Goldilocks by Laura Lam

April 30, 2020

The Earth is in environmental collapse. The future of humanity hangs in the balance. But a team of women are preparing to save it. Even if they’ll need to steal a spaceship to do it.

Despite increasing restrictions on the freedoms of women on Earth, Valerie Black is spearheading the first all-female mission to a planet in the Goldilocks Zone, where conditions are just right for human habitation.

The team is humanity’s last hope for survival, and Valerie has gathered the best women for the mission: an ace pilot who is one of the only astronauts ever to have gone to Mars; a brilliant engineer tasked with keeping the ship fully operational; and an experienced doctor to keep the crew alive. And then there’s Naomi Lovelace, Valerie’s surrogate daughter and the ship’s botanist, who has been waiting her whole life for an opportunity to step out of Valerie’s shadow and make a difference.

The problem is that they’re not the authorized crew, even if Valerie was the one to fully plan the voyage. When their mission is stolen from them, they steal the ship bound for the new planet.

But when things start going wrong on board, Naomi begins to suspect that someone is concealing a terrible secret — and realizes time for life on Earth may be running out faster than they feared . . .

In this week’s review, Goldilocks by Laura Lam, humanity has reached the ultimate fork in the road; our planet has reached a crisis point and something needs to be done.  The first option – continue as we are, eternally optimistic that everything will be fine as long as we ignore the obvious warning signs. Option two – seek out a new home that offers the potential to begin again. A clean slate where we can learn from our past mistakes and avoid repeating them.

Naomi Lovelace is part of a crew prepared to risk everything in order to make option two a reality. The complex relationship between Naomi and the ship’s captain, her adoptive mother Valerie, is what lies at the heart of the novel. Valerie is a self-made businesswoman and growing up, in the shadow of someone quite so awe-inspiring, has left its mark on Naomi. Though estranged, circumstance has brought the two women together and they are forced to confront the issues between them. In the close quarters of the ship, Naomi has no choice but to try and understand what motivates the woman she calls mother.

The novel’s timeline charts the journey from Earth to Mars and then onwards to what could become our new home, Cavendish. There are also chapters that flashback, giving insight into Naomi’s upbringing and the events that led her to the mission in the first place. These moments help to flesh out Naomi’s character and further define how she views her often brittle relationship with Valerie.

Politics also play a key role in the novel’s plot. The American government and their particularly loathsome leader (reminds me of someone, I can’t for the life of me think who?), have taken a backwards step with regards to equality. Women are being forced out of the workplace and back into the home. Individuals are no longer being judged on skill or the merit of their abilities. Valerie, Naomi and the rest of the crew decide to take matters into their own hands. They intend to prove, without question, that they are the best people for the job irrespective of something as arbitrary as biology.  It made me want to stand up and cheer out loud. I’m always staggered that there are still those who value a person’s worth based on gender, sex or the colour of their skin. Seriously, what makes some people still think that way?

One of the things that makes space exploration novels so compelling is that human element, that drive to triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds, to boldly go*. The best science fiction doesn’t just show us who we are, it shows us who we could be. Some might discount Goldilocks, view it is just a science fiction story. To do so would be a great disservice, this novel is so much more. I have no idea if our future will lie in the stars or not, but I do know we need to take note of voices like Lam’s before it is too late to find out. I have said before, and I’ll likely say it again, the best fiction doesn’t just entertain, it also educates and informs. Goldilocks left me with plenty to unpack and ruminate over, I love it when a book manages to promote such thoughtful introspection.

Goldilocks is a raw, emotive experience that remains consistently captivating throughout. Taking its cue from current events, Lam’s near future vision of Earth feels very real and should act as a frighteningly prescient warning to us all. The taught narrative shines a light on the realities of the issues that humanity is experiencing now. The backdrop of climate change, authoritarian regimes, gender inequality and global pandemics made it feel like at times I was reading the news rather than a work of fiction.

If you have got this far in the review, then I don’t imagine you’ll be hugely shocked when I tell you I really enjoyed Goldilocks.  This is a truly exceptional piece of work and well worth seeking out. It’s times like this I wish I could give you all direct access to my brain so you could properly appreciate how much I mean that.

My musical recommendation to accompany Goldilocks is the soundtrack to the 2018 science fiction movie Fast Color by Rob Simonsen. It sets a tone that perfectly captures Naomi’s story. The fact that the plot of the movie is about a fractured relationship between a mother and a daughter is just a happy coincidence.

Goldilocks is published by Headline and will be available from 30th April. Highly recommended.

*I am as surprised as you are that a Star Trek reference appeared in this sentence. You will have to believe me when I tell you it was not deliberate and entirely unexpected.

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