Soap opera, satire, and religious allegory find an uneasy balance within this earthbound version of a space colony.
There’s a lot of back story in the latest from the prolific, eclectic Boyle (The Harder They Come, 2015, etc.). As a scientific experiment in the “ecology of closed systems,” with lessons learned for when “we’d have to seed life elsewhere—on Mars, to begin with,” four men and four women are chosen by Mission Control (from 16 finalists) to live in a sealed compound in the Arizona desert for two years. They are designated “Mission Two” after an unfortunate accident aborted “Mission One.” Ultimately, the grand design calls for 50 such two-year missions, a full century of data collection. Three different first-person narrators provide alternating perspectives in separate chapters that advance the plot. Dawn and Ramsay have both been chosen, like the rest, because of media attractiveness to bring public support to an enterprise that relies on it, while Linda, a Korean-American also-ran who remains behind as a monitor on those under glass, feels like her looks and ethnicity have unfairly deprived her. Ramsay maintains that “there are winners and losers in life” and that Linda “was one of the losers.” Dawn and Linda have bonded throughout the training and selection process, but Linda now finds herself transitioning “from best friend to frenemy.” Though the plot also involves a God and a Judas in Mission Control, and eventually an Eve as well, the focus throughout these 500-plus pages rarely shifts from its central obsession: who among “what our species has come to consider prime breeding stock” will pair with whom? Those on the inside gossip and speculate, as does Mission Control, as does the public at large. “Since we were all unmarried, there was endless speculation in the press about which of us might pair up, one rag even going so far as to post odds,” writes Dawn.
Amid the changing allegiances and alliances, sex eventually has consequences, though the reader wearied by two years of this might not much care.