“Book Review: So Long Earth”
Reviewed by Liam Anthony
An engrossing science fiction novel that brings the political and the personal to its surface
So Long Earth by Michael Bienenstock confirms the notion that a novel must do more than entertain. While the book leans toward the conventions of a science fiction/fantasy novel, the author incorporates several important topical issues as well. Thus, the reader is entertained, challenged, informed, and provided with a fictional scenario that is painted against a very real social landscape.
The book revolves around its protagonist, Dr. Thomas Burns, an environmental engineer who is attempting to build four spaceships for a thousand people to leave Earth and live on a different planet. His mission comes as a consequence of climate change and the deterioration of our planet, believing that planet Earth will no longer be able to sustain life in the near future. As an esteemed colleague at Boeing, Burns’s endeavor is fueled by his need to protect his children and his subsequent grandchildren. Despite his intelligence, scientific competence, and altruism, a variety of unique and difficult obstacles stand in his way. But there is no greater obstacle than the lack of support from President Trump, whose nonchalance toward environmental concerns serves as even more compulsion for Dr. Burns.
This novel flourishes at highlighting sociopolitical issues in a palatable way. Author Michael Bienenstock introduces myriad examples of harm by Trump’s administration, not only in terms of environmental issues but his views on immigration. This is cemented in the character Luis, a chef from Mexico who Burns wants on his team.
In addition, another highlight in the book is the relationship between Dr. Burns and his prodigal son Sam. Sam, like his father, has shown an interest in science from a young age and will subsequently follow in his father’s footsteps. The author manages to include the lives of the generation that would be affected should the planet deteriorate more. As Burns’s project begins to materialize, Sam and his friends ruminate on the possibility of living on another planet, missing out on college, the dating world and their own coming of age story is somehow eclipsed by the promise of a different kind of future.
The novel becomes even more engrossing as the story unravels. Readers will be gripped toward the end, as Dr. Burns’s initial concerns are overtaken by a more dangerous problem. There are moments when the book can read like a long article as it is peppered with a lot of scientific terminologies, but this also reaffirms how erudite the author is, and I’m sure many passionate sci-fi readers will champion him on it while I found it difficult.
Bienenstock has also been assiduous at presenting to his readers an allegorical look at democracy. This involves Dr. Burns’s project, the plethora of people needed to make it a success, and the establishment of laws and punishments should they commit a crime. Even the naming of the spaceship comes with its own democratic purpose. So Long Earth presents a series of utopian ideals, echoing many important novels that have come before it. With these recognizable tropes and unique additions, this novel feels significant to me.
So Long Earth is an inventive novel that will undoubtedly whet the appetite of many science fiction fans, while also using its sociopolitical clout to open the eyes of thoughtful readers across every genre.
Paperback: 417 pages
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