A metal ring glints in the darkness between the Earth and the moon. Back on Earth, storm cycles ravage the planet’s surface and fires consume the land. But from space, everything seems so small. The silence is absolute. This is the surreal scene Alex, a climate scientist, takes in as he drifts outside the space station Parallaxis I, his new home.
In the recently released sci-fi novel by Rebecca Scherm, Alex and “the Pioneers,” a group of scientists tasked with creating sustainable food and air sources, venture into space on a two-year expedition. They are sent to space by Sensus, a tech monopoly responsible for the creation of Parallaxis I. Sensus promises each member of the scientific team a hefty stipend to conduct research on Parallaxis I and the assurance that one day their families may join them in space. The catch? First, the Pioneers must build a habitable home for the world’s billionaires who have paid a fortune to escape the dying earth on Parallaxis I. However, in space, they are met with a surprise: The space station is not what they expected and the Pioneers take on the seemingly insurmountable tasks.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, the Pioneers’ families struggle with the harsh realities of the climate crisis and the unforgiving internet world. Mary Agnes, Alex’s high-school-aged daughter, witnesses an online crime at a school party and longs to join her father in space. Katherine and Rachel, the co-founding sisters of Sensus, oversee the operation on Parallaxis I from back on Earth. Sensus also hires another scientist back on Earth, Tess, to run a morally questionable study on the Pioneers through the phones they all wear. The novel follows multiple characters as they navigate the problems of the futuristic Earth.
“A House Between Earth and the Moon” is an ambitious novel. This book made me feel unsettled because the future Scherm depicts seems uncannily realistic and plausible — while reading, I often wondered if this is where our world is headed. The story takes place in the not-so-distant future, in which most of the U.S. is plagued by terrible fires, storms, heatwaves and floods. Climate refugees rush to the remaining liveable states and countless lose their lives. The scary part is that it’s not so hard to imagine. My mind immediately jumped to the fires that are already a yearly occurrence in my home state of California (in the novel California is already all but unlivable, devastated by the relentless inferno). On Scherm’s futuristic Earth, heat waves kill humans in the desert states by the thousands — bringing to mind the steady uptick of global temperatures. The end of the world is near in “A House Between the Earth and the Moon,” it seems, and the source of this impending doom is the same climate issues we already face today, only further along.
Author Rebecca Scherm does not stop there with her ominous depiction of Earth’s future. The novel also warns us about the dangers of increasing digitalization. In my short lifetime, I have watched technology progress with remarkable speed from the standard flip phone to iPhones, from clunky monitors to sleek MacBook Airs. I, like many others in my generation, can not help but wonder where the future of technology is headed. “The House Between Earth and the Moon” offers a sinister response to these ruminations. In the novel, children as young as five years old have phones implanted into their ears, partially obscuring their vision with a screen. Teenagers like Mary Agnes navigate an upbringing saturated with technology, facing a largely digital social life and cyberbullying. With a phone implant in, it’s impossible to disconnect, and the few who choose not to use technology are deemed the outliers or hippies of society. Still, the ubiquitous presence of technology on the futuristic Earth has its advantages. Mary Agnes’s brother suffers from deadly allergies, and the technology implanted in his body allows him to avoid dangerous situations by warning those around him of allergens. This is one of the strengths of the novel — nothing is clear-cut.
“The House Between Earth and the Moon” shines in its ability to make readers think and left me astounded by its thorough conception of Earth’s future. I am a sucker for futuristic and sci-fi reads, so it pains me to say that by the end I still felt like something was missing. What stands in the way of the novel being great, rather than simply good? For all its excitement and suspense, “A House Between the Earth and the Moon” lacks character development. It makes interesting observations about human behavior — especially in trying circumstances — yet paradoxically the characters in the novel felt two-dimensional. While I felt like I discovered more about humans as a whole, I barely learned about the characters in this novel. Even by the end, the main characters still felt like strangers to me. In this way, the novel may have been too ambitious. Scherm’s novel confidently tackled Earth’s problems but missed the mark on its characters.
That being said, “A House Between the Earth and the Moon” is worth the read. It is an inventive new sci-fi novel, packed with suspense and timely issues. The novel is full of moral gray areas — from its expanding technology to its expensive off-planet enterprises to its depiction of internet privacy. It’ll keep you on the edge of your seat and have you wondering, what would you do if the end of the world was near? Is an escape to space the answer?
Daily Arts Writer Emma Doettling can be reached at email@example.com.