The Terranauts

Ecco: HarperCollins. Oct. 2016. 528p. ISBN 9780062349408. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062349460. F
OrangeReviewStarSet in 1994, this book offers a fresh take on an old conceit: assemble a disparate group of people, put them in a secluded environment, and see what ensues. In this case, the setting is E2, a sealed, Biosphere-like artificial ecological system. In a project led by Jeremiah Reed, part ecological visionary and part huckster, the eight scientists, or "terranauts," as they've been dubbed, picked for Mission Two will live for two years in a three-acre artificial earth. The story is told through the divergent perspectives of three participants: Dawn Chapman, the attractive young ecologist and animal keeper; Ramsay Roothoorp, the slick-surfaced communications officer and ladies' man; and Linda Ryu, Dawn's presumptive best friend, who was left off the project and is constantly scheming to get inside—generally at Dawn's expense. What begins in the throes of ecological idealism eventually devolves into petty squabbles and infighting, especially after Dawn becomes pregnant by Ramsay and decides to have her baby inside E2.
VERDICT 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. [See Prepub Alert, 4/3/16.]
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