Lunar mining: “Limit” and “Moon”

Fiction, as you know, is one addiction I nurture with pride. Over a recent long weekend, I was able to read Frank Schätzing’s Limit, at 1,300 pages a doorstopper of a science-fiction thriller that I am told is the author’s worst book so far, but that I rather enjoyed, to the point of claiming that Schätzing was Dan Brown for people with brains.

Limit is set in 2025. Its earthly locations are Shanghai, Berlin, and a few others; notably, a remarkable digression projects into 2025 the wretched history and politics of Equatorial Guinea, which I recommend you read about in Ken Silverstein’s recent Foreign Policy story. But much of the action takes place on a colonized Moon, where Julian Orley, a distinctly Richard-Bransonish entrepreneur, is giving his VIP guests a preview of an unprecedented space tourism experience. Orley has also set up a massive and successful mining operation on the Moon to extract helium-3 from lunar regolith, largely solving our dependence on terrestrial fossil fuels and leaving the world’s oil companies to scramble for an alliance with him or wither and die. Things, of course, will go wrong; but I won’t spoil them for you, dear readers.

In our reality, according to contributors to the Wikipedia page, it turns out that the premise of helium-3 as a power generation fuel has been explored, that the isotope is indeed present on the Moon, and that Chinese and Russian sources have expressed an interest in mining it.

A few days later, I watched MoonDuncan Jones‘s well-regarded film debut. In Moon, there is lunar mining of helium-3, just like described by Schätzing in Limit, but there is no space tourism; and indeed, the loneliness and isolation of the astronaut manning the mining operation plays out in a rather unexpected plot twist.

The connections between book and movie do not end here. Jones’s father, David Bowie, appears as a character in Limit, playing guitar in the evening for his friend Julian Orley and declining an invitation to join the trip to the moon. He is just too old, he says, and he has found that his calling was on Earth all along. Limit, as fiction, does have its limitations; yet, Bowie’s wistful appearance lends it a true touch of poetry.

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