Friday, December 23, 2011

Tangling with the wrong crowd

kw: book reviews, science fiction, future fiction, space aliens

Joe Haldeman, who achieved fame with his Forever War series, takes up quite a different tack with his recent Marsbound novels. Marsbound was followed by Starbound, and now by Earthbound. The novels are set some 200 years in our future.

In this third novel, the meaning of "bound" shifts. In the first two, humanity was bound for Mars, then for the stars. Here, they are bound to Earth. The Others, greatly superior beings from 25 light years away, were discovered to exist in the first novel, and contacted in the second. They have imposed limits on human expansion, first by blowing up the Moon into a planetary shroud. When the American president ordered a shielded rocket to launch anyway, the Others shut off the power—a source of "free energy" that had only recently revolutionized the global economies. Then they went further to prevent all electrical machinery from working. Electrochemistry seems to still work, so brains have not shut down!

The novel carries Carmen, the heroine of the first two novels, through a few weeks of adventures on a world of eight or nine billions suddenly thrust into the Nineteenth Century. Actually, for most people on Earth, I would not expect the loss of electricity to have much effect. They are still living in the Sixteenth Century. A lot depends on how far "Western" technology spreads in the 21st and early 22nd Centuries.

It is hard to say too much without giving the story away. As you might expect, in a total collapse of society, money becomes valueless, and the greatest worth is now placed on food and ammunition. Much of the excitement of the book is set in a few pitched gun battles, in which Carmen learns to shoot, perhaps to kill. The book ends with a transition, so the author has more novels planned. Why should he stop with a trilogy? The fashion these days is to go on for five to seven volumes. In particular, in the closing chapters it is not even certain just how advanced the Others are, and whether humanity can come to terms with them on any kind of useful basis. I'll stay tuned.

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