“Every two hours Michael Collins had gone out of radio contact for forty-eight minutes when the moon stood between himself and Earth, and during those minutes he was the most alone person in the history of people. Helen still liked to think about that. That had always been her dream: space, not a location within it, just space.”
Helen, Sergei, and Yoshi are accomplished astronauts chosen by private company Prime Space to embark on the first manned mission to Mars. As part of the initial testing and preparation, they must undergo a 17-month simulation of the expedition, during which the astronauts will face a series of challenges, but none are more challenging than those they face in their own minds. Meanwhile the loved ones closest to the astronauts struggle with their own challenges of facing the separation and figuring out who they are and who they want to be.
The publishers marketed this book as a cross between The Martian and Station Eleven. Readers who crave more of the former will be sorely disappointed. This book has little humor, minimal hard science and engineering, and no sense of urgency. Instead is has the slow and steady pace of introspection. It is much more a character study than a plot driven story.
Despite the slow pace, the writing kept me engaged. The characters were as much a mystery to me as they were to themselves, and it was interesting to experience them unfolding and eventually reaching a deeper sense of understanding, which made for a satisfying ending.
A major concept in the book is the idea that we have multiple versions of ourselves and that we consciously choose to show one face or another to in different situations. The astronauts struggle to put only their most capable and controlled selves forward as they are under constant observation and exist in very tight quarters. Their family on the outside tries to be who they think they are supposed to be, which increases their struggle to be honest and true to themselves. It’s a fascinating concept to me and one to which I relate.
The story presents an interesting juxtaposition of characters that prepare for the new exploration of a planet while simultaneously embarking on new explorations of who they are at their current points in life and in relation to others. Not much happens, but it is a lovely, imaginative, and clever book about the journey of human introspection and relationships.
4 out of 5 stars