It’s time for my review of Goldilocks, by Laura Lam (bestselling author of Pantomime) and published by Headline. Read on to find out what I thought! This fair and unbiased review was conducted with gratitude for the free electronic copy of the book which I received.
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Taking its name from the so-called “Goldilocks zone” (the habitable orbit around a star), Goldilocks is part eco-thriller, part science fiction. Having long dreamed of going into space, Naomi Lovelace’s last chance to realise her ultimate ambition lies with her stepmother, Valerie Black. Valerie’s company has been researching how best to get humanity to the planet Cavendish, a potential fresh start for our species, having thoroughly befouled the Earth. However, women are increasingly being side-lined and kept down by men in positions of power, and the mission is taken out of Valerie’s control. New plans are drawn up that will see the ship crewed by an all-male contingent. Quite understandably, Valerie has other ideas, and having already picked her ideal crew, decides that their only option is to make off with the shiny new ship before anyone else gets their booted feet through the hatch. Grand theft spaceship, as one crew member refers to it.
Valerie’s handpicked all-female crew is five strong, consisting of her, Naomi (the ship’s botanist), defected cosmonaut Oksana Lebedeva, pilot Jerrie Hixon and her wife, Irene Hart. The relationships between the different crew members are well developed throughout, with all five of them distinct and believable characters. There is a great deal of history between Naomi and Valerie of course, and much of this is explored through flashback chapters interspersed throughout the main narrative. Not only do these explore the relationships between Naomi, Valerie and other characters, they also give valuable insight into their motivations, giving us a frame of reference for their actions onboard the Atalanta. As a helpful signpost, each chapter also begins by stating when it is set – eight years before launch, two days after launch, etc. These timestamps also heighten the sense of urgency in some of the later chapters, acting almost like a kind of countdown as events begin to unfold and the pressure mounts. This is where the thriller portion of the novel really comes to the fore, as Naomi begins to suspect that someone on board is not quite what they seem. The revelations surrounding this, when they do come, had me open-mouthed with shock – always a good sign. There are also a number of big, complicated moral choices that Naomi finds herself in the middle of as a result of events onboard, which test her character and evoke a lot of sympathy for her too. Her desire to escape from Valerie’s shadow, as well as from the long shadow of her brilliant, deceased mother is a trait that only adds to her likeability.
An early mention of the Earth as it’s seen from space by this time makes for somewhat sobering reading. Lam certainly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to showing just why humanity needs Cavendish so much, with this particular scene really resonating with me. It brought to mind the pictures in the media a couple of years ago, during that summer that seemed never-ending, of the UK scorched brown in the heat. Elsewhere in the novel, we see the havoc that climate change has wrought on society, with climate refugees in the millions, sea walls to combat rising tides and disease rampant (if you are keen to avoid all mention of pandemics right now, buy this and come back to it later). Climate change deniers (who, incredibly, still seem to exist) might take issue, but for the rest of us this is a frightening and all too believable future, which we need to be doing more to avoid. It never felt like I was being hit over the head with the politics of the novel though, whether it was those to do with climate change or feminism. Despite their foregrounding, there is a real lightness of touch around these big issues; certainly, none of the characters ever state that they’re doing what they’re doing for womankind, or with any particularly feminist motivations. Rather, they are doing what they are doing for the sake of humanity and because they are the best people for the job, who won’t be held back by some ridiculous patriarchy. Their actions certainly feel like an attempt to push back against their world’s slide into the nightmare futures of the likes of Vox or The Handmaid’s Tale, but this motivation is secondary to saving the human race.
A contemporary theme, strong characters and a tightly woven plot full of twists and turns make Goldilocks both an exciting and highly satisfying read. It warns without ever feeling like it preaches, and we would all do well to heed it. The strong, female crew is also very refreshing in a genre still dominated by male characters. Prescient, urgent and thought-provoking.
Astronaut photo courtesy of NASA on Unsplash.