A House Between Earth and the Moon

Rebecca Scherm. Viking, $27 (400p) ISBN 978-1-101-98010-1

Thriller author Scherm (Unbecoming) pivots to literary science fiction in this polished but hollow big data parable centered on exposure, privacy, and lies in a near-future Earth plagued by climate disaster and frequent pandemics where smartphones are directly wired into people’s brains and data privacy is only for the rich. Michigan scientist Alex Welch-Peters’s life’s work—bioengineering carbon-capturing algae to slow global warming—succeeded only once. Now he’s on contract to replicate the discovery on the unfinished private luxury space station Parallaxis, a haven-to-be for 10 billionaires 220 miles above Earth. Meanwhile, socially inept researcher Tess is hired to train a behavior-prediction algorithm—with the Parallaxis team as test subjects. As the algorithm becomes increasingly coercive and drags in all those aboard Parallaxis, the researchers and their families get caught in a web of conflict and lies. Scherm’s crisp prose smooths over complex interpersonal machinations and tends to overexplain its own allegories, leaving character motivations and themes feeling obvious. The broad range of issues, meanwhile, all get the same scant treatment; rape culture, for example, becomes mere window dressing. Fans of Emily St. John Mandel or Liz Harmer will appreciate Scherm’s burning world, but miss the emotional intelligence. Agent: Susan Golomb, Writers House. (Mar.)
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