This Week’s Word Is “Goldilocks”
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson was going to be hard to beat for my novel of the year. Yet, only two weeks later, I’ve found another book that riffs off a classic story, that may well be even better. Goldilocks by Laura Lam is a smart science thriller, that thrills like Andy Weir’s The Martian. Whilst perhaps less cerebral than Frankissstein, Goldilocks is riveting from the first page to last. It will leave you breathless, horrified, and rooting for its hero.
What is Goldilocks?
Being a science fiction novel, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Goldilocks is not so much about three bears, but relates to everything being “just right.” Set at some point in the nearish future, humanity has discovered faster than light travel (via a working Alcubierre drive) and found a nearish planet that supports just the right conditions to support human life. In other words, a Goldilocks Planet.
Earth, meanwhile, has become too hot. Runaway greenhouse gases are cooking the planet. Air quality is awful and sea levels are rising. Scientists predict that the Earth has no more than 30 years before global society collapses. This means that getting to the planet of Cavendish is vital for the survival of the human race. The spaceship “Atalanta” is primed and ready to go but there’s a catch.
Whilst the planet has been gradually cooking itself, the political situation in the US has lurched far to the right. Under the guise of population control, child taxes and vital family allowances have pushed women back into the home. They have gradually been forced out of top jobs across the US, including those at NASA. The original planned female members of the Atalanta crew have been replaced by men.
As Goldilocks opens, a group of 5 women is set to hijack the craft and head off towards Cavendish.
Spearheaded by a tough astronaut and head of a billion-dollar robotics company, Valerie Black, the team is made up of 5 talented women overlooked by NASA on the basis of gender. These women will spend the next few years together, first onboard the spaceship, then on the virgin territory of Cavendish, as they try to make it habitable for the rest of humanity.
But what of Earth, how will they react to this Grand Theft Spaceship? And what of the secrets held by the crew? What effect will they have on their vital mission?
The narrative forms a mostly linear timeline following the path of the spaceship away from Earth towards Cavendish. It is told by crew-member Naomi, who is responsible for growing the crew’s food, and populating Cavendish with crops once they arrive. She’s the daughter of team-leader Valerie and harbors a secret of her own. She peppers her narrative of life on the Atalanta with flashbacks telling how she became an astronaut, and how she ended up part of the stowaway team.
Why Read Goldilocks?
Goldilocks is phenomenally good. Much like The Martian, it hits that sweet spot between intriguing science and nailbiting plot. But, even better than The Martian, are the more traditional thriller aspects of the plot. There is skullduggery going on here and Goldilocks becomes impossible to put down as the story plays itself out.
I can’t give too much away about what happens in the novel, as I don’t want to spoil the impact of its reveals, but I don’t think it’s saying too much to let you know that the women who commandeer the ship are surprised to discover that there is a cryogenically frozen reserve (all-male) crew on board. This will all be fine, as long as they stay frozen…
The surprises come thick and fast and they leave you hanging out for more with every turn of the page.
I enjoyed Naomi’s narration. We learn her secrets before the rest of the crew and as things start to slide, we admire her resourcefulness as she tries to maintain the mission and battle with her own personal issues, particularly those with her mother.
As the novel progresses, moral and ethical decisions need to be made, based on both science and politics. It also becomes apparent that the “pure” vision of the 5 woman team was adulterated from the beginning. Tough choices need to be made by Atalanta’s inhabitants that will affect them and the rest of humanity. You feel every decision with them.
Goldilocks is a strangely prescient novel, and not just because the world it depicts has suffered from pandemics in the intervening years between now and when its events take place. It proposes a world on the brink, one that does not heed its warnings. One that does not try to reverse the effects of climate change. It feels like we may be at that point. The current global pandemic feels like an opportunity for some self-reflection and contemplation. The warnings are there, but will we heed them? Goldilocks offers a glimpse of what might happen if we don’t but I suspect a working Albucierre drive will not be there to save us.
With its taut mix on ethical conundra and thrilling plot, Goldilocks is a special novel. It’s the most compelling read I’ve had in quite some time and I whole-heartedly recommend it. It deserves to be a bestseller everywhere.
If you enjoyed this review, do check out my other Word Wednesday reviews.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review.