Review: Satellite by Nick Lake

by Nick Lake

A teenage boy born in space makes his first trip to Earth.

He’s going to a place he’s never been before: home.

Moon 2 is a space station that orbits approximately 250 miles above Earth. It travels 17,500 miles an hour, making one full orbit every ninety minutes. It’s also the only home that fifteen-year-old Leo and two other teens have ever known.

Born and raised on Moon 2, Leo and the twins, Orion and Libra, are finally old enough and strong enough to endure the dangerous trip to Earth. They’ve been “parented” by teams of astronauts since birth and have run countless drills to ready themselves for every conceivable difficulty they might face on the flight.
But has anything really prepared them for life on terra firma? Because while the planet may be home to billions of people, living there is more treacherous than Leo and his friends could ever have imagined, and their very survival will mean defying impossible odds.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date:  October 3rd 2017
Source/Format: Netgalley/eARC
Purchase links: Amazon | Kobo | Book Depository
My Rating: ★★★☆☆

My Thoughts:
“Satellite” presents an earth in the near future, suffering heavily from the effects of global warming. Drought, hurricanes, rising sea levels and river waters so cold that if any living thing falls in, immediate death from hypothermia is certain. Some wild animals like lions and elephants are already extinct. Mankind is looking up to space for any earth-like planet to colonize.

In such backdrop, three babies are born in a space station: our narrator Leo, and twins Libra, and Orion. Their mothers are astronauts themselves. But these kids cannot be brought by their mothers yet because their young bodies are too fragile to survive the impact of re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. So they remain in standby in the space station raised by rotating astronauts until they reach the age of sixteen years old, presumably strong enough to survive the journey back home. But what is the definition of “home” for these kids? For Leo, it’s strange to call earth his home because it’s some place he hasn’t been.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part is Leo’s life in the space station. It is a slow start for me mainly because the book has to establish the nuts and bolts of life in space. The second part, which narrates Leo’s experiences in earth is where things start to become fascinating. The reader re-discovers the wonder of seeing things for the first time through Leo’s eyes. The way Leo describes ordinary things on earth — the smell and taste of bacon, the sight of eggs frying in a pan, the feeling of locking eyes with a cow or touching a puppy—is so poetic, it brings me close to weeping. These are the great parts of the book.

Now for the meh parts. Upon his arrival, I expected Leo to experience interaction with various earth-raised teens. Sadly, the nearest school has been closed off and the people he met are limited to his retired astronaut turned ranch owner grandpa, some farm hands, and the employees of the Company which took over NASA. Leo spent a sheltered life on his grandpa’s ranch. He tried to contact Libra and Orion but discovered that his connection with them has been cut off. He was kept in the dark for so long,my anticipation for what’s really going on becomes boredom. And when some action seems to start weaving in the story, in the form of mysterious people leaving him notes implying that he needs rescuing, Leo dismissed the surfacing doubts about the people he trusts and just went on with his privileged life on the ranch. I imagine a wasted future earth where teens outside Leo’s bubble live hard-knock dystopic lives. But Leo’s narrative feels too detached and lacking urgency. Eventually, Leo was not able to do anything much. He is always dependent on people around him. Even on the third part of the book when  Leo supposedly stands up for himself, his actions are pretty much perfunctory.

The book is written with deliberate shortcuts in spelling and capitalization. For instance, “I see you.” is written as “i c u.” And “doctorate” is written as “Dr.ate”. Maybe it was used for futuristic vibe? Or to denote that hey, the world is ending, who’s got time for proper spelling? Whichever case, I am not bothered by it but some might not like these kind of stuff in their books so I’m just saying it right here.

Speaking of futuristic style, fashion in this imagined future is so forward and gender bending. Men wearing make-up, nail polish, and heels is commonplace. And there is one mention of a woman having her gene modified to grow beard. It’s mildly amusing but feels rather irrelevant to the story, TBH.

Another irrelevant aspect of the book for me is the romantic subplot. Yes, it’s so small and does not eat up the main plot but that’s my point, it’s so small that the book could’ve done away with it. Personally, I’d rather not give Leo much hope in romance. The book keeps on repeating this thing about the moon loving the earth from a distance and him having no one near him after all is like the perfect moon to earth.  I’m rambling here but if you already know the ending like I do, I think you’ll understand.

“Satellite” has its merit in giving its readers Leo’s all wide-eyed and wonder perspective. It was a delight feeling his sensory overload with earthly things after being born and raised inside a tin can in space. But the plot’s progression is so slow with its sections of autopilot action crammed in the third part of the book. Leo, Libra, and Orion are the hero trio that could have been. They have this game while in space of blurting out things that they would do on earth. I hoped and dreamed those things with them. I imagined them having legendary adventures on earth like becoming mermaids or such. (I heard that astronauts of NASA nowadays spend training in deep sea levels because it resembles zero gravity so becoming a mermaid is totally not a far-fetched idea) But sadly, those dreams did not fly...or swim for Leo, Libra and Orion, with the three of them just ambling through the story by letting people around them manage their lives.

Diversity Watch:
Leo is explicitly described to be attracted to same sex.

Libra is brown-skinned.

The new space agency is a merger of NASA, the Indian space agency, and a private company. I am assuming that a huge chunk of its employees are from India.

Santiago, a woman working in Public Relations of the space agency, is described by Leo as having Hispanic accent.

Soto, an astronaut in training, is described by Leo having blond hair, tan skin, green eyes that taper gently at the outer corners. Leo guessed his ethnicity as part Japanese or part Korean.

Ku, an Asian astronaut.

Yuri, a Russian cosmonaut.

An aircraft pilot, Lankolun is described by Leo as dark-skinned.
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