You might as well enter Goldilocks (2020) expecting flavours of The Martian, Interstellar and a bit of The Handmaid’s Tale because you’re going to taste them one way or another. Laura Lam imbues Goldilocks with such heart and devastation, though, that it packs its own punch. The authoritarian government back on Earth and its oppression of women lies somewhere in the background. Lam’s focus is rather on protagonist Naomi, keeping us close by the Atlanta on its steady journey to Cavendish: a planet reachable through a space-warping gateway, with a uniquely desirable climate like Earth’s. Naomi’s journey to space is woven closely with mentor and adoptive mother, Valerie, leaving this novel with an emotional depth and family complexity that roots it to the ground despite its time in outer space.
Naomi is difficult to read, she rarely seems to lose her temper or gush over anything. We read her through other characters’ reactions to her. She doesn’t give enough. She doesn’t even know what she wants to give. However, knows she wants to go to space. In a man’s world, Naomi’s lifelong dedication to achieving this ambitious dream is enough to suggest just how sturdy and strong she is.
In horrific moments, the crew of the Atlanta face impossible decisions like weighing up the lives of their five crew members against five men who were frozen in cryogenic pods and installed, without consultation, as backup crew. The sociopathic lengths Valerie goes to, to fulfil her dream of saving humanity and building a new society that can evade the pitfalls of previous civilisations, evoke dread throughout.
The ambiguity of where this novel may end up is perhaps exactly how our own future feels. A pandemic erupts on Earth. Extreme and erratic climate patterns threaten to destroy humanity within decades. It is up to the crew of the Atlanta, who have stolen this ship, to save humanity on this distant planet, which is not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Lam’s writing is thorough and careful. Her characters are strong and succinct – with a considerably small cast. There are so many dramatic forces at work in the novel that some are underplayed, but this noble – turned horrifying – journey to save a ruined Earth is both riveting and revealing.
By Rory McNeill.