Review: The Comet’s Curse by Dom Testa

The Comet's Curse by Dom Testa
The Comet's Curse by Dom Testa

The Comet’s Curse
Dom Testa
Tor, 2009

I’ve been on something of a YA kick of late.  Having plowed through Catching Fire and put away the penultimate volume of Percy Jackson and the Olympians on audio (The Battle of the Labyrinth) I remembered Dom Testa’s entertaining talk as part of the Science Fiction and Fantasy: Informing the Present by Imagining the Future
event hosted by Tor and LITA at ALA 2010 the swag bag for which contained the first of Testa’s Galahad books: The Comet’s Curse.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of The Comet’s Curse is the initial premise: an event of awe and wonder that is transformed into one of horror an destruction.  The idea being that a comet skimming Earth’s atmosphere, a beautiful and awe-inspiring event, leaves behind mysterious and unidentified elements in the atmosphere that soon cause widespread and ultimately fatal disease amongst the adults of Earth.  A testament to both the beauty and randomness of the universe that marks a neat twist to the end-of-the-world scenario.

The book chronicles the trials and tribulations of the teenaged crew of the Galahad spacecraft.  Each of the brilliant teens were picked to colonize a far off world and are entrusted with the future of humanity.  The chapters alternate between the current crisis aboard the Galahad spacecraft, the hunt for a mysterious and unknown saboteur, and the story behind the training and details for the Galahad mission.  This structure is both a boon and detriment to the novel.  While it adds depth and gravity to the proceedings it, in some cases, prevents us from getting in the heads of the people on the mission.  Alternatively, through highlighting some of the history of the crew-members it helps us get to know them a bit better.  Overall, I think that the structure is beneficial though I still would have liked to spend more time getting to know the saviors of humanity.

The book utilizes the computer, a self-aware AI named Roc, as sort of a Greek Chorus.  A snarky, occasionally self-important Greek Chorus.  For the most part this technique works giving the reader and frequently humorous bit of insight into the world and the characters and, at the novel’s conclusion, a bit of tease for what the future holds for our heroes.  My favorite moment with Roc was during a game he played with council-member Hap.  Roc’s chiding of his human opponent and willingness to stack the odds in its own favor gave the computer a particularly human cast that makes him feel like part of the crew rather then some cold, nigh-omniscient, watchdog.

Testa focuses his attention on the gravity of the mission and extraordinary capabilities of the crew.  He does a splendid job of capturing the doubts and concerns of the council chosen to lead the mission, particularly Triana the nominal leader of the group whose leadership capabilities and decisive nature are frequently obscured by a tendency towards isolation and withdrawn emotional state due to the loss of her father.  Her somewhat reserved nature is contrasted nicely by the confrontational Bon whose overt criticism and frequent provocation of Triana are less signs of distrust or dislike and seem more like a means to draw her out of her shell.  Again, this is all wonderfully subtle work that never delves into the melodrama that could potentially infect any teen-based narrative.

The tension in The Comet’s Curse seems to mount with very little effort and Testa never goes overboard in depicting the emotional strain that mysterious saboteur has on the crew.  The final confrontation with the villain is frightening, shocking, and a little sad.  Testa utilizes the threat of violence and the inherent tension there rather than any actual physical violence, a nice change of pace after the violence in Catching Fire, but I was a bit disappointed in the sort-of Bond Villain the preceded the big climactic finale.

The Comet’s Curse is a meaty read.  Fast-paced and exciting yet filled with many elements that could be used to provoke some excellent discussion which given Testa’s stance as an education advocate for middle school through high school readers is entirely appropriate.  Testa even offers a wealth of educational material through his website.  While the YA fantasy scene to flurishing, one might argue over-saturated, I’ve always found that the YA science fiction to be surprisingly sparse.   While the adult science fiction can be weighed down by lengthy tomes that might intimidate younger readers Testa has created something that manages to capture both the excitement of that genre but also espouse the sci-fi genre’s ability to makes us think.  Well worth a look by adult and teen readers.  I for one look forward to seeing what the future holds for the crew of the Galahad.

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