Do You Dream of Terra-Two?
by Temi Oh
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted July 15, 2019
I received an e-ARC of this title from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. It had already been published in the UK before it showed up on NG and Edelweiss (where I also requested it), but now they are promoting the US paperback publication. Do You Dream of Terra-Two? will be out next month, August 13, 2019. To answer the title's question, no, I don't dream of Terra-Two, and will probably not think about it much after posting this review. There are already three reviews on Amazon, equally divided between five, four, and three stars, but I can't give it more than two. There are forty-five reviews on the UK site, with the majority being five stars. It was a chore getting through it, it's not recommended, and I'm not going to worry about spoilers while discussing it. Sorry to be so blunt, but it's best to be honest.
All the descriptions I read made me think it was a book I would like. It's Hard SF (or at least so I thought) about an extra-solar expedition to a supposedly habitable planet in a nearby system. I've been trying to read more by women, especially women of color. Temi Oh was born in London to Nigerian immigrants. She has a BSci degree in neuroscience from King's College London, and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh. Her debut novel is more of a psychological study of the characters rather than a look at the science behind the voyage. I'm not sure why, but it's set in an alternate timeline, with Terra-Two having been discovered in the early part of the 20th Century. The launch of the Damocles is in 2012, years after permanent settlements had been established on the moon and Mars. The ship is to use a revolutionary new, but still untested, space drive that would get them to Terra-Two in about twenty-six years. The drive was designed by the flight engineer for the mission, Cosmonaut Igor Bovarin. The Cold War might be over, but the USSR still exists. Not only is this in an alternate timeline, it must be in an alternate universe, since Terra-Two's sun is only three light years from Sol, whereas in our world the closest star is Proxima Centauri, a little over four light years away. About two years prior to the Damocles launch, the Chinese sent their own ship using more conventional drives, which would be a generational voyage taking several hundreds of years. Unfortunately, communication has been lost with that ship. Since the Damocles will make the trip much quicker, a crash program of educating a group of teenagers begins at the Dalton School in London. By the time the Beta crew is chosen, they are eighteen-nineteen years old. There is an older, experienced crew in command, with the Beta intended to supercede them by the time they arrive at Terra-Two.
One of the first things that doesn't make sense is the small crew size. Only four experienced astronauts, just six in the Beta. About halfway through we learn they have limited medical supplies, and a damage report reveals they don't have necessary spare parts for several systems. It's possible the spare parts were also damaged, but that's not the way it's worded. Toward the end, one of the Beta reveals he had heard a rumor before the launch, one that might possibly be true. The ones chosen for the Beta were not the best and the brightest, but rather the most expendable, and the expedition was designed for failure. Easy to believe when you consider the psychological profiles of the Beta. Harry Belgrave, the commander/pilot-in-training, is a spoiled rich kid, an arrogant bully. Poppy Lane seems to have been chosen mostly for her looks, and the fact she speaks multiple languages, since she will be sending news reports back to Earth. Identical twins Astrid and Juno Juma cheated at Dalton, with the more personable Astrid doubling up on all the psychological profile tests, Juno handling the academic track. Eliot Liston, the engineer-in-training, has been traumatized by the suicide of his girlfirend, Ara Shah, just a day before the launch. She was to be botanist-in-training, but is replaced at the last minute by Jesse Solloway. Why they didn't delay the launch at least a little while is puzzling, as is the fact they accepted Jesse simply because he was the first back-up botany student to show up and volunteer, just a few hours after Ara's suicide. After the launch, Eliot is haunted by Ara, convinced she is outside the ship wanting in. Jesse is demoralized because he thinks the others resent him for taking Ara's spot so quickly.
There seems to have been little discipline at Dalton, and very little indication of it on the Damocles either. The Beta are forever shirking their duties, wandering the ship whenever and wherever they please, with little supervision or reprimand, and that happened at the school too, and at the space center leading up to the launch. That's one of the few things I'd criticize about Commander Solomon Sheppard, who up to that point had been the youngest person to set foot on Mars. If he really cared about the mission he would have whipped them into shape from the beginning. Flight Surgeon Fae Golinsky was another late minute substitute, since her predecessor was eliminated when it was felt she should have noticed Ara's depression long before she took her life. Fae had just become engaged, and she's perpetually depressed about being away from her fiancÚ. Botanist Cai Tsang is an extreme introvert, spending most of his time either in his quarters or working alone in the greenhouse/hydroponic tanks. Flight Engineer Igor Bovarin is dying of lung cancer, far beyond help from chemo or radiation treatment. Why was he allowed on the crew? Both Sheppard and Golinsky were aware of his condition, so it can be assumed others at UKSA knew it too. Was it because he was the designer of the new drive and refused to turn it over to someone else? Was it because the mission was designed for failure from the beginning? Who knows? Another thing we don't know is if any of the crew eventually make it to Terra-Two, since they're still in our solar system at the end of this book. Doesn't matter, I don't care, and I won't bother if there's a follow-up. Not to say I won't read anything else by Ms. Oh, just not a continuation of this story.
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