Temi Oh’s Do You Dream of Terra-Two? is a standalone science fiction novel.
By 2012, breakneck technological development may not have solved problems like global warming, but it has given humans access to the Solar System and beyond. The United Kingdom’s Space Agency has the means to reach the nearest habitable exoplanet, Terra-Two. However, the trip will take more than twenty years.
The solution? Send kids.
While the senior crew of the Damocles are all seasoned space veterans, the Beta crew spent their teen years being trained for the mission. They are the lucky few, chosen from many qualified candidates.
Or at least the Betas thought they were lucky. After setting out, after experiencing the isolation and boring routine of spaceflight, the Betas begin to understand that they might not have been. Nor are they at all sure what they will face when they reach Terra-Two. This is not the first crewed mission to set out for Terra-Two. The first mission fell silent years ago, while still en-route. Who is to say that Damocles will be more successful?
Will Damocles even manage to exit the Solar System before crew discord divides them, and unanticipated disaster strikes?
My reactions to this novel fall into two categories: stuff that baffled me and stuff I didn’t like. Some elements of the novel fell into both categories.
Some of you may have assumed the 2012 in the synopsis was a typo. Not so. This is a world much like ours, but different in that propulsion technology advanced far more rapidly than it did in our own world. As a result, crewed missions around the Solar System are now comparatively routine (on par with Antarctic expeditions a century ago), rudimentary terraforming has begun on Europa, and crewed interstellar missions are just on the edge of doable.
Inexplicably, none of the aforementioned achievements have changed history as it developed in our world. Same major events, even some of the same prominent people. The world of the novel is coping with catastrophic climate change, even though one might expect that the development of alternative sources of power (like fusion) would have decreased fossil fuel use.
I have no idea why the author set their book in 2012. Every time I saw a date, I was yanked out of the story.
There are other odd inconsistencies with the world as we know it. According to the novel, Terra-Two is located in a star system that is the second-closest star system to our Sun (the closest is Alpha Centauri). The star is a binary. But in our world, the second-closest system to the Sun is Barnard’s Star, a rather old red dwarf singleton. Terra-Two is stated to be three light-years away, which is some 1.3 light-years closer than Alpha Centauri’s current position. Are these mistakes? Or did the author have a reason to tweak facts? If the author wanted a multiple star system with stars much like our Sun, why not use Alpha Centauri?
Odd world building choices aside, there’s nothing wrong with the basic concept of a group of naïve kids sent off to explore an alien world — or at least discover ways to fail at exploring an alien world1. A setting in which characters are confined to a spacecraft for twenty-plus years would offer lots of scope for character studies. But that’s not what we get. The reality of their situation is still sinking in2 when a rather contrived in-flight mishap provides Apollo-13-esque drama.
I picked this up based on rave reviews. I am left wondering what those reviewers saw that I don’t.
1: This isn’t me reading stuff into the text. The odds of the mission succeeding in its primary goals are not great. It’s a one-way mission so everyone will die on the planet … even they arrive there. Probably the architects of the mission have made the same calculation the figures in Rocket Girls, that anyone can die at any time and it’s better to die striving towards a great goal than to die when run over while crossing the street.
2: One teen recruit to the Beta team commits suicide before the spacecraft departs. Not only does the rest of their cohort have to deal with the unexpected loss, the Betas aren’t all that keen on the last minute replacement.