The Earth is in environmental collapse. The future of humanity hangs in the balance. But a team of women are preparing to save it. Even if they’ll need to steal a spaceship to do it. The elevator pitch for this book perked me up instantly. Imminent climate catastrophe, a crack team of all female astronauts and grand theft auto on an interstellar scale? I’m in. Sadly, this story just didn’t end up pulling me in. Usually if I don’t enjoy a book it’s because I think the writing is bad or the characters are two dimensional, some craft reason I can point to and say here’s is why I this book isn’t good. With Goldilocks though, I don’t even think it’s a bad book; it just didn’t work for me. Let me try and pick apart why.
First off I just didn’t get the narrative structure right off the bat. The book opens far after the events of the main plot line of the book have taken place, with the main character, Naomi Lovelace, in the throes of old age, finally relenting to tell the full story of her life to her daughter, who is ostensibly the narrator. I’m not against that in principle, but it felt so out of place here given that the rest of the story is just told in close third person from Naomi’s perspective and there’s no more reference to this narrative device until the final chapter, when whoops, we’re reminded again that this was Naomi’s daughter telling the story all along. I just found it incredibly jarring and pointless. On top of that, just before we dive into the main story, there’s the old “We’ll start at the beginning” line, except it’s really not the beginning at all because the story proceeds to jump back in time again to many years prior. Look, I love a good non-linear story as much as the next guy and think it would still have worked well here, if it wasn’t for the first chapter that just made everything afterwards feel weird to me.
Another unfortunate aspect of the story being told via an intermediary and far removed in time from the events of the story was that I just didn’t feel connected to what was happening from the get go. There are other books that have done this well (Nghi Vo’s The Empress of Salt and Fortune does it masterfully) but for me Laura Lam just didn’t quite manage it. I actually think I would have enjoyed the book a lot more if I hadn’t immediately been thrown off in the first few chapters.
That being said, the content of the plot and the detail of the world building was super interesting. From massive sea walls off the coast of California to slow the rising sea levels to state-mandated mask-wearing (ahem) to protect against air pollution and from vat-grown babies to an operational Alcubierre drive to achieve FTL travel, there’s a lot going on in the background of this story. Some of it is done well and I appreciated the detail, but parts also felt a bit too hasty and left me feeling a bit unsatisfied with what could have been explored. But hey, Laura for sure knew what story she wanted to tell and it’s not objectively bad that she devoted more time to exploring the parts she wanted to explore. The one thing I felt really did deserve more attention was just how the women managed to steal a fucking spaceship without anyone noticing or being able to stop them in time. Launching a shuttle isn’t like hotwiring a car, that shit’s gotta take time and set off all kinds of instruments and technological gadgets that’s gonna alert someone. It’s kind of waved away as AI took care of all the stuff required for launch which, ok fine, it’s a plot device and there’d be no story if these guys got busted before getting the shuttle off the ground. I just felt, given how much detail was put into other aspects of the story, this part felt a bit too rushed and hand-wavy.
I think an inevitable repercussion of having a wobbly start with a book is that it makes you less forgiving of other minor things you may have otherwise been more forgiving of. Psychologically it means that once you’re a bit down on it from the start, it’s much harder for the story to dig itself back out of the hole and get you back on track. I’m consciously aware of that, which is why I would still recommend this book to certain people despite not really enjoying it myself. Comps for this book have described it as The Handmaids Tale meets The Martian and that sounds pretty darn accurate and, while I personally just didn’t manage to gel with it, I think if you’re looking for a bit of a dark, feminist, near-future science fiction story there’s definitely a lot to like in here for you.
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