In his 26th work of fiction, T.C. Boyle follows the plight of eight Americans — four men, four women — "confin[ed] … in a man-made world" in Tillman, Ariz. The so-called Terranauts commit to two years under the Ecosphere's glass, guided by the mantra "nothing in, nothing out." Boyle's crew shares commonalities with the members of 1991's actual Biosphere 2 experiment, though the novel is less interested in forcing connections between fact and fiction than it is in exploring the ambition, hubris and heart of its characters.

The narrators include two Terranauts, Dawn Chapman (also known as "E.") and Ramsay Roothoorp (also known as "Vodge"). A third, Linda Ryu, vies for a position among the Terranauts and fails; instead, she is relegated to support staff, working for Mission Control (an eerie governing body mere feet from the Ecosphere). Linda's position largely amounts to spying on the people within, noting their sorrows, their frustrations and the experiment's flaws — longing, nonetheless, to join them.

In "The Terranauts," Boyle frequently returns to the matter of Dawn and Linda's friendship. Both women assert that they are "best friends" and make frequent claims of loyalty, but the underlying dynamic is one of toxicity and jealousy. Between 1994 and 1996, Dawn goes from mere Terranaut to the Ecosphere's celebrity, becoming both a wife and a mother while inside.

Linda, seething, observes this trajectory with displeasure. Boyle's prose is gleefully perceptive — how swiftly these Terranauts, who claim dedication to their mission, default to the language of captives. "We were a cult," Linda tells us. Ramsay, in spite of his insistence that he'd "have given up all [his] fingertips" for the mission, compares himself to an "incarceree."

All three narrators occupy a strange and fascinating place — the crossroads of megalomania and self-pity. In a moment of genuine crisis, when the Terranauts are threatened by imminent heatstroke, four of them vote for survival (in the form of leaving); four, Ramsay and Dawn among them, insist on staying inside. The deeper Boyle probes into the reasons for this insistence, the more prominent the hunger for fame becomes, cloaked in platitudes about the importance of the mission.

Hunger, above all else, dominates, and not only Linda's yearning to be a Terranaut, but the literal hunger of the people inside the dome. They lick their plates. They steal bananas from each other. Limited to what they can slaughter or harvest, the Terranauts fantasize about food.

With long, decadent lists, Boyle indulges in delicious prose, just as he does when he gives us "a secret … like a dab of raspberry-flavored gloss," "queries … soft as baby powder," "a dress the color of a saxophone."

In their efforts to adhere to the principle "nothing in, nothing out," the Terranauts challenge themselves to transcend their human appetites, and the struggle is worth our full attention.

Jackie Thomas-Kennedy's fiction has appeared in LennyLetter, Narrative, Glimmer Train, Story Quarterly and elsewhere. She was a 2014-16 Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.