What if the Moon didn’t exist?, Neil F. Comins

Harper Collins, 1993, 315 pages, C$26.75 hc, ISBN 0-06-016864-1

“What if” is one of the most important concepts in human thought. It’s the bridge between imagination and knowledge. It is the written expression of curiosity and inquiry. It is the first step toward any new discovery. It should be the motto of Speculative Fiction. It is the reason behind What if the Moon didn’t exist?

But whereas SF writers might postulate, dramatize and dispose of in a few pages without any scientific rationale, Moon‘s author “is a professor of Astronomy and Physics at the University of Maine.” This isn’t just a collection of fancy questions: Comins answers them in more detail than you ever would have wanted to know.

For instance, if the Moon didn’t exist, not only would nights be much darker, but the Earth would not have been slowed down by tidal forces. Consequently, you could expect lower tides, hurricane winds (up to 400kph), high waves, rapid erosion, a stronger magnetic field, a later appearance of life on the planet, shorter days (8-hour days) and a generally harder time for anything approaching intelligence. All explained in meticulous detail.

But Comins isn’t satisfied with only explaining what would have happened if the Moon didn’t exist: He goes on to explore the effects of a closer moon; a less massive Earth; a more massive sun; a nearby supernova; a black hole impact… among others.

In concept, Moon is a good idea. In execution, it manages to be only worthwhile. The biggest flaw is the style, which is fairly readable, but not gripping nor densely fascinating as a few other science non-fiction authors. To put it simply; there’s no compelling reason to keep on reading Moon beside mild intellectual curiosity.

Alas, there are also a few gratuitous extrapolations to marr the book, probably the most glaring being that beings of the high-wind moon-less Earth could very well develop telepathy. Uh-huh.

Then there’s the fact that Moon is at time a relentless propaganda piece for environmentalists. The last chapter, in fact, is about ozone depletion. The remainder of the book is often of the type “See how we’re lucky?” It might have been interesting to see Comins imagine a better Earth than our Earth. Alien freaks and nonpartisans of the anthropomorphic theory will be disappointed while reading this book: The chances of intelligent life existing elsewhere in the galaxy are more remote with every chapter of the book.

Still, it’s an interesting work. While it doesn’t quite attain expectations, it’s still a welcome refresher on the forces that make our planet tick. SF writers should take a look at Moon to learn how to do decent world-building, and curious laypersons should at least browse through the most interesting chapters. What if the Moon didn’t exist? is an average non-fiction book with a clever premise but an ordinary result.

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