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The Moon and the Sun by Vonda N McIntyre
Published by Pocket Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
The Moon and the Sun by Vonda N. McIntyre begins with a ship belonging to King Louis XIV of France, discovering a strange race of sea monsters. The action then moves to Versailles, where the Jesuit priest Yves de la Croix delivers the preserved body of a male sea monster, as well as a living female. His sister Marie-Josephe, a brilliant and headstrong young woman in a time when women were to be meek and submissive to men, will help him reveal the secrets of these creatures to the sovereign. These sea monsters are rumored to possess the secret of immortality, and Louis XIV dreads death, both as any mortal does and because he knows that his son and heir is woefully inadequate to succeed him.
At first everyone assumes that the sea monsters are merely beasts. But as the dissection of the male sea monster proceeds, Yves discovers more and more structures under the hideous exterior that have an extraordinary similarity to those of humans. Meanwhile, Marie-Josephe sees more and more intelligent behavior in the female sea monster that is under her care. Slowly she comes to understand the strange sonic language of the sea monsters, which seems to be at least partly related to their dolphin-like echolocative sense.
All the time, brother and sister must steer their way safely through the complexities of court life at Versailles. Everywhere lie perils, whether in the wiles of the powerful women close to the king or in the visit of the Pope. But all that pales before Marie-Josephe's realization of what the king's determination to gain immortality through the sea monster means -- he is about to commit cannibalism in pursuit of a hopeless goal, quite possibly at risk of his immortal soul. Marie-Josephe becomes determined to save the sea monster's life, as much for the king's sake as for that of this strange creature from the sea.
Finally, as Louis XIV repeatedly gives his word only to go back on it, Marie-Josephe decides that her conscience demands action, even against the stated will of her sovereign. Saving the sea monster may well cost her everything, but her conscience will not permit her to do otherwise, and a conscience can be a far harder taskmaster than any king.
In the end, Pope Innocent orders that the entire incident be obliterated from history and the consciences of humanity, apparently to protect the sea folk. Unfortunately, while in many ways this scene is one of the most powerful in the book, it also is the most problematic. By sweeping the whole issue under the rug, it moves the book from alternate history to secret history. Nothing really changed, and history will return to the course we have recorded in our history books. Humanity has been spared the problem of having to deal with the undeniable reality of another species of self-aware intelligences. Furthermore, the whole notion of a cover-up seems more appropriate to the Age of Anxiety than to the Baroque Era. One could argue that cover-ups are a typically human solution, like a child hiding the evidence of a misdeed in hopes the problem will thus go away, but the thoroughness of Pope Innocent's solution goes beyond that, to destroying all the evidence in hopes of making the problem go away.
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If you enjoy The Moon and the Sun, you may also find Newton's Cannon by Greg Keyes of interest
Review posted March 20, 1999
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