Review: David Pedreira’s ‘Gunpowder Moon’ a gripping story of murder on the lunar surface

Published February 9

Gunpowder Moon drops the reader right into the action — and I do mean drops.

"Dechert stood at the crater rim and looked down," David Pedreira writes in the opening line of his debut novel. "Dionysius was a monster — two miles deep and wide enough to swallow the isle of Manhattan — and with the light from the setting sun coming in too shallow to illuminate its depths, it looked as black as a well."

Caden Dechert, former Marine and chief of a U.S. mining operation on the surface of the moon, is about to become the first person ever to jump into such a crater wearing a jet pack.

A jet pack? At last — in the year 2072, when Gunpowder Moon is set, we finally get jet packs! Of course, we also have a devastated Earth in tentative recovery from environmental disaster, with much relying on fusion reactors powered by the lunar helium-3 Dechert’s outfit is mining.

He’s making the breathtaking jump into that crater, wearing a prototype "six-pack of thrusters" strapped to his spacesuit, because a piece of equipment at the drill station on its floor has gone off line. Dechert finds not a simple malfunction but an intentionally extracted power cell — and footprints whose boot treads he doesn’t recognize.

On the moon, even in 2072, there are only so many suspects.

But the sabotage is just the beginning. Before long, one of Dechert’s crew dies — the first murder ever on the moon. It goes entirely against the grain in a place where every person is so intensely dependent on everyone else: "People kept people alive on the moon. They didn’t kill them."

Murder, however, is often motivated by profit, and the helium-3 is enormously valuable. In addition to Dechert’s American crew, there are mining operations backed by Russia, China, Brazil and India on the lunar surface. And back on Earth, the political struggle to control them is heating up.

By the time a government bureaucrat arrives on the moon, Dechert suspects a conspiracy, and he calls on his military training to try to extract the truth:

"Put a man in a completely alien environment, in a place where his mind tells him he has no business being, and his shocked system will react in a consistent fashion. ... And in his effort to remain alive — to not make any mistakes that could lead to an unnatural death — he’ll forget the tendency to say only the things that are in his best interest. He’ll be seared into candor."

Pedreira, who lives in Tampa, is a former journalist who worked for the then-St. Petersburg Times and Tampa Tribune before moving to corporate communications and recruiting.

With this science fiction thriller, he makes an auspicious debut, crafting a tense plot that puts not only Dechert’s crew but perhaps all of humanity in jeopardy. He deftly handles one challenge of the genre: balancing the wealth of technical detail needed to build a future world with the engaging characters and headlong action needed for a compelling thriller. Gunpowder Moon is a satisfying blastoff.

Contact Colette Bancroft at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.