Review of Journey Into Space by Toby Litt


This is a generation ship novel – a classic science fiction theme that has also been visited by Robert A. Heinlein in his book Orphans of the Sky, Paradises Lost by Ursula LeGuin and The Book of the Long Sun by Gene Wolf to name but a few…
A vast generation ship hurtles away from a violent, troubled Earth to settle on a distant planet orbiting an alien star. Those who set out on this journey are long-since dead. Those who will arrive at their destination have yet to be born. For those who must live and die in the cold emptiness between the stars, there is only the claustrophobic permanence of non-being. Life lived in unending stasis.
Then the unthinkable happens: two souls – Auguste and Celeste – rebel. And from the fruit of their rebellion comes a new and powerful force which will take charge of the ship’s destiny.

Auguste and Celeste pine for the lost Earth they’ve never seen and it is this craving that draws them together. Auguste’s character is journeyintospacevividly depicted as his longing for Celeste merges with his attempts to describe weather events that he has never experienced. Litt’s writing ability fully flowers in the first section of this short novel as the interaction between the young teenagers is poetically described and the characters sing off the page – although I did find myself skimming through a very long Earth-like metaphor… I felt it was too heavy-handed a literary flourish at this crucial stage in the action.

However, Litt’s focus abruptly shifts from the young couple as events move onto the next two generations and we don’t get the same depth and complexity of characterisation with any of the subsequent protagonists. To be honest, I found some of the following events difficult to believe. The notion that someone as spoilt and self-centred as Three would devote whole years of her life to producing a letter – and why wouldn’t there be paper and writing implements on a colonial ship, anyhow?

As the years speed on by and the crew become increasingly alienated from their original Mission and more wrapped up in the capricious demands of their mentally challenged Captain, the novel lifts away from the character-led depiction of the beginning and into an omniscient viewpoint as Litt skims across the next major protagonists in his story, leading to the shocking end which I should have cared about a lot more than I actually did.

I found the notion that humans start behaving oddly when shut away from Earth-based sensory stimuli to be entirely believable. However, I do feel that in order to fully convince his readership that Three’s behaviour or the ending is a convincing outcome, Litt needed to spend more time and energy on the second half of the novel. It seems to be a book of two halves and the latter section simply does not live up to the shining promise of the beginning, which is a real shame. Litt is clearly a talented and extremely capable writer – the fact that this is still a book worth reading despite the rather perfunctory ending demonstrates this. If only he had continued writing with the same fire and conviction shown in the first section, I believe this could have rivalled the likes of LeGuin’s outstanding Paradises Lost. As it is, Journey Into Space is a thought provoking but ultimately flawed attempt to examine this fascinating concept.

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