Growing Bookworms Newsletter: January 19: Literacy News and Reviews
Friday Afternoon Visits: January 22: Kidlitosphere News and Views

The Comet's Curse: Dom Testa: Young Adult Fiction Review

Book: The Comet's Curse: A Galahad Book
Author: Dom Testa
Pages: 240
Age Range: 12 and up 

Cometscurse Background: It's fairly common for me to run across a review that makes me want to read the book someday. What's less common is when a review makes me immediately click through to order the title, so that I can read it as soon as possible. Paige Y's review of The Comet's Curse: A Galahad Book had the latter effect. It's not so much that it was a rave review (though she calls it "a truly enjoyable read for me"), but that the premise struck me. The Comet's Curse reminds me of one of the first science fiction series to capture my imagination: Ben Bova's Exiles Trilogy. And I had to read it.

Review: The Comet's Curse, by Dom Testa, takes place in the not-too-distant future. When the comet Bhaktul passes close to earth, it leaves a terrible disease in its wake. A disease that begins slowly killing everyone over the age of 18. When a cure seems impossible, a far-thinking scientist, Dr. Zimmer, proposes an outrageous plan. He convinces various governments to work together to build a space ship, a ship to be populated entirely by 251 teenagers. These teens will travel through space for five years, and hopefully colonize an Earth-like planet in another solar system, thus preserving humanity.

The Comet's Curse, the first in a projected six-book series, charts the first stage in the teens' journey. The story begins with the Galahad's launch. Flashback chapters detail the background of Bhaktul, the development of the Galahad project, and the selection of the 251 teens. The present-day chapters, on the ship, are told from the shifting perspectives of a few of the teens, and from the perspective of the ship's intelligent computer controller, Roc. The flashbacks are mainly from the perspective of Dr. Zimmer, but also include various other adults, including the parents of some of the teens.

This structure makes the book feel more like an old-style science fiction novel (like the Exiles Trilogy) than modern young adult fiction. There's a lot of retrospective explanation, which slows the pace of the book a bit. And the shifting, frequently adult perspectives make it somewhat difficult for the reader to connect with the teen protagonists. However, the book still worked for me, perhaps because I found the premise so intriguing (or perhaps because the story had a nostalgic appeal). In any event, I would expect these issues of narration and backstory to be less of a factor in future books of the series, once the teens are fully off on their journey.

The primary teen protagonist, ship's captain Triana Martell from Colorado, though likeable, is self-contained to the point being aloof. The other members of the ship's governing Council are a multicultural lot (Chinese, black/British, Mexican, and Swedish), to the extent of feeling a tad contrived. I also noticed that although all of the teens have been selected on the basis of their physical and mental prowess and self-confidence, they seem to all be strikingly attractive, too. Kind of like the new 90210, except more diverse and set in space, complete with a love triangle or two. None of this makes the book any less readable - but these things did stand out for me.

I actually thought that the computer had the most engaging personality. (Reminiscent of Ender's A.I. friend Jane, in the Speaker for the Dead series by Orson Scott Card.) Here's my favorite passage (from Roc's perspective):

"Gap knew that I had seen the movies, so of course he had to be Joe Comedian one day and call me R2D2. What a shame the heat didn't work very well in his room the next couple of days. I don't know how that could've happened." (Page 89 - I like a computer with a sense of humor)

One issue that was not addressed in The Comet's Curse that I would have liked to see was the question of potential babies. Galahad is equipped for the 251 teens (all around 15-16 years old), and there are actually (due to technical problems) only 240 seats on the small "lifeboats" designed to transport them to their eventual destination. It seems to me that in five years, there would be a pretty good chance of some children being born on that spaceship. And it seems that this would be a good thing, if these kids are going to be all that's left of the human race. But this possibility is never mentioned, despite frequent references to which fellow members of the crew the protagonists "like". I found this glossing over of even the possibility of sex unrealistic in a young adult novel. 

Still, there are larger issues tackled in The Comet's Curse (as Paige mentioned in her review). There's the general question of whether it was right for scientists to devote scarce resources to saving 251 teens, instead of working on a cure for the billions of others people on earth. As a reader, I wondered whether there wouldn't have been some other way to keep humanity going - could people reproduce earlier in life? Was anyone immune to the disease? These are the kind of questions that make "end of the world" novels so endlessly compelling.

And make no mistake. I did find The Comet's Curse compelling. I'm eager to read the other books in the series (it appears that books 2 and 3 were previously self-published, but aren't yet available from new publisher Tor). Here's the opening passage of the book, to give you a sense of Testa's writing:

"There are few sights more beautiful. For all of the spectacular sunsets along a beach, or vivid rainbows arcing over a mist-covered forest, or high mountain pastures exploding with wildflowers, nothing could compare to this. This embraced every breathtaking scene. Mother Earth, in all of her supreme glory, spinning in a showcase of wonder. No picture, no television image, no movie scene could ever do her justice. From 200 miles up it's spellbinding, hypnotic.

Which made saying good-bye even more difficult." (Page 13, Chapter 1)

If the idea of 251 teens setting out on their own on a spaceship the size of a shopping mall captures your imagination, then this is the book for you. Worth a look for science fiction and dystopia fans, teens and adults.

Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication Date: January 20, 2009
Source of Book: Bought it
Other Blog Reviews: Reading and Breathing (this is the review that made me want to read the book), Kiss the Book, LibraryRocks, and BlogCritics. There's also a bit of a rant about this book (it's not a standard review) at The Friday Challenge

© 2010 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).