"The Final Six" by Alexandra Monir
One time, I substitute taught for a science class. Fortunately for me and my sure-to-be-singed-off eyebrows, the day’s lesson didn’t consist of a lab or even a complex reading. Instead, in his infinite wisdom, the teacher had planned to show a video.
While I certainly don’t remember all of the details of the video, one fact stuck with me.
Scientists estimate that there are 10 times more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all of the world’s beaches and deserts.
I mean, what the actual fuck.
It’s probably been close to 10 years since I learned that fact. But, even in all of that time, I haven’t stopped looking skyward.
I’m certainly not looking to the heavens in an I-want-to-go-there way – I mean, I've been known to get motion sickness when sitting sideways on a bus – but instead out of curiosity.
If there really are all of those stars, then there literally has to be other intelligent life out there. And there would, by sheer virtue of the number of bodies orbiting these stars, have to be other inhabitable planets.
And, while we aren’t really in need of a new planet to call home just yet, if things keep going the way they are (i.e. we keep trashing the one we have) we’re going to be needing one eventually.
It’s this very predicament the characters in this young adult sci-fi novel set in the near future find themselves, when – thanks to mankind’s complete disregard for the health of the planet – it’s looking like Earth’s pretty… well… fucked.
Fortunately for the characters in this novel, scientists have a plan – albeit a relatively hail-Mary one – to prevent human-kind’s imminent extinction.
In a bid to save humans, leaders engage in a joint global effort to select a group of six exceptional teens. These teens will man a mission to Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter. Upon arrival, they will terraform the terrain, preparing it to support a civilization of humans.
The first step in finding the ideal six teens to take on this admittedly lofty mission is selecting a pool of 24. This pool will receive some rudimentary training and be put through testing to determine ultimate mission suitability.
As readers, we are given insight into the realities of life on future Earth and the process of training and selecting mission participants through the perspective of two of the obviously gifted teens, Leo and Naomi.
Leo is a citizen of now-covered-in-water Rome. Thanks to his rather convenient skills as a swimmer – and a little bit of being in the right place at the right time – he has managed to survive while others perished. Among those who have lost the battle against the extreme elements are Leo’s family members, who were all killed when a tsunami unexpectedly hit the ancient city.
As the last remaining member of his family, Leo doesn’t have much to lose – or to live for – so being called up for consideration as a mission participant is a welcomed surprise.
It’s an entirely different story for Naomi, who has no more desire to venture into space than I do. Her reticence has nothing to do with motion sickness. It's, instead, the result of her bond with her family.
Unlike so many, who have lost some or all of their family in the natural disasters that now occur nearly daily on the globally warmed Earth, Naomi has been spared this trauma.
That’s not to say that she is without struggles, however. She worries daily about her younger brother Sam. Sam suffers from a congenital heart defect at a time when having such a heart defect is just about the worst thing you can have – as food is scarce and medical care is scarcer.
Unfortunately for Naomi, attending training – and, ultimately, the mission, if selected – is compulsory.
Also, as if she needs more to fuel her understandable trepidation, she suspects that there is more to this mission than advertised.
As cities have fallen and the plight of humans has become increasingly dire, the powers-that-be have taken a rather alarming number of risks. And Naomi worries that this mission – touted as, basically, man’s only chance of survival – is essentially an ill-conceived suicide mission.
When she joins Leo and the other 22 at the training facility and begins to undergo the rigorous evaluation and preparation process, she finds evidence to add credence to her fears.
But what – if anything – can she do to save herself…and save Leo, who rapidly becomes an important figure in her life?
Set against the backdrop of a crumbling world, this young adult novel effectively elicited authentic emotions from its readers.
The characters that Monir birthed with the swirl of her pen – or, more likely, the dancing of her fingers across the keys – came to life. They were rich and round and engaging and I authentically cared – actually, still do care – about them.
And it didn’t take long for me to form these attachments. I only got a few pages into this novel before I was entirely engrossed – which is oh-so-rare, believe me.
I was so engaged… so invested… that when I could eke out the time, I hungrily read. And when I couldn’t read, I thought about the novel and the questions that it brought up in my mind questions – dauntingly complex questions about the future, and space, and colonizing other planets, and the reality of it all outside of the science fiction.
Because my experience in reading books that have started solid only to fall flat at the end has transformed me into a literary pessimist, I kept waiting for something to happen – for the plot to quiver and then collapse or for one of the characters to do something that elicited an eye-roll from me. But it never happened. I only became more engaged…more enraptured…as I read.
Though it is exceptionally uncommon – as you’ll know as a repeat reader of this blog – I found absolutely nothing wanting in this novel. Honestly, the only thing I regret about this book is that I read an advanced release copy, which will certainly make my wait for the next book in what is sure to become a well-known series interminable.
I will likely be recommended this book – and literally foisting copies upon people who don’t take my recommendation – for quite some time. With a Hunger Games level of intrigue and a naturally compelling premise, it delivers on its promises and was one hell of an amazing read.
Without reservation, it gets 5 of out 5 cocktails.
Let’s see if we can turn this one exceptional reading experience into a streak. What shall I read next? To see what I pick, follow me, here.
How to you feel about sci-fi? Honestly, it’s not my personal favorite. But books like this make me want to read more of it. Tell me about your opinion of sci-fi – and share some of your favorite sci-fi titles so I can build my sci-fi TBR – in the comments, below.