Ten ships left an Earth devastated by plague, famine, climate change, and war. The best and the brightest were trained for this mission, sent to a new planet to colonize and give humanity a second chance. However, when Alex wakes up, it’s to confusion and horror as alarms blare and the stasis pods near him have only corpses instead of companions. Of the 300 people on the ship, only Alex and Commander Luke Belka have survived. Stranded on this new planet, their only hope is to hold out until rescue comes. If it comes.
Because of the way the book is written — somewhat as a first-person narrative and somewhat as a journal — we only get to see the story from Alex’s point of view with his interpretation of events. He’s not only dealing with the grief of losing his ship, but his own personal thoughts and actions as he helps do the work needed for both himself and Luke to survive on their new planet, which means the focus is always on Alex. To hear him tell it, he built their whole shelter himself; it’s something to keep in mind as you read this book. You’re getting Alex’s version of the story.
Alex is a scientist, chosen for his ability to work in groups, his eagerness to learn, and his desire to explore a new and alien landscape. He is meant to take the samples brought to him by other people and test them for human consumption and greater understanding. He was never meant to be building shelters, digging cess pits, or burying bodies. That’s not to say he’s unwilling — indeed, a part of him is actually enjoying the physical labor and the exploration of their new home — but he’s not trained for it.
Luke, on the other hand, was raised to be an officer since he was eight years old. Other students failed out for being too weak, too cruel, or just not good enough; Luke was chosen to captain one of the ten generation ships. He’s been trained to handle just about every situation, except for this one. When he wakes from stasis to find he has a crew of one and no idea what’s going on, he focuses upon his training, which tells him to fix the radio and signal for help. So that’s what he does. All of his hopes, all of his efforts rely on fixing the radio, calling for help, and waiting for rescue. He dislikes it when Alex goes exploring, but there are two good reasons to let it happen. One, to get Alex out of his hair so he can focus on the radio, and two, to find out just what’s out there.
Their relationship has less to do with love or even lust (though Alex already knew he was attracted to Luke when he first saw him, back on Earth), and more to do with the emotional need to connect to something, anything human. They are the only two humans alive on this planet, surrounded by their dead companions. If the radio doesn’t work, they may well be the only humans left in the universe as Earth was already launching nuclear weapons at one another when they left. Even in Alex’s recordings, he spends more time keeping track of how much work he does than anything Luke has to say, and it isn’t until halfway through the book that the two of them actually sit down for a conversation. And this is after they’ve already had sexual relations.
We only see Luke through Alex’s eyes and he doesn’t seem interested in Luke as a person. Alex takes walks and picks out a place where he’d like to build a house, already knowing in his heart that there will be no rescue, even if Luke is still holding on to hope. Weeks pass, months, and the only real conversation they have is about first kisses and mission oriented talks, such as whether or not they should climb a mountain to see if there is any other sign of the ships.
I didn’t connect with this book at all and was completely uninterested with either Alex or Luke. There were some moments where the story almost started to work, when Alex was looking at new species or plants, but it soon became more about the fiction than the science, and the relationship was more convenient than romantic. The writing wasn’t bad, the plot — for all the lingering moments of building a gazeebo or admiring a waterfall — was tight and kept moving along at a good pace. But the characters were a flat meh, for me.