A century ago, scientists theorised that a habitable planet existed in a nearby solar system. Today, ten astronauts will leave a dying Earth to find it. Four are decorated veterans of the 20th century’s space-race. And six are teenagers, graduates of the exclusive Dalton Academy, who’ve been in training for this mission for most of their lives.
It will take the team 23 years to reach Terra-Two. Twenty-three years spent 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.
I have mixed feelings about this book overall. (That seems to be a bit of a developing trend with the new British science fiction I’ve read over the past year or so.) It won’t surprise my regular readers that some of the science annoyed me a little bit. But the way it played out in this book, there was only one annoying physics thing in the first two-thirds (or more maybe) of the book, which was some confusion and nonsensical imprecision about the artificial gravity. But I was willing to overlook it since everything else that could have been a problem was vague enough to not be glaringly wrong. Fine. But I should have realised that it was a harbinger of errors to come. These things generally are. The most climactic scene and its aftermath were unfortunately also the most scientifically baffling and inconsistent. I went from being kept awake by the excitement to being kept awake by my annoyance, and had to read something else for a bit.
The thing is, I didn’t hate this book, but there were a lot of other small factors that annoyed me and I want to mention them since they might be relevant to other people. One is that near the start one of the characters was sort of set up as being asexual — or at least on that spectrum — but it’s not really explored or interrogated at all and in the end might not be what the author intended. Another is that the UK Space Agency seemed to have much less regard for mental health than any real-world space agencies. There were sections of the book when I was amazed that they didn’t have proper contingencies in place for depression and the inevitable loneliness of being confined with the same nine other people for forty years. Given the number of psychological studies around long term space missions, this was strange and unjustified.
But overall, this wasn’t a terrible book. There was a focus on the character dynamics and I quite liked how the point of view moved between characters. Rather than rotating in a fixed way, we tended to get a focus on one character while something interesting was going on with them, with maybe a few interludes about other characters, before moving on to focus on another character. It was a method that worked very well for the large cast of six point of view characters. The background details of worldbuilding were also interesting and added flavour to the story. The launch took place in 2012 and there are a few mentions of the London Olympics while they’re on. There was also a pleasing awareness of the space programmes other countries were running, which had some impact on the story, albeit not as much as I sometimes wanted. For example, just as I thought we were going to learn more about the Chinese mission, the book skipped ahead and ended, so that was a bit disappointing, for all that it was a sensible place to end.
Overall, I recommend this book to fans of science fiction, though perhaps not those who get as or more annoyed as I do about physics in books. I’ve called this a YA book at the start and it does focus on young people. But for most of the book they’re around 20, which might be stretching some people’s definitions. The plot structure also differs from a lot of speculative fiction YA, so your mileage may vary if you care about age bracket designations.
3.5 / 5
First published: March 2019, Simon & Schuster
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley