Looking back on the last few weeks, I’m not really sure where I’ve been. I suppose with the car crash, the sunny weather among other things have made it difficult for me to concentrate on writing. I’ve done a fair amount of reading though, and the books I’ve been reading have been very enjoyable and have stretched my understanding and imagination further. The most recent of those being The Wanderers by: Meg Howrey.
On the surface, this book is science fiction. We follow a team of astronauts, their families and the company they work for as they hold a simulation for a trip to Mars. The whole simulation is more thorough than one can imagine, featuring a 17-month isolation and most of it spent in the ship they will take. The thought is that by having the training be as close to the real thing as possible, there will be less room for error when the real trip to Mars takes place.
The main characters are Helen Kane, Yoshi Tanaka, and Sergei Kuznetsov. This team from different countries has been brought together based on studies of group interactions and the experiences of each. They are designed to be the perfect team of astronauts. Helen is an American, a mother and a trailblazer in space discovery. Yoshi is Japanese, a husband and has a romantic way of viewing the world. Sergei is a Russian, divorce and is acutely aware of what is expected of him from the project.
The story changes perspectives often, and you get to know these characters quite intimately. As they prepare for the mission and eventually endure the isolation, you get a close look at how it is affecting them and their relationships. It is really interesting to watch as the astronauts interact with each other, and how they deal with the tight quarters. Sporadically the reader is also treated chapters from other perspectives. A few of these include Yoshi’s wife, Helen’s daughter, and Sergei’s son. We learn how they are effected by the long absence, and how their lives proceed without their family members.
The characters were very interesting because they were each unique. I enjoyed learning about the affects of their previous space trips, particularly between Helen and her daughter. The daughter feels she is smothered by the enormity of her mother’s accomplishments, and struggles to create her own path while also forgiving her mother for the absences in her life. This was the dynamic I enjoyed the most.
Also, the relationship between Yoshi and his wife was very interesting. They are childless and so their lives are very much devoted to each other. The separations are tough on them, but it also allows them to flourish in their own ways.
What made this novel really fascinating was the deep dive that Meg Howrey took into the human psyche. Howrey did an excellent job in exploring how the isolation and stress of a mission to Mars would affect a crew. By switching perspectives, you could see how it was affecting them and their interactions with one another. It’s not a secret that humans don’t do well in such isolation, but these astronauts were up against some challenges I don’t think about often. Like when and where to go to the bathroom or shower, and the emotional stress of knowing your loved ones are across the solar system and there is the possibility of not returning.
This was so convincing for both the astronauts and the readers because the simulations are so thorough. At the beginning, we are reminded that this is a practice run, and that they will ‘go for real’ at a later time. But as the novel advances, this slips away. There are not as many references to the trial run, and the astronauts don’t even correct themselves as often. Howrey also clever sows seeds of doubt to the reader as the astronauts begin to question their mission as well.
On a grading scale, this was about a 94 for me. I very much enjoyed the story and it’s elements. I didn’t particularly love any of the characters, but I found them interesting from an objective standpoint. I will be keeping this one, I think Logan will enjoy it a lot and I think I will enjoy reading it another time to see if I can come to a definite conclusion about the mission and it’s purpose. I think anyone with an interest in psychology and/or science fiction would enjoy this.