Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Index

EARTHBOUND

A novel by Joe Haldeman (2011, ACE Science Fiction)

With all electrical power stopped on Earth, people start to form armed gangs for survival, while others, including those recently returned from the Others’ homeworld, try to maintain a sense of civilization.

 

 

Read May 23rd to 26th, 2016 on my iPad  
    It’s unfortunate that the book started to fizzle about halfway through, and ended with such a sudden and uninspired conclusion, because it started off so interesting, full of well-written banter and conjecture. In the end, the whole thing must be considered a write-off.

Spoiler review:

Earthbound differs from its predecessors in that the title refers not to a voyage to Earth, but to the fact that the main characters are apparently stuck there forever. While the book started out quite exciting, a sort of post-apocalyptic society in the throes of being born, it felt like the author gave up on it, so that as it progressed, things started to get out of hand, and I wondered how the characters were ever going to get out of it. Then the author started killing off main characters, and I wondered if any of them would get out of it. Unfortunately, the book uses cheats and has a lot of inconsistencies that make even the exciting first half less intriguing.

The book starts off at the moment Starbound ended, with Carmen and Paul and the others standing on the beach as the rocket humanity was going to test drops to the ground, and all power is turned off by the Others. They see the first signs of the degeneration of humanity as the military people responsible for the launch are killed by machine gun. It seems that any madman could have triggered the wrath of the Others by betraying the ban on space travel.

The first part of the book, where they are trying to secure weapons to defend against the crazy people who survived, reminded me a lot of the much better written No Time to Scream/No Time To Waste novels, which take the concept much farther. But it was nice in that Carmen’s group got to travel around to different areas and see the chaos from different points of view, though they were not all that different in the long run.

After less than a day without power, the Others decide to turn the power back on for a few days. Spy, who shows up for no reason whatsoever, tells them that the Others are not interested in humanity –but then why the experiment? He says his being there must serve some purpose, but it doesn’t –he disappears and reappears at random, whenever the author needs somebody to survive or be killed.

When power is restored, they get a call to join the president at Camp David, except that it turns out to be the vice-president, and it is strongly implied that he killed the President to get the job. So they fly out there, and when they see what a horrible person he seems to be, abandon the new President to a group of renegade fighters encroaching on the area. They also make a stop in Siberia in order to drop off their Martian, who has run out of food and is getting very hot. There are other Martians in Siberia, and Martian food.

One of their group used to live in a solitary walled-community in the west, so they fly there, as it seems like a self-sufficient place from which to restart humanity. It’s really at this point that things start going downhill, and not for any good reason. The people at the compound seem nice enough, and they have an opportunity to acquire many books, which seems like a good thing to have when restarting humanity. The owner of the books will trade them for details of their adventure in Starbound. So once again they fly there. While they are there, the governor of California declares independence, and firebombs the entire state border. It seems overly efficient that he would be able to do something like that after only a few days since the power went out. So they take off again, gaining enough altitude to avoid the deadly radiation, and that’s when Spy appears to tell them that the Others have decided to turn the power back out.

Of course, at that point, they are still in the air, and I thought Paul would be able to glide to a somewhat stable landing close to the compound, as other airplanes in our world have done that on occasion. But they weren’t as high as I thought, I guess, because in very little time they crash, killing several more people, and seriously injuring most of the rest. Of all things, they gather some books in a trolley cart to travel dozens of miles back to the compound. This is where Spy shows himself again, saving their lives by killing some attackers. The next time, in which Paul is killed, they find a young girl, are ambushed by a bicycle gang, and a hailfire of machine guns is started. Only a few people survive that one. When Nizar returns with a horse and buggy, they manage to get back to the compound, but it’s under attack.

In the first few pages of the book, Carmen’s brother Card shows up. He’d moved back to Earth from Mars, and spends the first half of the book with them, but disappears. He reappears as part of the anarchic group that attacks the compound, and is killed in the effort. With the compound burning, and the risk of another attack high, many more main characters dead, it looks like the author decided to abandon the book. The Martians show up, from Mars, to collect the Siberian Martians, and decide to pick up Carmen also. Since Paul is dead, she picks Nizar to come with her. I guess they get to have sex after all, something both of them fantasized about all through Starbound. At least they get to spend the rest of their lives with technology. There is mention that some sort of organized civilization is being maintained on Earth, as somebody in Siberia created a gigantic symbol that can be picked up by Martian telescopes.

This is another capricious act, though, in that the Martians who rescue Carmen at the end were not allowed to land, or else they would lose power. Why would their craft need to touch Earth to feel its effects? Didn’t airplanes and rockets feel the effects, even when they were not Earthbound?

The author was able to put together the remnants of a society pretty well, only I don’t think he really knew where to go with it. Obviously it would take years, or decades, to restore humanity to some semblance of civilization, but here we get less than a week. In Starbound, he jumped many years through the voyage, until the halfway point. If the story had an actual direction, it might have been better to take the same route here.
 
   

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