is dedicated to exploring the deadly alien maze on the moon, however, as Hawks and Barker quip, counter, and pontificate on the nature of man. Hawks (the cold and sadistic clinician) and Barker (the hot-blooded alpha male) establish polar ends to a treatise on human nature, engaging in what amounts to a pissing contest for the attention of Barker’s beautiful but bored wife, Claire.
“Such creatures are not to be thought of as good or bad. Not by mortal men…. They are born among us – car hops, dice girls, Woolworth clerks – but they rise to their heritage…. Woe to us who would pursue them on their cometary track.”
Hawks lapses into long speeches on the nature of gender and man’s role in life, as Barker eventually suffers the effects of matter transmission and fears losing his hold over Claire. The characters are mostly unlikable, and when we finally glimpse the inside of the structure on the moon, it comes as a series of abstract descriptions. The most impactful images from within the maze involve Barker passing the corpses of his previously transmitted versions, who failed and were killed at some junction in their exploration.
After listening to much rumination on the nature of identity, Claire frames the overall experience most succinctly:
“Why don’t you just shut up, Hawks? What do you do, go through life making speeches? You know what you are, Hawks? You’re a creep. A bore and a creep.”
Notable at the time of publication for its psychological themes of inner space, Rogue Moon raises many questions on human nature but answers few, treating an alien monument as a device for reflection on mortality, rather than a gateway for conventional science fiction story telling.