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Non 1001 Book Review: The Terranauts by Boyle


The Terranauts by T.C Boyle
Published in: 2016
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: ★★★.5
Find it here: The Terranauts

This ARC was provided by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: A powerful, affecting and hilarious deep-dive into human behavior in an intimate and epic story of science, society, sex, and survival, set in the early 1990s, from one of the greatest American novelists today.

It is 1994, and in the desert near Tillman, Arizona, forty miles from Tucson, a grand experiment involving the future of humanity is underway. As climate change threatens the earth, eight scientists, four men and four women dubbed the “Terranauts,” have been selected to live under glass in E2, a prototype of a possible off-earth colony. Their sealed, three-acre compound comprises five biomes—rainforest, savanna, desert, ocean and marsh—and enough wildlife, water, and vegetation to sustain them.

Closely monitored by an all-seeing Mission Control, this New Eden is the brainchild of eco-visionary Jeremiah Reed, aka G.C.—“God the Creator”—for whom the project is both an adventure in scientific discovery and a momentous publicity stunt. In addition to their roles as medics, farmers, biologists, and survivalists, his young, strapping Terranauts must impress watchful visitors and a skeptical media curious to see if E2’s environment will somehow be compromised, forcing the Ecosphere’s seal to be broken—and ending the mission in failure. As the Terranauts face increased scrutiny and a host of disasters, both natural and of their own making, their mantra: “Nothing in, nothing out,” becomes a dangerously ferocious rallying cry.

Told through three distinct narrators—Dawn Chapman, the mission’s pretty young ecologist; Linda Ryu, her bitter, scheming best friend passed over for E2; and Ramsay Roothorp, E2’s sexually irrepressible Wildman—The Terranauts brings to life an electrifying, pressured world in which connected lives are uncontrollably pushed to the breaking point. With characteristic humor and acerbic wit, T. C. Boyle indelibly inhabits the perspectives of the various players in this survivalist game, probing their motivations and illuminating their integrity and fragility to illustrate the inherent fallibility of human nature itself.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: Well the Goodreads synopsis basically tells you the plot without giving away spoilers so I can just concentrate on telling you what I liked.

First, a warning: This is a long book and, due to its nature, it is quite slow and contains a lot of details about the science of the biosphere. This was not a problem for me, but some readers may find it off putting.

The strength of this novel lies in the interpersonal relationships between the characters. If you are voluntarily locking yourself away with 7 other people for 2 whole years then you had better expect personality clashes, extreme highs and lows, and above all, boredom. The terranauts experience all this and it is their reactions to each situation that make this compelling reading.

The book is set in the 1990s but it could have been set during any time period with a slight adjustment in the type of technology described. It reads like the love child of “I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here”, “Big Brother,” and any movie ever made about colonising another planet. It provides a darkly humourous look at how far people are prepared to go for their 15 minutes of fame and it provides a social commentary on the nature of celebrity.

Overall this is a novel you can really get your teeth into and I think it would make a great movie.

Who would like this? I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys slow-placed character driven plots that provide a lot of relevant background detail and leave you with something to think about. This is not one for those who need a quick fix.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: The Terranauts

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. This sounds like a grown-up version of the Pauly Shore movie Bio-Dome. I think this has to be added to my tbr list. I think I would enjoy it.


    February 23, 2017
  2. Book Worm #

    Hope you enjoy it


    February 23, 2017
  3. I read this and I’m also a big fan of TC Boyle. I agree that this is all about the interpersonal relationships, and the effects of fame on a few people who are thrown together. I tend to like books about unlikable people for some reason. I was also fascinated by the real life events that this story is based on. I lived in Tucson at that time and hardly knew about it (college student = not paying attention to current events clearly).


    February 23, 2017

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