HOMEWARD BOUNDA novel by Harry Turtledove
(2001, Del Rey Books)
A book of The Race
An American spaceship arrives at Home, to the consternation of the Race and a surpised Yeager, who inherits the role of ambassador.
-- First reading (paperback)
It has obviously taken me some time to get back into this series, after the mediocre Colonization series. And when I started this book, I realized that it was going to take me a long time to get through this one, too. It certainly did, and after a month, I finished it -not because it was a long book, but because it spent a lot of time saying nothing, or repeating the same thing over and over again.
By the end of Aftershocks, we knew that the Americans would end up visiting Home. The first chapter of this book sets that up, finally. Sam Yeager, his son and daughter in law Jonathan and Karen, and Glen Johnson are among the humans chosen to go into cold sleep in order to make the 40 year journey. Atvar has already been recalled because of his apparent failure at Tosev 3, and Kassquit (human raised by the Race) and Ttomalss are sent on the Race's ships back to deal with the Americans when they arrive -the Race's ships being twice as fast as the Americans', they have some time to prepare.
My main complaint about this book is the same one I had throughout the Colonization books, and to a lesser extent, the Conquest books, only it is magnified here, because we are on Home for almost the entire book. The Race is a human culture and technological society no different from our own, except for a few details. And those details are hammered into the reader nearly every page, because the author really doesn't have anything else to say.
We are told so often that the Race finds humans disgusting for their year-round sexual displays, while we get to see one instance of the Race's mating time -complete chaos, and amusing to the humans.
The humans from the spaceship are put up in a crummy hotel, where they eat foods from Home, they get to tour some spots on the planet with a tour guide named Trir, and watch the locals come and go. Some lizards have started wearing purple hair and clothing, in imitation of human habits. Others are after as much ginger as they can get, buying or selling, which of course leads to prostitution. Still others are purely stupid. In fact, except in the anti-human slander in place of racial hatreds on Earth, all members of the Race could be human. They even drive cars, have buses with broken air conditioners, used book stores, and so on.
Absolutely nothing happens throughout most of the book. When the true American ambassador dies in cold sleep, Yeager is turned into the ambassador, against the feelings of a lot of military persons, who still think he betrayed his country by telling the Race that Americans destroyed the first colonization fleet. Yeager, for his part, deals with Atvar, who doesn't take his demands seriously. Americans want to be treated as equals, and the Race just doesn't consider them to be equals, even if they managed to get to Home in their own starship, often citing their long history compared to humans'.
Yeager gets an audience with the Emperor, and while they exchange a few words, nothing much happens. Eventually, it leads to an impasse where the Race considers sending a secret message to Earth telling their colonization fleet to exterminate the humans there. Fortunately, Yeager reveals that they have been tapping the Race's phone lines, which prevents this from happening.
In space, Johnson gets to float around and make bad jokes with the other pilot on board. He flies over to a nearby Race spaceship, where he is searched for ginger, and once he inadvertently takes over a scooter full of ginger. The next time, he refuses to do so, and gets sent to the brig because of it.
Kassquit refuses to wear clothes, especially on Home where it is very very hot. In that way, she titillates the men of the American crew, which amuses some, and angers Karen, because of course Jonathan spent some time as a teen exploring sex with Kassquit in orbit around Earth. Even as she longs for Jonathan again, she becomes lovers with Frank Coffey, who is stressed as being a black man over and over again. Of course, with the amount of sex they have, she becomes pregnant, but we only get a few amusing insights into that. Kassquit also gets an audience with the Emperor, but it seems that the lizard rarely says more than one or two words to anybody. Of course, she and Atvar later sit down with the Emperor to try and figure out what to do with them, but nobody has any solutions.
The author poses a mystery somewhere in the first third of the book, in that Ttomalss reads a report from Earth about research the Americans have been doing. He contacts a physicist of his own, who starts her own experiments, but the Race moves much more slowly than humanity, we are told almost every page, so it could be centuries until the Race catches up, but it will change society forever after. At first I thought it might be laser weaponry, but my second thought, immediately dismissed, was faster than light travel. Of course it turned out to be the second. A year after the first American ship arrived, a second one does, but having spent a total travel time of five weeks to pass ten light-years.
Nobody likes these new Americans, as they are arrogant and flaunt their superiority in technology over both the Race and the out-of-date ship. But it seems that the Race and humanity have not come to a better understanding on Earth over time; the relationship is just as uneasy as it ever was. Atvar takes a return trip to Earth to verify the claims, and Sam and the others return to Earth, even though the crew was told explicitly not to let Yeager return.
As a day-to-day description of things that happen on ambassadorial trips, this was tolerable. As a story about learning about a new culture up close and experiencing a new planet, it was very disappointing. Often characters would think the same thoughts over and over again every twenty or forty pages, which seemed to be used only to lengthen the book, and for no other reason.
There was also no resolution, so I wonder if more books will be written. The author will have to think of something new, though, because the technology at the end of this book has now exceeded our own. Tensions are still high on Earth and on Home. The Race is racing to develop FTL technology, even as Russian and possibly German ships are on their way to Home, and those countries are developing FTL technology, too. What kind of reaction will they get? Will the Americans decide that the Race is now a danger that should be eliminated since American technology is far superior -I can imagine the Germans doing so in retaliation. It would have been nice to get some kind of resolution.
And a note on the cover of this book. What species is shown reflected in the spacesuit helmet? Even if these members of the Race were sporting wigs (which is not representative of the species, so I can't see that being the intention), where are the eye-stalks? That was the main physical trait distinguishing them from Terrestrial lizards, but all I see on the cover are dinosaurs. I understand the portrayal of the American, but why put him in a spacesuit, since we are seeing Home? Most Americans never once wore a spacesuit in the entire book, with the exception of Johnson, who was actually in space.
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