The Terranauts – T.C. Boyle
Release Date: 20/10/2016
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (UK)
Pages: 508pp RRP: £18.99 (Hardback)
Kindle edition available here (£11.39)
I can remember when I was first introduced to T.C. Boyle’s work. A friend of mine stopped me from reading Jack Kerouac’s ‘The Road’, and handed me a copy of ‘The Tortilla Curtain’, saying ‘Read this instead: it’s more contemporary, you won’t have to suffer beatniks, and you won’t be reading a book because Bob Dylan said it was good.’
Biospheres were a strange quirk in popular science in the early 1990s. Primarily an effort to study closed ecological systems, their viability to support human life, as well as to analyse the interactions between life systems, they fell out of favour not too long after their initial experimental phase. The Terranauts takes one such experiment, Biosphere II in Arizona, as its source material.
Following two participants of the experiment, Dawn Chapman and Ramsay Roothorp, and one team member left outside the dome, Linda Ryu, the narrative flows between the three narrators, presenting an interestingly skewed vision of the venture. Roothorp and Chapman (dubbed ‘Vodge’ and ‘E’ respectively) become one of the sexually active couples within the dome, whilst Linda is left bitter and resentful for having been left out of the team sent inside. She eventually shifts from initially being a close friend of the seemingly naive E, to a manipulative spy for the project’s management team. When E falls pregnant by Vodge, the three are drawn into the management team’s callous attempts to spin the potential crisis to its advantage. Boyle has created three great characters to drive his story – I found myself particularly intrigued by Vodge, who starts out as a seemingly stereotypical PR man, speaking in hollow industry jargon, only to quickly shift towards being someone far more anxiety-driven and quietly terrified of what lies ahead for him. Dawn and Linda’s relationship is handled with expertise, with its devolvement into nothing more than an extension of what the experiment has become drawn out effectively by the author.
To say that Boyle’s prose is evocative is somewhat of an understatement. Some authors can let you observe what’s going on in a room; Boyle drops you in the middle of the room. The Terranauts uses every bit of the novel to draw you in. Boyle’s prose fleshes out every bit of the biosphere and its inhabitants with ease – his three narrators are given just the right amount of space to develop and draw you in. If you’re interested in his work, this is a good jumping-on point, and I can easily recommend you give this book a read.