Deep Space: The Wanderers + Good Morning, Midnight

Outer space terrifies me; The endless darkness dotted with stars; The abyss expanding into infinity; Our galaxy and its periphery, the mystery of what lies beyond. I usually avoid books that delve into deep space, favoring novels grounded on earth, narratives stabilized by the world’s environment, oxygen, water, trees, and gravity. It was surprising to me, then, when I was drawn to and read two novels about space exploration in January. Perhaps even more surprising was that I enjoyed both.

The first was Meg Howrey’s The Wanderers (#5), a book author Ruth Ozeki said “left [her] awestruck.” The plot revolves around three seasoned astronauts as they embark on a simulated mission to Mars in the Utah desert. The simulation is meant to prepare them for the real thing, both the day-to-day mundane tasks and any possible complications that may arise one their long journey. Howrey excavates the working relationships and personal bonds that the astronauts develop with each other, and how they relate to and connect with family they’ve left at “home.” In an environment so manufactured and controlled, the astronauts’ complex and emotional humanness shines through. On the surface, the novel is about journeying to outer space, but at the core, it’s a novel about what makes us unique, what brings us together and what tears us apart, what makes us human, full of love and yearning, and inescapably fallible.

Good Morning, Midnight (#9) by Lily Brooks-Dalton approaches outer space and the fragility of Earth with a post-apocalyptic lens. In it, Augustine, an aged astronomer in the Arctic, declines the last plane back to civilization before the radio waves from the rest of the planet go eerily silent. While Augustine wrestles with his solitude and the vast snowy expanse around him, a team of astronauts aboard the Aether is on their way back to Earth from a mission to Jupiter. When their contacts on Earth stop responding, they know something horrible has happened, and are left to grapple with the loss of their families and the end of humanity as they know it from the outer reaches of space, where the bleak and infinite expanse around them is both a savior from whatever awaits them at home and an overwhelming, uninhabitable force.

Both of these novels intimate that at the heart of space exploration or any exhilarating and alienating mission into the unknown, is a desire to connect, with fellow humans, with a fear that dwells in the deep parts of the psyche, with undying hope, with a singular kind of aloneness, with mystery. And threaded through each of the plots is a longing for the familiar, a desire to return home, even when “home” is a big, vast planet, even when that home is forever changed, existing outside of time and space and only in memory.

#81 The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

33858905Available November 2017

The End We Start From begins with the birth of a child called Z, born in a storm-flooded near-future London to a woman and R, her partner. Z is both the end of the alphabet and a beginning; a child born to a new generation, one that will come of age in a dystopian UK where transience is necessary and survival is key.

Megan Hunter’s brief and lyrical first novel beautifully explores themes of motherhood, survival, death and renewal, and home, while layering in all-too-real environmental terror and post-apocalyptic realism. It’s minimal and poetic. A strong debut.


#55 The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

32912923Wow. This book kept me up past midnight, furiously flipping page after page towards the bloody end and listening intently to the creaks and noises in my silent house with wide open eyes.

Beth Lewis’ The Wolf Road is intense and unflinching, terrifying and great. Looking for a well-written and suspenseful beach read? Well, here you go. (Maybe don’t read it in the forest in the dark by yourself.)

Like Nettie Lonesome, the heroine in Lila Bowen’s Wake of Vultures, Lewis’ Elka is a strong young female protagonist fighting for survival and connection in a cruel, dangerous world. After a huge storm, Elka is taken in by Trapper, a quiet hunter harboring a secret. When Elka discovers the truth about Trapper, she escapes into the wilderness to survive. But will she survive with Trapper nipping at her heels?

The setting is post-apocalyptic, but not overtly so. The remote Canadian wilderness Elka escapes into is alive with trees and wildlife, but crater lakes formed by Russian bombs leak chemicals into the Earth, and mentions of old wars and bombs that destroyed large swaths of North America are peppered throughout the book and inform the fierce survivalist nature of the characters.