god help me, Lauren Kate is messing with Atlantis now. WHYYYYYYYYY. (and man - I've read some stupid-sounding synopses in my time, but that one takes t...moregod help me, Lauren Kate is messing with Atlantis now. WHYYYYYYYYY. (and man - I've read some stupid-sounding synopses in my time, but that one takes the cake. Her tears can raise the lost continent? The love interest makes her want to cry? holy fuck. Scraping the bottom of the barrel at the book packaging company, are we?)(less)
This book reeks of 'first novel' like a 12 year-old boy who just discovered cologne reeks of Axe.
Like most such works, the author's intent is visible...moreThis book reeks of 'first novel' like a 12 year-old boy who just discovered cologne reeks of Axe.
Like most such works, the author's intent is visible beneath the slipshod execution. Dom Testa has an interesting idea here, with the concept of a spaceship full of teenagers being sent away from Earth as a last resort in response to a disaster. He's given the situation some thought - though not nearly enough, and logic often buckles in the face of plot necessity here. With a few more rounds of heavy edits, this would probably be a very good book!
But that is, sadly, not the case.
Let's start with something that's becoming a running pet peeve for me in YA science fiction: a lack of solid science. Here, the most clear manifestation is in the Bhaktul Disease which infects the adult population of the planet - but which, apparently, waits patiently for young people to have their eighteenth birthdays before attacking them. I've ranted about this extensively in my review of Lauren DeStefanon's Wither, so I'm not going to go into it here but: that's really not how it works. (it's worth noting that Testa could salvage this in later books by, say, having one of the 16 year-olds onboard the Galahad develop the disease, and thereby making the age cutoff softer than it is described here, but I won't be reading further to find out if he does and, frankly, I don't think it's very likely.) I'm willing to handwave a lot of things in sci-fi - sentient AI, aliens, hyperspace travel, whatever - but this isn't one of them. The end results - that all of the main characters are under 17 - don't help, as they make Bhaktul's characteristics seem even more contrived.
Much bigger than the scientific failures, however, are the logical failures. 251 people is far too small a population from which to rebuild a species - there's not nearly enough genetic diversity. Also, some of them are bound to start on that species-rebuilding thing before they get there. You really can't put 251 teenagers in an enclosed space for five years and not expect some of them to have sex. Since space seems to be at a premium in the ship (enough that most of the kids have roommates) that could pose a problem. The ship has no internal surveillance, which I find really weird - they're bound to have conflicts and problems, but will have no record if, say, someone gets into a fight in a corridor somewhere. The AI that controls the ship (and which presumably is the basis of all computing function onboard) doesn't know the content of emails until they're sent directly to it, which makes no sense, especially as it's the nearest the Galahad has to an adult presence. For that matter, there are numerous mentions of a space station from which Galahad was constructed - as it seems to have existed before the ship did, there should have been adults living aboard it at the time Comet Bhaktul passed through Earth's atmosphere who could have been sent on the mission along with the teenagers. Galahad is apparently supposed to educate its passengers so well that they could have earned four college degrees - but there's no mention of any sort of onboard laboratory for learning practical, necessary skills in biology, chemistry, and physics. None of them seem to have had any combat training - Roc, the AI, comments "Ninjas, you're not" at one point - despite the fact that they're very likely to face hostile natural predators when they reach their destination, and a working knowledge of weaponry and martial arts would be useful.They supposedly won't be exposed to any germs of any kind while onboard, which makes me concerned for their immune systems when they reach Eos. The ship has onboard farms, but there's no mention of a source of protein whatsoever - are they gonna be eating reprocessed jerky for five years?
I just don't see this mission succeeding, given what the narrative shows of it. It tells a completely different story, of course, but that's no help. You can tell me the sky is green all you want, but if I look up and see blue I'm going to ignore you. I feel much the same about Testa's depiction of the Galahad - I'm being told it's well-designed, well-prepared, that everything has been considered - but that doesn't match what I'm being shown at all.
Actually, telling instead of showing is a chronic problem throughout this book. The biggest problem is that of the ship, of course, but it crops up repeatedly around the romantic subplots as well. At two major points, we are informed point-blank that characters have feelings for each other. There's no development, no demonstration of why - the second such instance even more so than the first - and no nuance. It's not at all believable, and it damages the characterization of everyone involved, making them seem more like cardboard cutouts and less like people.
And speaking of cardboard cutouts... the antagonists of this book are, frankly, an utter disaster. One of them is Tyler Scofield, a scientist who objects stridently to the Galahad project, for reasons which are completely illogical. It's stated in text once that he objected to kids being taken away from their families in a time of need - regardless of the fact that those families and those kids chose their situation. He also says once that he was "trying to save" the teenagers - but if they'd stayed on Earth they would have had to watch their loved ones die horribly before succumbing to the disease themselves, in a world which by that time would have already fallen apart. The problem here is partly that there are legitimate objections to a project like this. Scofield would be perfectly justified in focusing his resistance around the resources being diverted to Galahad, which could be used in searching for a cure or even in trying to establish habitations on the moon (a possibility established when Testa mentioned another character having worked on designing such buildings). He could have argued that they should try to save more than 251 kids. He could have objected to the consequences of the selection process: weeding out certain genetic traits by rejecting applicants to the program bears no small similarity to eugenics. (Testa brings this up briefly and handwaves it away, which was very unsatisfactory to me.) Moreover, all of the kids who show up in the book speak perfect English, and it's doubtful they could have picked that up in two years of preparation - was there, then, selection for language skills at an early stage of the process? Because that seems like something Scofield's opposition could have built a real campaign out of. The second antagonist is even more frustrating than Scofield in his illogical behavior. In context it's excused by the effects of Bhaktul disease, but from a writing standpoint that's no excuse. The 'inexplicably crazy and irrational' villain is a cheap trick at best, a lazy fallback at worst, and here it feels like the second. He argues that the kids on the Galahad deserve to die because they're selfish for taking a chance to escape Earth that required the contribution of thousands of people who didn't get the same opportunity, but he's perfectly willing to make all of that work and the billions of dollars involved completely meaningless. His motivations don't even rise to the level of 'murky'; they're flat-out not there. He's irrational - not as a person, but as a character - and because he falls so flat, the final confrontation has no tension to it whatsoever.
Perhaps the most annoying of Testa's writing choices (and that's saying a lot, because this book was really annoying) is the AI that runs the ship, Roc. He acts as a sort of narrator for the story, breaking the fourth wall on a regular basis to address the reader, and while the idea is a clever one, it doesn't work out. Roc frequently withholds information from the reader, or just plain doesn't know, and it doesn't come off as clever or witty. Despite the fact that the prologue establishes all of his narration as happening after the fact of the story, we still get sentences like "You and I have the same information, so we'll both have to puzzle it out". The structure of the books and his narration tells us that this is completely false. It's only there so Testa can have his cake and eat it too - have both the wisecracking, omniscent narrator and the narrative tension of the unknown. (This seems to be the reason the ship has no cameras or security systems, as well.) It's a cheap trick. Even cheaper is the last chapter, where the character of Roc lists out the ongoing conflicts that the Galahad crew will have to face and, after each, says "you'll have to read on". It ends with "And neither you nor I will know until The Web of Titan" which, of course, is the title of the next book. Look. There's legitimate reasons for a writer to break the fourth wall. It can be a really clever narrative trick and completely change the shape of the book. But this? This is worse than cheap. The only word that comes to mind is 'money-grubbing'. Now, everyone's got to eat and I don't begrudge Testa wanting to sell his books, but having one of his characters namedrop the title of the sequel is incredibly tacky and tasteless.
Needless to say, I am more than done with this series, and my copy of the first book is going into the 'sell' box.
(p.s. dear TOR Teen, please stop putting reader's guides in the back of your YA publications. It's pretty goddamn patronizing. Save them for middle grade books, if then.)(less)