Amazon has been kind enough lately to grace readers with advance copies of select forthcoming titles, and I was lucky enough to grab a copy of Signal Moon by Kate Quinn, which is releasing wide in August from the streaming giant. This novella-sized tale will be available in eBook only, but it packs a pretty decent punch into a relatively bite-sized story.
In 1943, at the height of World War II, Lily Baines works for her country as a “Wren,” the Y-Station listeners of the British Royal Naval Service tasked with intercepting, relaying, and sometimes deciphering the enemy transmissions they hear over the airwaves. Armed with receivers, headphones, and their skill to transcribe as quickly as possible, Lily is but one of a team of women stationed at Withernsea on the English shoreline, working daily to do their part for the cause. Imagine her surprise, then, when she intercepts a truly curious transmission: one coming from a United States Naval officer originating 80 years later, in 2023.
This is the main premise the drives this short story from the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author Quinn. The author is intimately familiar with the 1940s Y-Station setting, having previously penned the full-length novel The Rose Code, also set in this time era and focused squarely on a trio of Wren protagonists. Indeed, the tales are tangentially connected, but one does not have to have read The Rose Code in order to enjoy Signal Moon – I’ve not read the former and was still able to easily enjoy the latter.
Matt Jackson is the US naval officer onboard the fictitious ship USS Colin Powell, and his frantic transmission as the cruiser is sinking is what Lily hears in her headphones on that fateful night. Confused at first, Lily determines that she has to attempt to not only help Matt but to communicate with him if possible, and so sets off a chain of Back to the Future-style events that connect the two main characters in a race to save Matt and his vessel.
To speak in any more detail about the plot would be to essentially telegraph the entire story to you, so I’ll leave the description at that. Quinn does an effective job at conveying both the confusion and the wonder of both characters in their cross-time connection; as is my understanding, the author has not ventured too far into science fiction in her other works, but she shows an adept hand at the core understanding of what makes these kind of time-travel-ish stories so intriguing: the possibility of what if, and treating the impossible scenario as if it could be a plausible experience, both for the characters and for the reader.
The biggest detractor from the story might simply be its size. While I couldn’t track down an “official” word count, this is definitely a short story, and I read it in its entirety in about 40-45 minutes. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; but a more condensed format does mean less words to play with, and as a result some readers may find the emotional resonance of what Lily and Matt are going through to be a bit lacking. Some of the descriptions of the scenes and the action do also feel a bit pared down, but again, this comes with the territory for a pre-designed tale of this size. While I personally felt that I could have used a bit more fleshing-out in these areas, and perhaps a bit more detail of the sci-fi nature of the cross-time communications, I don’t believe that it was a major detraction from my overall enjoyment of the read.
A bite-sized tale that feels like it could be right at home in a Twilight Zone episode (with less of a twist but a still-satisfying ending), Quinn has done fairly well with her first foray into sci-fi, and the average reader will likely find Signal Moon worth their time in a quick read.
You can view and order Signal Moon from Amazon now, by clicking here.