I have a theory that you can determine the degree to which a book has pretensions to literary quality by the extent to which it unnecessarily discusses the more banal aspects of bodily functions. Not its actual literary quality, note, but its pretensions to literary quality. Because I've read my share of genre fiction that was most definitely literary and which featured beautiful prose that made me want to curl up inside of it, even if it was describing horrifying things, but it always seems to be the books that are trying to be Important and Serious where the authors decide to demonstrate how real they are by talking about how somebody had diarrhea for no apparent reason.
The publisher described this book as set in a not-too-distant future where the Copernican model of the universe has been forgotten, "but when a cache of ancient machinery is discovered beneath the ruins of Cape Canaveral, it has the power to turn this retrograde world inside out." The narrator and his family are given the choice to test pilot the rocket or to be separated and sent to prison.
Except, we never actually see the world turned inside out. Although the people of this time seem to be aware that there were Astronomers in the past, they treat the idea of space travel as akin to an ancient religion (they talk about the space race as a fight over whether the USA or USSR loved the Moon more). There's no indication of how the people behind this proposed rocket launch came to the conclusion that it could actually work. It's unclear how much they do know; the "night glass" of the sky, as something the rocket might actually hit, is discussed as a potential problem throughout the process of their preparations. Nor do we feel any impact on the worldview of the main characters as they learn that their model of the universe is wrong. The references to clearly misunderstood elements of our present time (such as their attempts to explain zoos) and changed names ("Cape Cannibal") don't feel as if they have any kind of satirical purpose to them so much as they seem to be just an attempt at humor, ha ha, look at these people who don't actually exist and see how wrong they are.
Early on I thought that this was going to be something like a Heinlein-juvie with literary pretensions. I've read a lot of Heinlein but don't actually like the juvies. I read SF for the social commentary, not for the adventure. As it turned out, I should have been so lucky for this to fall into that category, for spoilery reasons I'll explain in a paragraph after the release date at the end.
There are occasionally some nice turns of phrases, such as when the other family being trained for the expedition is described as "less like a family than a conspiracy." But the prose quality is just not enough to make up for how much this book lacks in both plot and point.
The Only Words that are Worth Remembering will be available April 7.
*Our narrator never actually leaves the planet. He goes on the lam and wanders around doing not much in particular except growing up and going through withdrawl. Time moves so quickly through most of the book that there's no immediacy to any of his experiences. He certainly doesn't turn the world inside out. Although he does eventually wind up at an observatory with other "astronomers," the way some self identified Astronomers talk about the universe sounds more like a cross between astrology and religion than like science, so it's unclear what they actually know, and they certainly don't seem to be having any impact on their society as a whole.