Under the Microscope

In his new novel, The Terranauts (Ecco), T.C. Boyle takes the old writing truism “kill your darlings” and wonders, what if he did everything but? His characters are repeatedly brought to the edge of survival: deprived of food and oxygen, threatened by climate change and natural disaster, and even scrutinized under the media microscope-to say nothing of emotional and sexual turmoil. If it’s any consolation, these characters are willing participants. They are subjects in an ambitious experiment, in which eight intrepid scientists live in a sealed terrarium-like compound known as E2 for two years to see if life on other planets might one day be possible. The book is told from three points of view: Dawn and Ramsay, two incorrigible lovers living inside the glass enclosure, and Linda, a bitter scientist passed over for the mission and relegated to monitoring from the outside. Boyle mines his subjects like lab rats, exploring their interpersonal drama to consider humanity at large, in all our vulnerability and strength, and all our wondrous, absurd, awe-inspiring glory.