It starts when Venus explodes into a brilliant cloud of dust and debris, showering Earth with radiation and bizarre particles that wipe out all the crops and half the life in the oceans, and fry the ozone layer. Days later, a few specks of moon rock kicked up from the last Apollo mission fall upon a lava crag in Scotland. That's all it takes . . .
Suddenly, the ground itself begins melting into pools of dust that grow larger every day. For what has demolished Venus, and now threatens Earth itself, is part machine, part life-form: a nano-virus, dubbed Moonseed, that attacks planets.
Four scientists are all that stand between Moonseed and Earth's extinction, four brilliant minds that must race to cut off the virus and save what's left of Earth--a pulse-stopping battle for discovery that will lead them from the Earth's inner core to a daredevil Moon voyage that could save, or damn, us all.
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October 05, 1999
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Excerpt from Moonseed by Stephen Baxter
It began in a moment of unimaginable violence, five billion years before humans walked the Earth.
There was a cloud, of gas and dust, slowly spinning. Much of it was the hydrogen and helium which had emerged from the Big Bang itself, but it was tainted by crystals of ice--ammonia, water and methane--and dust motes rich in iron, magnesium and silica, even some grains of pure metal. These were flotsam from older stars, stars already dead.
. . . And now another star died, a giant, in the conclusive spasm of supernova. A flood of energy and matter hammered into the cloud.
The cloud lost its stability, and began to collapse, to a spinning disc. The central mass shone cherry red, then gradually brightened to white, until--after a hundred million years--it burst into fusion life.
It was the protostar which would become the sun.
Within the disc, solid particles began to crystallize. There were grains of rock--silicate minerals called olivines and pyroxenes--and minerals of iron and nickel, kamacite and taenite. The particles, stuck together by melting ice, formed planetesimals, muddy lumps which swarmed on looping, irregular orbits around the sun.
The planetesimals collided.
Where an impact was head-on, the worldlets could be shattered. But where the collisions were gentle, the worldlets could nudge into each other, stick together, merge. Soon, some aggregations were large enough to draw in their smaller companions.
Thus, young Earth: a chaotic mixture of silicates, metals and trapped gases, cruising like a hungry shark in a thinning ring of worldlets.
Earth's bulk was warm, for the heat of accumulation and of supernova radioactive decay was trapped inside. The metals, heavier than the silicates, sank to the center, and around the new, hot core, a rocky mantle gathered. Gases trapped in the core were driven out, and formed Earth's first atmosphere: a massive layer of hydrogen, helium, methane, water, nitrogen and other gases, amounting to ten percent of Earth's total mass.
Earth's evolution continued, busily, logically.
But something massive was approaching.
"Look up, Tracy. Look at the Moon. You know, we take that damn thing for granted. But if it suddenly appeared in the sky, if it was Mercury hauled up here from the center of the Solar System, my gosh, it would be the story of the century . . ."
It was 1973.
Her father, Jays, had been back from the Moon only a couple of months. Tracy Malone, ten years old, thought he'd come back . . . different.
"Look up," he said again, and she obeyed, turning from his face to the Moon.
The face of the Man in the Moon glared down at Tracy. It was a composition of gray and white, flat and unchanging, hanging like a lantern in the muggy Houston sky.
"The Moon looks like a disc," said her father, in his stiff schoolteacher way. "But it isn't. That's an optical illusion. It's a rocky world, a ball. You know that, don't you, sweet pea?"
Of course I know that. "Yes, Dad."
"People used to think the Moon was like the Earth. They gave those dark gray patches the names of oceans. Well, now we know they are seas of frozen lava. Think about that. And those brighter areas are the highlands, rocky and old. Now, look for the Man's right eye: you see it? That distinct circle? That's what we call the Mare Imbrium. It's actually one huge crater, big enough to swallow Texas. It was gouged out by a gigantic meteorite impact almost four billion years ago. What a sight that must have been."
"But there was nobody around to watch it. Not even the dinosaurs."
"That's right. And then, much later, it got flooded with basalt--"
"Where did Neil Armstrong land?"
"Look for the Man's left eye. See the way it's sort of sad and drooping? Follow that eye down and you come to Mare Tranquillitatis."
"That's right. Neil put his LM down just by the Man's lower eyelid."
"Can I see your crater?"
"No. Most craters are too small for people to see. But I can show you where it is. Look again at that big right eye. See the way the mare's gray extends beyond the circle, out of the Imbrium basin itself? That's Procellarum, the Ocean of Storms. That's where Apollo 12 landed, where Pete Conrad put his LM down right next to that old Surveyor. Well, my crater is on the border there, between Imbrium and Procellarum."
"I can't see it."
"It's called Aristarchus. It's named after the man who figured out how far away the Moon is, two thousand years ago . . ."
She looked at his pointing hand. Even though he had washed and showered, over and over, she saw there was still black Moon dust under his fingernails, and ground into the tips of his fingers. It was going to take a long time for him to get clean.