Review: Do You Dream of Terra-Two? – In Space, Everyone Can Hear You Dream

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Title: Do You Dream of Terra-Two?
Author: Temi Oh
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Release Date: March 7th, 2019
Genre(s): Literature, Sci-Fi
Subjects and Themes: Space expedition
Page Count: 528 (hardback)

Rating: 8.5/10

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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 twenty-three 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.

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So this is an odd, odd book to classify. It’s not a sweeping space adventure in the vein of Interstellar. Nor is it quite the thriller that Gravity is (though there are resemblances in the last 1/4 of the book). And if you ask me what happens in the course of 528 pages, I’d be inclined to answer, “Nothing much.”

But it’s kind of like spending an entire evening plus the early morning hours outside, staring up at the constellations and telling their stories in your head. And next day, when someone asks what you did the other night and you answer, “I did some star-gazing.” And they say, “Sooo, nothing much?”

And you say, “No. Everything. I did everything.”

That might only make sense to me, so a more straight-forward version: in terms of main plot, not much happens, but beneath that there’s a lifetime of stories that are playing out.

Temi Oh’s writing is absolutely beautiful. It’s the kind of prose that’s meant for traversing outer space and cataloguing stars, and it’s got depth to it that goes beyond sounding pretty–a feeling of awe that I think is so key for space-faring stories; a commanding sense of the moment so that even small, seemingly inconsequential scenes feel important in the grand scheme of things; and a melancholy and intimacy that makes it seem like you’ve been with these characters for years when it’s only been a handful of pages.

It’s the kind of prose that teeters between sad and hopeful, and just when you think it’s falling into sadness, hope yanks it back up again.

As for our characters, their stories range from relatable to heartbreaking:

Poppy, the gorgeous linguistics genius who so badly wants to escape the bleakness of her home. The linguistics genius who got into languages in the first place because it was a way to bridge gaps between herself and others–to travel distances with only a few words–and a way to be less lonely in this world (this is a detail I really, really loved).

Astrid and Juno, the Kenyan twins. The former an astrobiologist who signed up for the program because the thought of being the first to chart an unknown world was irresistible. The latter a chemist, more serious and pragmatic.

Ara, an Indian girl who delights in the delights of the world and delights the world in turn.

Eliot, the robotics genius. The only one of the group who was scouted by the Terra-Two project leaders.

Jesse, the dreamy boy who weaves broken shells into his hair. The boy who’s been told that he would leave this world on his twentieth birthday and is hoping that “leaving the world” literally means leaving the world. On a spaceship, to be exact.

Harry, the pilot and commander-in-training. There’s zero doubt in his mind that he was born for this role, and for someone whose life has revolved around being good and winning, this might be the biggest prize of them all.

For a story that’s about heading into the future and opening a new chapter for humanity, it’s a story that’s also about carrying the past. About sifting through the various events in these characters’ lives that led them to stand where they are, as who they are, and the hopes and fears that they carry with them. It reminded me a lot of LOST, in that sense.

As wonderful and interesting as the characters are, I did have one big problem with them. When they’re in their own heads, being all introspective, they brim with complexity and their personalities shine like starlight. When they’re outside of their heads, interacting with each other, they get somewhat less interesting and complex. Dialogues don’t quite fit together, some of the interactions are strangely jagged, and I had trouble differentiating one person’s voice from another.

The good news is that they spend most of the time in their heads. And when they do, it’s mesmerizing, absorbing stuff.

And for someone who’s never experienced a pioneering space mission (presumably), Oh’s depictions of dread and excitement and just the whole range of emotions associated with the process feels remarkably real. She draws out the initial pre-launch tensions beautifully for the first 1/4 of the book, and does the same with the last 1/4. Every part of the experience is detailed and organic.

All in all, Terra-Two is a magnificent debut. If you like happy endings and fast-paced space operas and storylines that are neatly wrapped up and handed on a silver platter, it might not be the book for you. But If you want a quiet and provocative character-driven story that muses on destiny and the nature of humans, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Review: The Book of M – Beauty at the End of the World

The Book of M

Title: The Book of M
Author: Peng Shepherd
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: June 5th, 2018
Genre(s): Post-Apocalyptic, Fantasy
Page Count: 496 (hardcover)
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Rating: 8.5/10

 

 

 

Post-apocalyptic books and I have somewhat grown apart in the last few years. These days, if I want my daily dose of doom and gloom, I just pop open Twitter; I don’t exactly find myself reaching for it in fiction. And in most of these stories, you’re presented with a dichotomy: you get a setting that’s bleak and grim and fraught with danger; and you get small glimpses of hope and beauty in the actions of the characters who are trying to survive it. The latter–however small or brief it may be–is what keeps the story from getting too unbearable. But these days, for me, those tiny rays of hope just aren’t enough to dispel the misery of the setting.

Peng Shepherd, however, does something with the genre I haven’t seen before, and that’s inject magic and wonder into a post-apocalyptic world.

The Book of M presents a near future where people’s shadows have begun to disappear. And with the loss of their shadows, they begin to forget. And as they forget, the world changes. Literally. You’ve forgotten that your house is supposed to have a front door? Well, now it’s gone. You’ve forgotten that animals aren‘t supposed to be able to converse with humans? Oh look, a talking bird. It’s almost like something out of a children’s fairytale–“And one day, some of the shadows decided they longer wished to be attached to the humans. And so they tugged and tugged and out they popped free, ready to have adventures of their own!”

What I love is that this is a world that’s being destroyed not by zombies or nuclear warfare, but by memories. And there’s such beauty in the way that the world is breaking. It’s in the winged deer that our characters encounter. It’s in the malformed cities and altered landscapes. It’s in the notion that our memories are so powerful, the loss of them shifts the very fabric of our universe. As the characters’ situations become more and more dire, the magical aspect becomes more and more frequent and potent, and some of the last scenes in the book are ones straight out of high fantasy. It’s spellbinding stuff.

But there’s also horror to the story. Because I think there are few things more frightening than having the world we know slowly scrubbed away until all that’s left is a vague suggestion of an outline. And what happens when you forget a specific detail of a loved one’s face? What happens when you forget that your sister had actually survived that terrible car crash all those years ago? Shepherd takes the real-life terror of Alzheimer’s and gives it an extra set of fangs, wings, and the ability to breathe fire. The result is as chilling as it is fascinating.

As we follow the point-of-view of four characters–Ory, his wife Max, Naz, and a mysterious man known as “The One Who Gathers”–in their journey across this changed America, we encounter many strange and frightening things, from cults and scavengers to a moving lake. The characters are all complex and diverse, and while I have mixed feelings about the direction that some of their relationships took, their interactions are, for the most part, quite compelling. Really, my biggest criticism is the sheer number of travel sequences, which I don’t particularly enjoy in any genre.

In the end, The Book of M is a haunting story that explores the power of memories and human connections that I recommend to both lovers and haters of post-apocalyptic fiction. It iterates the idea that we are, all of us, sums of all the people whose lives we have touched–the names and faces that etch onto our minds and form the foundation of our selves.

And it asks: what are you willing to sacrifice to hold onto them?