Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Terranauts - T. C. Boyle

Sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Copyright: T. Coraghessan Boyle, 2016

ISBN: 978-1408881750

Format: Hardback, 508pp

Genre: Science/Historical Fiction

Rating: 4/5

Summed up in a few words
Human. Relationships. Enclosure. Hostility.

First Impressions
The Terranauts immediately stood out to me, the remarkable cover-art drew me in and the bold and compelling plot idea kept me interested, Thank you to Philippa at Bloomsbury for my review copy. I highly enjoy both SF and historical fiction, I also love books that are inspired by true events/people. The Terranauts contains these elements and so much more. This book is all about the preservation and advancement of humanity and what it actually takes to achieve them. If you are interested in the human condition, human interactions and relationships with a scientific plot basis then this will definitely suit you.

Book Synopsis
Eight people take part in an ecological experiment in 1990s Arizona. Inspired by the true events of the Biosphere 2 project, The Terranauts places human behaviour under the microscope to spell binding effect.

Linda is desperate to be one of the lucky eight chosen to take part in the world's most ambitious ecological experiment. Gazing longingly at Ecosphere II, which rises like a spaceship from the Arizona desert, Linda knows she can survive under its glass dome. Competition is fierce between the hopefuls, among them smooth-talking PR man Ramsay, and Dawn, a naive beauty. All are certain that they would never, ever, break closure before two years are up - unlike their discredited predecessors.

Inside this humid microcosm, the terranauts' labour over crops and livestock, their battles with creepy crawlies, their hostilities and sexual dalliances are all observed by the tourists who come by to gawp, Mission Control's cameras and the watchful eye of the media. As the crew struggles to control nature, and hunger sets in, the snake in this Eden starts to look unmistakably human.

Inspired by real-life events, The Terranauts is a darkly comic, acutely insightful story of human behaviour, animal instincts, idealism and ambition. Placing utopian visions and individual motives under the microscope, this is T. C. Boyle at his acerbic, pitch-perfect best. (Official Synopsis)

My Thoughts
After navigating an intense and difficult training process as well as several critical interviews, eight individuals gained a place on Mission 2 taking place within Ecosphere II,  a 3 acre glass building that contains a whole new world. Ecosphere II has its own rain forest, ocean, desert, savanna, marsh, laboratory, flora, fauna, food chain, air/water filtration and living areas. I was fascinated with the setting, based on the real life E2 project (there are plenty of videos/content about it online). It is the way that each member of the team has to work in together to keep the natural flow of life within the walls of E2, and the possibility that anything can go wrong at any time that kept me invested in The Terranauts. 

The core of the book is of course, the Terranauts themselves. The story is narrated by 3 individuals, Dawn and Ramsay who made it onto the team and into E2, and Linda who misses out on Mission 2 but hangs around for a potential spot on Mission 3 in two years time. The events are shared from all three perspective and I think it worked really well. Having a female and male perspective inside and also having an outside perspective of the developments within made for a gripping and thought provoking read. Dawn is dedicated to the mission at all costs. Ramsay is a PR man who seeks out intimacy in all its forms and Linda is a pissed off, frustrated and conniving character who wants into E2 in any way, shape or form.

T. C. Boyle achieves so many different variations of personality, dialogue, interaction and relationship throughout the entirety of this novel. Juggling each character while also making each incident, fiasco, event or problem seem relevant and using them to change the course of the plot. From arguments, the press, systemic failures, personal failures, unexpected problems, miscommunication, hunger, lack of oxygen and so much more, T. C. Boyle is a craftsman with his writing. The Terranauts is a substantial book, it is 500+ pages of solid story development, a book you can sink into and just exist with the terranauts while they work, research, argue and make decisions that effect the safety of the mission.

The character development is erratic, constantly changing over the course of the 2 years, with the claustrophobic feel, the varying levels of food and oxygen and outside pressure from Mission Control, the press and other team mates. Human interaction is key here, with tough decisions and each individual's feelings, needs and emotions affecting progress and relationships. I liked Dawn, I enjoyed the way she stood up for herself and kept her head on a swivel. Ramsay was the wild card, unpredictable and it was a lot of fun to watch him try and get out of whatever trouble he found himself in daily. I was not a fan of Linda... I appreciated her perspective in terms of plot narration, but her personality was strenuous most of the time with a lot of bitterness, anger and frustration.

With a scientific setting that was both stimulating and engaging, realistic characters confined to a residence that has life threatening circumstances if the wrong decisions are made and T. C. Boyle's thorough and digestible writing, I have given this book 4/5 stars. I think The Terranauts suits a dramatic/science fiction audience, though if you are interested in human interaction then you will easily enjoy the book too. 

Pick up The Terranauts here: Amazon UK/Amazon US/Goodreads

About the Author: T. C. Boyle is the New York Times bestselling author of fifteen novels including The Tortilla Curtain, Drop City, The Harder They Come and San Miguel, and ten collections of story, most recently T. C. Boyle Stories II. His work has been translated into twenty-five languages and has won a PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He is a member of the Academy of Arts and Letters and lives in California. (Official Bio)

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