Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Earthbound - Joe Haldeman

Joe Haldeman
Science Fiction

This is the third in a series that began with MARSBOUND and STARBOUND.  If you haven’t read the first two novels, you’ve missed some great scifi.  And you’re also going to be unavoidably spoiled by this review.

This novel begins directly after the events of STARBOUND.  Carmen Dula and her pilot husband Paul, are back on Earth after a unique trip to the stars where they met and spoke with a race called the Others.  The Others are completely alien to us.  Their motivations and goals are virtually unknowable.  Possibly immortal, the Others set plans for centuries or millennia into the future.  They’ve told the humans, in no uncertain terms, to stop space exploration; to stop interstellar travel or face dire consequences. 
Predictably, the military begins to construct a defensive space fleet.  During a launch, the Others make good on their threat.  They turn off the power, worldwide.  Nothing electrical or better works.  The Others effectively return Earth to a nineteenth-century existence.  This means that billions will die.  Most of them will die from starvation when food cannot be grown, harvested, and transported (gas-powered vehicles are a rarity) to them.  Many more will die off when life-saving technology simply stops working. 
Carmen, Paul, and the rest of the participants in the journey to meet the Others are stranded on Earth with little to no food, water, or weapons to survive the coming years.  Survival from day to day is paramount; after that, planning for a future no one expected. 
Their struggles on the ground seem pretty realistic.  They each bring a certain amount of scientific or local or psychological knowledge to the table.  There are other groups of people roaming the land (the world, one assumes) who are of the ‘kill the competition and take their resources’ mind-set.  The story becomes an almost post-apocalypse type of road trip.  It could be read that way, if the reader is starting with this volume.  But that’s really selling the story – and the characters – short.  Due to space travel and time relativity, these people have spent decades together, for better or worse.  Their collective background adds a real resonance to their current situation.   My only real quibble is that the ending feels a bit rushed. But that’s probably because I would have been happy to read another three novels with these characters. 
This is a great series for fans of scifi, and also for newcomers to the genre.  It’s a story that clearly spans Earth, Mars, and what lies beyond our own galaxy; but the story and events are truly driven by the characters and how they interact over time.  Highly recommended.
Rating: 9
December 2012
ISBN# 978-0-441-02095-9 (hardcover)


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