Goldilocks is not a romance, but it is relevant to the interests of the large subset of Bitches who are both feminist and nerdy. This novel about women who steal a spaceship (!!!) is sciency, thrilling, and female-centric, and squarely aimed at those who stopped reading this review to one-click at the words “women who steal a spaceship.”
For the few of you who remain, here’s more about the plot. In the not very distant future, climate change and its related disasters are about to make Earth uninhabitable. Astronomers have located a Goldilocks planet – one that is suitable for human life without being terraformed. Women have been slowly but steadily edged out of high status jobs, so even though a particular crew of women is best trained for the mission to be the first to land on and settle the planet, they are supposed to be replaced by an all male crew – until Valerie Black and her crew of women steal the ship. One of these women is Naomi, the protagonist of the story, who is the ship botanist and also Valerie’s foster daughter.
As one might expect, all kinds of technical things go wrong, hence sciencey. However, the book is also character-based, with a strong dollop of dystopian versus utopian politics, and those kinds of things go wrong as well, with many twists and turns. This is a thriller on many levels but it comes down to the fact that personal is political and the political is personal, to the most intimate and global degrees. Be aware that this book contains TW for pregancy, miscarriage, abortion, and pandemic.
Part of the story is narrated by a first person narrator who is unidentified until the end of the book. The rest is a combination of third-person point of view flashbacks that alternate from what is happening on the ship and what has happened in Naomi’s life prior to take off.
Initially, Valerie’s plan to steal the ship appears motivated by a combination of feminism (she wants to remind people what women are capable of) and pragmatism (the women are better trained and much more capable of dealing with the ensuing technical problems than the male crew would have been). However, it becomes evident that she has other motives and those motives get more and more complicated, to Naomi’s increasing horror. Naomi has to work with the rest of the crew to keep the ship functioning and to figure out what the heck Valerie is up to.
I’m tempted to give this book an A because it was incredibly suspenseful. I loved the science and I loved the interpersonal stuff. As a Californian, I winced at the extremely believable portrayal of California as a smoky land of dire poverty and glittering, walled-off riches. I also winced at the portrayal of a series of economic and social and political policies that gradually but inexorably limit the ability of women to hold high status jobs, or in some cases, any jobs. This is a good example of a dystopian future that creeps up on people, and in a manner that is easy to recognize.
The protagonist, Naomi, is believable and sympathetic. As more of her story is revealed, more of her actions make sense. They may not always be the smartest actions, but they are consistent with her character and what her character has experienced. It’s crucial that we like Naomi, and I did, very much, although she makes choices that I might not make myself.
Two things keep this from being an ‘A’ grade book for me. One is the closest thing this book has to a romance, which is a relationship between Naomi and Valerie’s biological son. Naomi states that she and Evan, the son, are not related by blood and never grew up together. However, Naomi is essentially Valerie’s adopted daughter. Valerie has been her primary caregiver and legal guardian since Naomi was quite young.
My problem is that I believe very strongly that the ties of adoption should be respected in life and in fiction. Adoptive siblings and long term foster siblings are siblings. To say “Well, but they aren’t really related” is a cheat. It does a disservice to families that are built through fostering and adoption. This book handles the situation as well as possible, and I recognize that mileage varies on this trope, but in my opinion this trope needs to be retired. Families formed by adoption are families. I would like romances to stop pretending otherwise.
Secondly, the villain’s dastardly plans become so dastardly that I stopped believing in them. I won’t say who does what or when or how but the leap from “kinda controlling” to where we end up is at least one leap too far. I believed various twists up to a point and no further – although the last twist was so lovely (and unconnected to the villian) that it brought tears to my eyes. This is a book that keeps one guessing for sure, you just might not believe all of the answers.
Despite my few reservations, I otherwise loved reading this book. The language was lovely. Here, from the very beginning, is a description of Naomi:
In the home clips I watched of her before she left Earth, Naomi was still quiet, but a smile often hovered at the edges of her lips, as if she held a secret she wished she could share. In one clip, taken the year before she left Earth, she’d opened her Christmas presents with the careful, considered way she did everything. A scientist through and through. Lifting the tape with a plum-purple nail, peeling back the shining paper to fold it up and set it aside. Opening the cardboard top, peeking in, the dark wave of her hair covering her face. The slight laugh as she took out the snow globe Valerie had given her, her mentor looking on with her own crooked half-smile.
And here, a snippet from a long description of Earth from space:
It didn’t look like a marble; it was too clearly alive. The clouds crawled slowly, the planet bisected by the line of day and night. On the night side, the lights of cities glimmered. There was Europe, a gleam of brightness over Paris, Berlin, Kiev, strung together by smaller cities like linked synapses.
If you are looking for a romance read you’ll be disappointed (squick factor aside, there just isn’t a lot of romance). However, if you are in the mood for a female-centric political and scientific and familial thriller/drama set in a space, here you go. Don’t skip the Acknowledgements, which includes a fabulous reading list for more reading.