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Meg Howrey's The Wanderers unmasks a wonderful bunch of characters.
Simon and Schuster
By MIKE CROWL
Helen, a veteran astronaut, and two others have been chosen by a private space exploration company to go on a mission to Mars. This will involve 17 months of preparation, including a detailed simulation of the trip there and back and a month on the "planet'' (actually in Utah) before the real journey begins.
Each chapter of this book is seen from the perspective of one of the various main characters. The first has a delightful wit and humour, and is followed by an equally enjoyable focus on Helen's grown-up daughter, Mireille, a sometime actress and other times masseuse. We meet Sergei, the Russian astronaut, who's just divorced his wife and has a younger son who's a dedicated ballet dancer, and an older son, Dmitri, who's determinedly gay and thinks no-one in the family knows.
And we meet Yoshi, the third astronaut, and his wife, Madoka. She's a top sales rep, selling robots who care for the elderly and infirm. Luke, who's part of the mission control team, rounds out the group.
These introductions take place over the first third of the book, and for a time I began to feel as though there was little to the story besides explorations of the characters' psychology. Then, suddenly, the simulated mission is up and away, and the book takes off like a rocket (pun intended).
Howrey's characters are a wonderful bunch, most of them wearing some form of mask, a public face to hide the private person. The space trip helps unmask most of them, both those in space and those on Earth. The space voyage itself is created in considerable detail - the minutiae of life in a space capsule, the dangers, the claustrophobia - and gives us a real sense of what it must be like to travel so far.
Of course, it's all simulated. Yet even a reader with as little perception as I have may suspect something else is afoot. Howrey teases us for quite a long time before revealing - or maybe not revealing - the truth.
Mike Crowl is a Dunedin author, musician and composer.