Monday, February 2, 2009

Homeward Bound

Homeward Bound
© 2005 Harry Turtledove
597 pages


This week I concluded Harry Turtledove's Worldwar-Colonization metaseries on a high note. Homeward Bound picks up at the conclusion of Aftershocks (1970) but quickly moves to 2030. In the opening pages, Turtledove moves the plot forward those six decades: the United States builds a starship (Admiral Peary) and some of the series' major viewpoint characters are put into cold sleep for their journey to Tau Ceti 3 -- otherwise known as the homeworld of the Race, "Home". Almost the entire book takes place on Home. Sam Yeager -- a major character since the In the Balance -- becomes the United States' ambassador after a character known only as "The Doctor" dies in the cold sleep process. While he fights for the United States' right to be taken seriously by the Race, other humans go sight-seeing. There's really not much to see on Home: neither the weather nor architecture vary much.

The theme of the book is almost adjustment: the Race and Humanity's relations to one another have changed. Humanity is now surpassing the Race in technology. The Admiral Peary is inferior to the Lizards' own starships, but it is clear from communications they receive from Earth that humanity's technological prowess is snowballing. We read hints that human physicists have stumbled into something so extraordinary that it turns Einstein on his head. The Race is faced with a dilemma: it is obvious that humanity will soon surpass them, creating the possibility that one day soon Nazi and Soviet warships will threaten Home. This being so, would it not be more wise for the Race to attempt to extinguish humanity -- and thus save itself from the wrath of a once-bullied foe? They know that even the United States may change its peaceful attitude toward the Race in the future as it becomes more powerful. Indeed, as we meet Americans from the 2030s, we find that they are a power-confident lot who treat the Race and the Americans of the 20th century -- those who had been in cold sleep for sixty+ years -- with a certain amount of disdain.

Turtledove weaves a thoroughly interesting story. His characters in this series have been particularly strong. We've seen characters like Sam Yeager evolve from a young baseball player who spends his offtime reading Astounding Stories into a distinguished exopsychologist and ambassador -- as well as a purported traitor whose name is remembered in infamy by some. Such is Turtledove's approach that the reader can sypathize with a character like Atvar, who is forced to entertain the proposition of turning Earth into a radioactive no-man's-land in order to save his empire from extinction. Turtledove also concludes some storylines while leaving others, giving the reader something to ponder. I for one do not like the idea of a disunited Earth settling space, considering that the major powers of Earth are the United States, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union. Turtledove's area is alternate history, but I can see someone penning a science fiction series on the basis that the Soviets, Nazis, Japanese, and Americans are fighting for space territory.

Homeward Bound is a suitable and very readable conclusion to the Worldwar/Colonization series. I can say I will miss reading this series, which is more than I can say for the How Few Remain/Timeline-191/Southern Victory series.

4 comments:

  1. I actually thought that this was quite a slog and fairly boring compared to his other books in this series. The only interesting part I found was the human invention of FTL ships.

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  2. Do you mean as compared to the Colonization books, or to the series as a whole, including Worldwar? The diplomatic wranglings got a bit repetitive, but I was spurred on by anticipation: I knew FTL would be the end result, but I didn't know how Turtledove was going to implement them into the story. Did you find the ending predictable, then?

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  3. SC said: Do you mean as compared to the Colonization books, or to the series as a whole, including Worldwar?

    Both really.

    SC said: Did you find the ending predictable, then?

    Pretty much. The whole FTL thing was telegraphed for quite a long time. Also the whole time on the Lizard Homeworld I found generally dull. There was very little tension & I thought it didn't move the story along very much - or at least very quickly. All in all I thought it was a damp squib ending to a fairly good series.

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  4. I think that comes from the nature of a book: rather than being the planned-for deliberate ending, it was released after Colonization and isn't part of the series proper, so the ending doesn't have that...touch to it. I predicted FTL, but I didn't know what the consequences of it would be. (We still don't, since Turtledove didn't wrap a lot of the story up.)

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