Book Review: Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Saga Press (August 13, 2019)
Length: 544 pages
Not that such a great book deserves to be pigeonholed in any way, but Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh is a bit of a tough one to categorize. Like its title, there’s an element of the illusory, a pensive quality about it that inspires wonderment and hope, loses you in thought. Yes, it is a space adventure, but one that emphasizes the human drama rather than the action, though the plot also features a space disaster twist towards the end. In addition, despite the central characters being all in their early twenties and the tone of the novel giving off strong young adult vibes, the story tackles mature themes in a thoughtful, eloquent manner, increasing its cross-genre appeal. Whatever it is, something about this book just really spoke to me, because I loved it.
Set in a more technologically advanced version of our present world, the novel follows six young candidates for a highly competitive British space exploration program to establish a colony on far-flung Terra-Two, a pristine Earth-like planet possessing ideal conditions for life. Having spent years studying at the Dalton Academy for Aerospace Science since they were preteens, our six astronaut hopefuls have trained their hearts out for the opportunity, beating out millions of others across the country. But just days before the launch of their space vessel Damocles, a sudden tragedy strikes, altering the course of the mission forever. At the last moment, a backup candidate named Jesse is tapped to be the hydroponics replacement on the program, joining five other exceptional prodigies: Harry, pilot extraordinaire and commander-in-training; Poppy, language expert and a natural spokeswoman for the group; Eliot, a budding engineer; and sisters Astrid and Juno, two extremely talented and brilliant young women who have worked their entire lives for Terra-Two, though for very different reasons. Along with a few adjustments to the command crew which consists of a team of older and more experienced astronauts, the mission is saved and allowed to move forward as planned.
However, with emotions already raw from having to leave their loved ones behind and knowing that they will all be living within the tight confines of a spaceship for the next twenty-three years, the original five young candidates aren’t feeling particularly welcome towards the newcomer, resenting him for the way he joined their program. With such a long journey ahead of them, Jesse hopes that he will eventually be accepted, though getting used to life aboard Damocles is proving to be a rough process, with homesickness, self-doubt, depression and other personal fears plaguing each of them in turn.
As you can probably tell, Do You Dream of Terra-Two is a story more about relationships and the human experience than it is about space travel, even though most of it takes place aboard a spaceship. Admittedly, the science fiction elements are on the lighter side, glossing over much of the physics and specific details as it relates to Terra-Two—including how scientists learned so much about such a distant world and the technology to reach it—by simply providing the explanation that science has come a lot further in a much shorter period time in this universe than in ours. It also doesn’t explore the implications of this on other aspects of culture and society, leaving those areas hazy and indistinct.
At the same time, there’s an element of the mystical surrounding Terra-Two, going back to the namesake of our characters’ prestigious academy, Tessa Dalton. Long before anyone even knew to look for the planet, Tessa had visions of this untouched utopia in her dreams, and later when scientists found Terra-Two, they couldn’t help but notice the uncanny similarities to her descriptions. Consequently, some called Tessa a prophet, while others chalked her clairvoyance up to nothing more than mere coincidence and a chemical imbalance in the brain. But this background knowledge also sets a precedent for the dreams and visions our characters experience in this book, leaving readers speculating why it is happening and what it could mean.
But like I said, the focus is mainly on the dynamics between the six young adults of our crew, all of them starry-eyed, lacking in self-discipline and life experience, barely out of their late teens—what could go wrong? Except, of course, all these developments make for a fascinating, engaging read. The book addresses a number of topics including the yearning for social acceptance, dealing with feelings of inadequacy, mental health issues as a result of crushing expectations, relationship woes, and fears of the unknown. True, all of these are relatively common themes in coming-of-age fiction, but to the author’s credit, she tackles these conflicts in a way that doesn’t trivialize or overplay very real problems for the sake of sensationalism. The members of our young crew are all phenomenally fleshed out and fully realized, each one of them a complex individual with his or her own unique dreams, desires, and motivations. Just when you think they start to fall into predictable patterns, you learn something new about them that makes you change your perspective and view them in a whole new light.
As you know, stories that are first and foremost concerned with characters are very much my cup of tea, so despite some of its more vague and unconvincing aspects, I still felt a deep and irresistible connection to this novel. I also think it’s important to look at the big picture and recognize the kind of story Temi Oh wanted to tell. After finishing this book, I believe the concept of Terra-Two and the premise of traveling there was merely a backdrop for what truly mattered—the people and the lessons they learn about themselves.
And so, it’s probably no surprise that I, being a huge fan of books devoted to telling human stories, absolutely adored Do You Dream of Terra-Two? If you enjoy character-oriented tales with interesting relationships dynamics and lots of personal growth, then this is one you can’t afford to miss. A genuinely beautiful, emotional, and inspiring novel, this one moved me deeply and kept me riveted from beginning to end.