An intense psychological experience, Lily Brooks-Dalton’s “Good Morning, Midnight” carried me through the heart-freezing interior landscapes of its two main characters as they struggled to survive in hostile settings. My two days with this speculative novel set me on edge after just a few pages. By then, the narrative had revealed human life on Earth was incommunicado if not extinguished. Of course, I wondered what would happen next.
It seems these few survivors of an unnamed global catastrophe were an aging curmudgeon astronomer Augustine working in frigid weather near the North Pole and a Jupiter probe mission team on its return trip to Earth. Sullivan, a mission specialist (in data communications and analysis) and one of two women on that Jupiter team was the other main character in the work. Augustine spent the rest of the novel in the company of a little, but wise and capable girl. He found her after his Arctic observatory’s evacuation apparently and unknowingly abandoned her.
Sullivan and her fellow crew members suffered, too, for lack of contact with Mission Control, their umbilicus for a safe return to Earth. In fact they could not pick up any signals except for Voyager 3’s dying blips and signals from a few other interplanetary robotic probes. The Earth was silent. As I read I realized Brookes-Dalton’s work was as much a psychological thriller as it was a “sci-fi” narrative.
The darkness of the bleak Arctic terrain and the endless void of space reflected Augustine and Sully’s self-imposed loneliness and isolation. They chose their star-linked careers over conventional, family-based relationships and had no deep affective ties to Earth except in painful memories. As I turned the pages, I continually asked myself what I would have done or felt in such a situation. Difficult to imagine.
The novel’s ending sections (there are no chapters, only breaks) reveal surprising details to the reader that remain inaccessible to the main characters; I would spoil the reading if I described them here. Just note that the polar bear sighted early in the novel is important, symbolically and for the narrative’s satisfying conclusion.
I wondered as I read how much of a background Brooks-Dalton has in astronomy, Arctic geography, survival preparation, and interplanetary space transportation because her details are rich and persuasive (and my background in such areas is nil). When asked in an online interview about doing her homework for the book, she replied, “Quite a bit, although it seems like cheating to call something that I enjoyed so much research. I did my best to make it as plausible as I could, and that process included reading other novels, nonfiction narratives, memoirs, but also watching films and looking at a lot of photographs of those places. I think in the end the visual research was just as important as the reading I did.”
A beautifully crafted work, “Good Morning, Midnight” reads differently from conventional science fiction and is more in the vein of some of Arthur C. Clarke’s work, questioning humanity’s place in the universe and life’s purpose if any.
Read during the pandemic, this novel provided me a release from anxiety because its image of horrific silence from and around Earth arose from an unthinkable situation far worse than the one I was living through. At least, I hoped it was. Now that George Clooney, the actor and director, has released his film based on the novel, my blog post with this review is attracting more attention although I published it months ago. Keywords, “Good Morning, Midnight.”