In this book, we follow a non-conscripted psychologist, Dr. Park, working and living among the unwelcoming crew of the Deucalion, a spaceship headed to the to-be-colonized planet of Eos. We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen is rich with innovative storytelling and universe-creating that made this book very unique in ways I was expecting, but also in ways I was not. Continue reading down below to get my full take on this book!
Misanthropic psychologist Dr. Grace Park is placed on the Deucalion, a survey ship headed to an icy planet in an unexplored galaxy. Her purpose is to observe the thirteen human crew members aboard the ship—all specialists in their own fields—as they assess the colonization potential of the planet, Eos. But frictions develop as Park befriends the androids of the ship, preferring their company over the baffling complexity of humans, while the rest of the crew treats them with suspicion and even outright hostility.
Shortly after landing, the crew finds themselves trapped on the ship by a radiation storm, with no means of communication or escape until it passes—and that’s when things begin to fall apart. Park’s patients are falling prey to waking nightmares of helpless, tongueless insanity. The androids are behaving strangely. There are no windows aboard the ship. Paranoia is closing in, and soon Park is forced to confront the fact that nothing—neither her crew, nor their mission, nor the mysterious Eos itself—is as it seems.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
Dr. Park is the second psychologist on what starts as a pre-colonizing sweep of the planet Eos to determine its viability to support human life. All the humans aboard are both conscripted and non-conscripted employees of the Interstellar Frontier (ISF) creating an interesting mix of motivations and ethics for the crew. As a reader, you get such a unique experience of learning about the humans and androids aboard the Deucalion based on Park’s role as a psychologist who has her degree in phenotypology, allowing her to analyze the crew members based on body language and facial expressions. As an expert on the human mind and mannerisms, the reader gets insight about the other crew members that is particular to only our narrator and her superior, Dr. Keller.
In addition to this unique position of the narrator as a psychologist, within We Have Always Been Here there is also clear tension between the humans and androids on the ship, with Park stuck in the middle. This helps to lend the book to a constant feeling of unease. Who should you feel comfortable with as an audience member? Do we trust the androids? Or should we trust the Humans? This tension is palpable all throughout the book up to the end and it is a testament to Lena Nguyen’s writing.
World Building & Technology
Much of the book was spent creating the universe in which Earth is, for the most part, unlivable and humans have been living in space for years on different planets in order to survive. With this comes clear advances in technology, such as androids, biodomes, and optical inlays. Nguyen does an awesome job of incorporating these new technologies and creating this alternative space-based future, while not being heavy-handed about it. We Have Always Been Here creates this new universe seamlessly for the reader.
Nguyen’s story is so many things at once that it feels like I would be doing an injustice by trying to label or categorize it.
Throughout the book, the storyline does jump in space and time, but it also jumps in its narrative structure, which gives a dynamic point of view. It was pretty interesting reading this book knowing it is a thriller while the conflict was not immediately clear. I was spending a lot of time waiting for the other shoe to drop, which is not necessarily a bad thing. We Have Always Been Here certainly had some peaks and valleys and at times the plot seemed to drag or be very slow to rise, but in the end, it built up a lot of anticipation and created so many questions that needed to be answered (and for the most part were).