Summary and book reviews of The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle

The Terranauts

by T.C. Boyle

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

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Book Reviewed by:
James Broderick

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Book Summary

A deep-dive into human behavior in an epic story of science, society, sex, and survival, from one of the greatest American novelists today, T. C. Boyle.

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 ecovisionary 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.

Part I
PRE-CLOSURE

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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The book flap promises "an epic story of science, society, sex, and survival," and though one expects a bit of hyperbole from a publisher's marketing department, I couldn't help but wonder if the person writing that had read even a little of the novel, as The Terranauts is not in any way "epic." In fact, it's the opposite; it's a book of very small, closely observed moments. Regular readers of Boyle's fiction will recognize a few of his pet themes at work here: the consequences of thoughtless consumerism, the obsession with youth and physical beauty, and the precariousness of mental stability. Among his recurrent obsessions, though, it's his urgent environmentalism that finds the most unalloyed expression in The Terranauts, a passion that sometimes tiptoes to the very brink of stridency   (Reviewed by James Broderick).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Amid the changing allegiances and alliances, sex eventually has consequences, though the reader wearied by two years of this might not much care.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A sprawling tale of achievement, yearning, pride, and human weakness...a multilayered work that recalls the tragicomic realism of Saul Bellow and John Updike.

Booklist

Starred Review. A virtuoso storyteller and a connoisseur of hubris, Boyle mesmerizes and provokes...Boyle is a literary star, and an all-points publicity campaign and author tour will launch this shrewd and irresistible novel of ambition and folly.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Beneath the high-tech sheen is a rather old-fashioned theme: how idealistic enterprises can crumble owing to the foibles and fragility of human nature. This is one of Boyle's best - and quite possibly one of the best of the year

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Beyond the Book

Biosphere 2

In Oracle, Arizona, sits one of the more intriguing experiments in "closed-system" science ever devised: Biosphere 2, which forms the backdrop for the novel, The Terranauts. Originally built to demonstrate that humans could construct and live sustainably for long periods in an artificially created world, the huge glass domes that make up the structure no longer host human inhabitants. However, far from becoming a white elephant, Biosphere 2 remains an active laboratory for scientific research and outreach, hosting visitors ranging from elementary schools to post-graduate scientific researchers.

Biosphere 2Construction of Biosphere 2, which began in 1987, took four years. Shortly after it was completed, a group of eight researchers entered the ...

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