Book Review: Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh

When an Earth-like planet is discovered, a team of six teens, along with three veteran astronauts, embark on a twenty-year trip to set up a planet for human colonization—but find that space is more deadly than they ever could have imagined. 

Have you ever hoped you could leave everything behind?
Have you ever dreamt of a better world?
Can a dream sustain a lifetime?

A century ago, an astronomer discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting a nearby star. She predicted that one day humans would travel there to build a utopia. Today, ten astronauts are leaving everything behind to find it. Four are veterans of the twentieth century’s space-race.

And six are teenagers who’ve trained for this mission most of their lives.

It will take the team twenty-three years to reach Terra-Two. Twenty-three years locked in close quarters. Twenty-three years with no one to rely on but each other. Twenty-three years with no rescue possible, should something go wrong.

And something always goes wrong.

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? is set during our lifetime, but in a world in which space exploration has advanced much further than in our own. There have already been successful human missions to Mars and Europa, and now, the ultimate goal is being frantically pursued.

Terra-Two is an Earth-like planet light years away, uninhabited but with atmosphere, geology, and natural resources suited for human life. With advanced technology, it will be possible for an initial expedition to reach Terra-Two with a 23-year flight.

The UKSA (United Kingdom Space Agency) is leading the way, and they’ve come up with a controversial approach: Train children from the age of 11 or 12 in an intensely competitive learning environment, so that by age 18, when the expedition is ready to launch, there will be a crew with a senior team and a younger generation in training. After all, even if they launch as teens, they’ll be in their 40s by the time they land. And once they land, it will be their role to prepare Terra-Two for the colonists coming after them.

As the book opens, we meet the students at Dalton Academy, the space training institution. They’re all fiercely smart, but motivated by different dreams and goals. There’s the rich pretty boy who’s the all-star athlete, who seems to have the easiest, most cushioned life; the twins, who each have secret dreams and desires motivating them; the beautiful girl who speaks over 20 languages but has her own demons, and more.

When an unexpected tragedy occurs the day before launch, the remaining crew is thrown into tumult, and a last-minute substitute is both elated at his opportunity and miserable over feeling like he’ll never be accepted or be good enough.

The book really gets going once the mission has launched. One striking element is how well we readers get a sense of the practically unbearable claustrophobia and monotony of being stuck in a contained vessel with the same small group of people FOR DECADES. Can you imagine how awful that must be, knowing that these other nine people are the only ones you’ll ever see or interact with for twenty-three years? I don’t know how they could manage to not go completely bonkers. (It’s not a spoiler to say that there are some pretty spectacular meltdowns and conflicts along the way — these are high-strung teens, after all.)

The plot of Do You Dream of Terra-Two? is fascinating and thrilling. I’m a sucker for a good space story, and I loved reading about the terror and the challenges of prolonged space flight, as well as the intricate interpersonal relationships that ensue when you have a small group in an enclosed space for such a long time.

I did feel that the book was possibly longer than it needed to be. At 500+ pages, it’s a lot, and sections dragged. Again, I don’t feel it’s a particular spoiler to say that the book does not cover all 23 years, but rather focuses on the lead-up to launch and mainly the first year after that — but it does wrap up in a way that’s both hopeful and satisfying (although one character’s conclusion particularly bothered me, but that’s by intention.)

Is it realistic that a space agency would train teens in this way and then send them into space? Well, maybe not — but even in this book,, we see that this is a controversial program that leads to international inquiries and protests. And because these are teens, despite their advanced training, there are moments of disobedience, rule-breaking, and emotional upset that wouldn’t occur with a more mature crew, yet serve here to create some of the drama between characters that drives the story.

All in all, I really enjoyed reading Do You Dream of Terra-Two?, and by the halfway point, just couldn’t put it down. It’s a great story, very unlike anything else I’ve read lately, and I’m really glad I gave it a chance. If you like stories of space exploration, check this one out!

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The details:

Title: Do You Dream of Terra-Two?
Author: Temi Oh
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: August 13 2019
Length: 544 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

 

I suppose I should acknowledge up front that it was practically impossible that Andy Weir’s second novel would measure up to his hugely successful first novel, The Martian. I mean, The Martian was amazing, plain and simple. It was fresh, it was new, it was smart, and it was highly entertaining.

So how does an author follow up such a tremendous hit?

Well, in this case, with a book that’s fun and light, but feels a little too familiar to really leave much of a mark.

In Artemis, Jazz (short for Jasmine) is a criminal-lite — she smuggles contraband while working as a porter, plans to become a wealthy EVA (extravehicular activity) tour guide, and meanwhile works odd jobs that are not quite legit in order to pay for her coffin-like bed chamber. (Calling it an apartment would be way overselling it.) Jazz seems to be well-connected, and while avoiding getting on the bad side of what passes for the law in Artemis, she drinks, avoids her observant Muslim father, and is something of a wise-ass.

When a mega-rich tycoon offers her a million slugs (moon currency) to carry out a dangerous, shady bit of sabotage, she sees a way to finally pay off some long-standing debts and improve her standard of living, but of course, nothing goes as planned. And when that escapade turns into a fiasco, she’s pulled into a worsening situation that involves murder, organized crime, and even more dangerous missions. If Jazz is caught, she’ll face deportation back to Earth, which would absolutely suck for her, since she’s lived on the moon since age six and wouldn’t be able to handle Earth’s gravity.

That’s the plot in a nutshell. Jazz is a survivor, and she manages to get on people’s bad sides constantly, and yet charms them into helping her anyway. She comes up with some clever plans, but naturally what ever can go wrong, does go wrong.

The book reads like a moon-based heist caper, like Ocean’s Eleven in a space bubble. We’ve got a scrappy gang applying their various skills to pull off one big job, making millions, disrupting a bunch of bad guys, and making sure that their little world ends up better than it started. Sure, there’s science and space involved — instead of robbing a casino, for example, here they’re trying to blow up a smelting plant, but it’s the same basic idea.

It all feels familiar somehow. As a science fiction reader, I’ve read other books about life on other planets with humans living in biospheres. I’ve seen plenty of caper flicks. So yes, putting those elements together is fun, and Artemis is definitely entertaining, but it doesn’t have that outrageous spark that powered The Martian.

Jazz herself is a bit problematic, verging on tokenism. Kudos for putting a Muslim woman in the main character role, and certainly her relationship with her father and the conflict between his beliefs and her approach to life are interesting — but she seems very cookie cutter to me. I didn’t get a feel for who she is beneath the surface facts — independent, mid-twenties, rebellious, daring… but when, for example, she ends up kissing one of the male characters toward the end of the book, it was completely out of the blue. I had no idea she had any interest in him, but it’s just that kind of story where you know the main character has to have a love interest, and the only question is which of the available characters will be it.

I enjoyed the time spent reading Artemis, but at the same time, it’s not a book that will stick with me now that I’m done. Still, I like Andy Weir’s writing and use of science to tell a story, and look forward to seeing what he does next.

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The details:

Title: Artemis
Author: Andy Weir
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: October 3, 2017
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Book Review: Good Morning, Midnight

good-morning-midnight

Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.

At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success, but when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crew mates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.

As Augustine and Sully each face an uncertain future against forbidding yet beautiful landscapes, their stories gradually intertwine in a profound and unexpected conclusion. In crystalline prose, Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives?

Good Morning, Midnight is a melancholy, introspective novel, with moments of great beauty. And yet, it doesn’t quite succeed — or at least, not for me.

The set-up is interesting: An older man who chooses to remain in his isolated Arctic environment when all others evacuate, knowing that he may not have another opportunity to leave, and the crew of a space mission returning to their home planet with no idea of what awaits them. The book deals with the extremes of loneliness: What does it mean to be the last humans? How does existing have meaning when there likely is no possibility of a future? What does it mean to live without connection to others?

While the themes are interesting, the plot is a bit thin. This is a book about what happens within the souls of people in extreme situations; it’s not a typical post-apocalyptic adventure story. And yet, setting up a plot like this without offering explanation left me feeling very frustrated. Granted, the characters themselves did not get any answers, but I wanted to at least know the cause.

As the astronauts approach Earth orbit, they observe that the planet looks normal — no obliterating dust clouds, no evidence of massive destruction — and yet there’s the eerie fact that the night side of the globe has none of the twinkling lights they’d expect to see. The planet has gone dark, and no one responds to their attempts at communication. The mysterious catastrophe is not the point of the story, but rather what’s left for those who remain, but I simply couldn’t be satisfied without knowing more.

An additional negative for me is the revelation of a connection at the end of the book that’s entirely too coincidental for my taste. It makes the parallel storylines a bit too neat, and is both unnecessary and unbelievable.

Good Morning, Midnight didn’t fully engage my interest, and there are some serious flaws in the approach to the story. I was much more engaged by the idea of the story and how it might go than by the actual execution. Perhaps I expected more science fiction based on the description, and felt let down to discover that the sci-fi set-up is merely a frame for a story that’s very much a look at people’s interiors.

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The details:

Title: Good Morning, Midnight
Author: Lily Brooks-Dalton
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: August 9, 2016
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Library

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