The Terranauts

By T.C. Boyle


What happens when four men and four women are locked together in a sealed compound for two years?

That’s the scenario of The Terranauts, the latest novel by T.C. Boyle, author of The Harder They Come, San Miguel and When The Killing’s Done. Boyle received both M.F.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Iowa and is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of South California at Santa Barbara.

The story is based on the Biosphere 2 project near Oracle, Ariz. and is told through three first-person perspectives – Dawn Chapman, Ramsay Roothoorp and Linda Ryu. The planet Earth is regarded as Biosphere 1.

Dawn, the real hero of the story, leaves her heart with Johnny, a shiftless man of questionable morals, as she enters the 3.15-acre biosphere compound. We sense immediately that not all is going to go well with Dawn, who leaves her beloved but decrepit car with her friend Linda who is insanely jealous that Dawn is selected for Mission 2 rather than herself. Linda doesn’t take long to get even, starting by taking up with Johnny.

While Dawn’s heart is broken with Johnny on the outside, her heart heals quickly when romance blooms between her and Ramsay, also known as Vodge. Dawn soon learns that a ninth person could soon be sharing the biosphere.

Boyle’s signature use of multiple perspectives to create tension in the story is enhanced through the three first-person narratives. While the various species within the compound struggle to survive, it’s the human species that seems to struggle the most. Emotions and tempers flare as the eight people are pitted against one another in the confining atmosphere – much like the experience of the Mission 1 crew, first to enter the real-life Biosphere 2.

Boyle explores in depth the three first-person narrative perspectives. Our heart is not only with Dawn but also with Linda and Ramsay. Who is right and who is wrong. There is no easy answer.

Will Dawn leave the biosphere to have her baby? Will she and Ramsay have a happy life together? Will Dawn and Linda remain friends? Will the food hold out? Will oxygen levels remain high enough to prevent the terranauts from sustaining brain damage? Will the compound overheat after a power shortage, forcing them to break closure and have the experiment fail? Will Linda realize her dream of being a member of the next group of terranauts on Mission 3?

You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Michael Tidemann writes from Estherville, Iowa and teaches a directed study course on T.C. Boyle at Buena Vista University. His author page is available at