Excerpt from The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Terranauts

by T.C. Boyle

The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle X
The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2016, 528 pages
    Oct 2017, 528 pages


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James Broderick
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Part I

Dawn Chapman

We were discouraged from having pets — or, for that matter, husbands or even boyfriends, and the same went for the men, none of whom were married as far as anybody knew. I think Mission Control would have been happier if we didn't have parents or siblings either, but all of us did, with the exception of Ramsay, an only child whose parents had been killed in a head-on collision when he was in the fourth grade. I often wondered if that had been a factor in the selection process — in his favor, I mean — because it was apparent he was lacking in certain key areas and to my mind, at least on paper, he was the weakest link of the crew. But that wasn't for me to say — Mission Control had their own agenda and for all our second-guessing, we could only put our heads down and hope for the best. As you can imagine, we all sweated out the selection process — during the final months it seemed like we did nothing else — and though we were a team, though we pulled together and had been doing so through the past two years of training, the fact remained that of the sixteen candidates only eight would make the final cut. So here was the irony: while we exuded team spirit, we were competing to exude it, our every thought and move duly noted by Mission Control. What did Richard, our resident cynic, call it? A Miss America pageant without the Miss and without the America.

I don't recall the specific date now, and I should, I know I should, just to keep the record straight, but it was about a month before closure when we were called in for our final interviews. A month seems about right, time enough to spread the word and generate as much press as possible over the unveiling of the final eight — any earlier and we ran the risk of overkill, and of course Mission Control was sensitive about that because of what fell out with the first mission. So it would have been February. A February morning in the high desert, everything in bloom with the winter rains and the light spread like a soft film over the spine of the mountains. There would have been a faint sweetness to the air, a kind of dry rub of sage and burnt sugar, something to savor as I made my way over to the cafeteria for an early breakfast. I might have stopped to kick off my flip-flops and feel the cool granular earth between my toes or watch the leaf-cutter ants in their regimented march to and from the nest, both inside my body and out of it at the same time, a female hominid of breeding age bent over in the naturalist's trance and wondering if this earth, the old one, the original one, would still be her home in a month's time.

The fact was, I'd been up since four, unable to sleep, and I just wanted to be alone to get my thoughts together. Though I wasn't really hungry — my stomach gets fluttery when I'm keyed up — I forced myself to eat, pancakes, blueberry muffins, sourdough toast, as if I were carbo-loading for a marathon. I don't think I tasted any of it. And the coffee. I probably went through a whole cup, sip by sip, without even being conscious of it, and that was a habit I was trying to curtail because if I was selected — and I would be, I was sure of it, or that was what I told myself anyway — I'd have to train my system to do without. I hadn't brought a book, as I usually did, and though the morning's paper was there on the counter I never even glanced at it. I just focused on eating, fork to mouth, chew, swallow, repeat, pausing only to cut the pancakes into bite-sized squares and lift the coffee cup to my lips. The place was deserted but for a couple of people from the support staff gazing vacantly out the windows as if they weren't ready to face the day. Or maybe they were night shift, maybe that was it.

Somewhere in there, mercifully, my mind went blank and for maybe a split second I'd forgotten about what was hanging over us, but then I glanced up and there was Linda Ryu coming across the room to me, a cup of tea in one hand and a glazed donut in the other. You probably don't know this — most people don't — but Linda was my best friend on the extended crew and I can't really explain why, other than that we just happened to hit it off, right from day one. We were close in age — her thirty-two to my twenty-nine — but that didn't really explain anything since all the female candidates were more or less coevals, ranging from the youngest at twenty-six (Sally McNally, who didn't stand a chance) to forty (Gretchen Frost, who did, because she knew how to suck up to Mission Control and held a Ph.D. in rain forest ecology).

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From The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle. Copyright © 2016 by T.C. Boyle. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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