Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Terranauts

The Terranauts by T. C. Boyle
HarperCollins: 10/25/16
eBook review copy; 528 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062349408

The Terranauts by T. C. Boyle is a highly recommended fictionalized account of a biodome project in 1994.

In the desert near Tillman Arizona is an Ecosphere, E2. Covering 3 acres, E2 is a sealed self-sufficient prototype of what a biodome on an off-earth colony, a new Eden, would be like. It has five biomes (rainforest, savanna, desert, ocean, and marsh) and enough water, vegetation, and animals to sustain a small colony of 8 adults. Out of sixteen finalists, eight are chosen to be Terranauts. The group chosen for this mission are: Dawn Chapman, Manager of Domestic Animals; Tom Cook, Technosphere Supervisor; Gretchen Frost, Manager of Wilderness Biomes; Diane Kesselring, Supervisor of Field Crops and Crew Captain; Richard Lack, Medical Officer; Ramsay Roothoorp, Communications Officer/Water Systems Manager; Troy Turner, Director of Analytic Systems; Stevie van Donk, Marine Systems Specialist.

E2, or New Eden is the brainchild of Jeremiah Reed. The Terranauts, in keeping with the religious theme, call him G.C. for God the Creator. G.C  views E2 as "both an adventure in scientific discovery and a momentous publicity stunt." G.C. mans mission control with Judy, his assistant and girlfriend. To the Terranauts she is Judas, "because she was a betrayer, or at least that was her potential." Dennis Roper is called Little Jesus and Dennis Iverson is G.F., short for God the Financier.

The Terranauts are sealed off from the world, although they can be viewed by the world through the glass walls. Visitors must come to a designated area and then speak through a phone to the person inside. It is both an ecological experiment on perhaps settling on another planet one day, and a psychological experiment looking at how a group of 4 women and 4 men will engage with each other and if relationships will form. Because the first group, Mission One, failed, this Mission Two group has taken up the anthem, "A pledge is a pledge: nothing in, nothing out."

The novel is presented through three different narrators. They are having an inner monologue, sharing their inner thoughts while telling what is happening in E2, so they are very honest, for good or bad. Two narrators, Dawn Chapman and Ramsay Roothoorp, are Terranauts. Dawn is the positive narrator, the one who truly believes in the project and staying the course to the end. Ramsey is an immature womanizing jerk who can apparently charm whoever he wants into bed, but he can also put a spin on any situation. The third is Linda Ryu, one of the sixteen finalists who was not chosen for Mission two. Linda now works for Mission Control. Linda and Dawn were good friends, but clearly they are more frenemies now. Linda is bitter and scheming.

The Terranauts was based on a real story of people who tried living sealed into a biosphere. Boyle takes their story one step further here and tells the story of the next crew through a two year stay.

T. C. Boyle is an amazing writer. I found the quality of the writing to be incredible. Reviews are all over the place on this novel, which surprises me because I was totally engaged in the plot and the characters. Yes, it is a long novel, but I didn't even realize how long until after I was finished. (I just thought I was reading slowly.) Ramsey and Linda are unlikable characters, but the reader is privy to the narrators real thoughts on everything, and not everything that goes through a person's mind is positive or uplifting. On the plus side, this results in the narrators being very well developed characters. I finished The Terranauts and I could picture it really happening, as if Boyle recorded the thoughts of people during a real second mission in 1994.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

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