Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Quiet Apocalypse

Good Morning, Midnight Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

T S Eliot wrote that the world would end with a whimper instead of a bang, but if you’re were in space or at the frozen wasteland at the top of the planet you might not even hear that much when it finally happens.

Augustine is an elderly astronomer who refuses to leave his Arctic research station after an unspecified world emergency causes the evacuation of everyone else there. He soon loses contact with the outside world, but a mysterious young girl becomes his only companion. Meanwhile, Sully is a female astronaut on the spaceship Aether that is returning from a mission to explore the moons of Jupiter, but they’ve lost all contact with Earth even though their equipment is functioning perfectly. The unsettling silence from home and what it means begins to deeply affect the crew.

Augustine and Sully, with one surrounded by ice and the other floating through a merciless vacuum, may be in vastly different circumstances, but they have a lot in common, too. They’re both people who deliberately avoided family entanglements and steady domestic lives to pursue their scientific dreams. In his younger days Augustine was always ready to move on to the next observatory once his chronic womanizing had worn out his welcome somewhere. Sully left her daughter in the care of her ex-husband to pursue her quest of going into space. Their isolation and fear make both of them reflect on their lives as they wonder if their choices had any meaning at all one way or another considering the now silent Earth.

This one belongs to be shelved along with other literary apocalypses like The Road or Station Eleven although this is definitely it’s own thing. (However, the cover certainly appears to be designed to evoke Station Eleven.) It’s extremely well written, and at about 250 pages it doesn’t have a wasted word. It’s by far the quietest end of the world story I’ve read, and that’s fitting with its settings as well as the lack of noise from Earth being the thing that lets you know something has gone terribly wrong.

It’s also got some nicely straightforward and pragmatic descriptions about the logistics of life in a mostly abandoned scientific station and a state of the art spaceship rocketing towards home. There’s enough to make both these places feel vivid, but whereas some books of this type become all about how you survive end-of-the-world scenarios this one keeps it focus on the inner lives of its two main characters which ends up being more compelling than how Augustine gets a snowmobile started or Sully helps fix a problem on her ship.

It’s the silence and the questions about what may have happened that lurk in the background here and give the book a haunting quality, but those questions end up being relatively unimportant. It’s the story of these two people and their deeper connections that really matters.

I received a free advanced copy of this for review from the publisher.

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