Simon & Schuster | 2019 (7 March) | 528p | Review copy | Buy the book
With time running out for Earth, humanity has been sent a lifeline for its future. Another planet just like Earth but without intelligent life has been discovered, Terra-Two. A new 21st-century space race is underway to reach it first. The best chance lies with the United Kingdom and, after decades of planning, the launch date has arrived and it all seems serendipitous because the year is 2012 and Britain is also hosting the Olympic Games. It’s a time for celebration. An unusual crew will leave Earth on the Damocles for the 23-year journey to Terra-Two – four are decorated veterans of the previous century’s space race, the other six are teenagers, each uniquely skilled, having been trained for years in the famous Dalton Academy.
Each crew member knows that they will never return to Earth. They’ll never see their families and loved ones again. And for 23 years they won’t see the sky, eat tasty food or feel the ground under their feet. There are some big personalities, some are dealing with powerful emotions, a strong sense of loss and, trapped within the confines of a spacecraft for such a long journey, it will not all be plain sailing. One or two of them dream of Terra-Two, with its beautiful coral seas and ancient forests, while others resent it and see nothing but a nightmare ahead.
Do You Dream of Terra-Two? begins with the days leading up to the launch of the Damocles and it’s during these pages, before the voyage begins, that we get to know our young crew members, all in their late teens, on the very edge of adulthood. The decisions they have made are life-changing and affect everything, including whether they will become parents. It’s a mighty burden for such young shoulders to bear and we see how each of them copes with it. For some there is a real sense of destiny about the voyage and this adds such a purpose to their lives. It’s not so straightforward for others. There is real conflict between the characters, particularly between the boys. Harry, the commander in training, dominates, while Poppy, the communications officer, steals attention. Among the others is a set of twin girls and this adds more tension while also continuing the theme of family which plays such a strong part in the novel.
The focus of the book is actually not on Terra-Two, or even really the voyage. It’s on the dynamic of the young crew – their dreams and aspirations, their fears and doubts, their youth. The launch itself happens a quarter of the way into the book but by then much has happened to our young crew. I must admit that I was expecting more science fiction than I was given but I was nevertheless drawn into the story of these young lives, with their squabbles and affections, rivalries and brave deeds. The narrative moves between them, which means that we’re brought into their small circle. We see different perspectives on the same event. It helps us understand a little more about how they behave.
I did find the premise a little unlikely, that teenagers would be given such stress, such a burden to carry and would be left to prepare a planet for the next arrivals, having spent so many years in such a confined social space. It seems unlikely to succeed. But, as I mentioned, the voyage isn’t what really matters here, it’s the teenagers who count. The novel also takes place in a slightly adjusted reality – we learn that rockets were first used during the Napoleonic Wars, Mars and the Moon have been colonised, there are other ships travelling in the solar system. Countries are more competitive than ever. But while the UK, China and Russia are prominent, the USA barely gets a mention. I did find this alternate history slightly under developed and a bit strange. I wondered why the story couldn’t have been set a little into the future instead, avoiding the need for it. Also, the adult crew members receive very little attention and are very much fixed in the schoolteacher mode. This is because the author’s focus is elsewhere, but it did contribute to my feeling that this is a novel mostly intended for young readers.
However, I found Do You Dream of Terra-Two? an engrossing and, at times, exciting read. Despite my issues with the novel I did get carried along by its tension and pace and there are moments of real emotion. The character portraits of the teenagers are very fine and I definitely cared for them. There is also some great writing here, the descriptions of the launch, of space and of the Damocles are very well done and the mood, a good mix of despair and hope, is maintained throughout.