At last I read the eighth and last book in Harry Turtledove’s Worldwar/Colonization series. It took Turtledove 10 years to finish to write the eight book series. Since I finished the first book on Feb. 13, 1994, it took me almost twice as long to read them.
Review: Homeward Bound by Harry Turtledove, 2004.
If you haven’t read the proceeding seven books in the Worldwar/Colonization series, there’s no point in reading this one.
And, even if you have read them, Turtledove’s usual worm’s eye view of things, the puns, the constant repetition about the alien Lizards’ conservatism and human’s reckless innovation, may try your patience.
The plot is somewhat padded and simple. Americans, including perennial series character Sam Yeager, venture to the alien Race’s Homeworld in a slower than light ship, passing the years in cold sleep. Thus the novel takes place over several decades. Once there, they try to force the ultraconservative Lizards to treat them as equals. The Race naturally resists but some also wonder if human ingenuity has now exceeded them in science and technology and if worse is to come.
Yet … it is a must read for those who have read the rest of the series. All those scenes with our many viewpoint characters and their conversations, however repetitious, and their interior monologues left me sorry to leave them. Turtledove has made these characters believable. As with his other alternate history novels, one has the sense of seeing a real world sharing a past with ours but facing, like us, an uncertain, unseen future, just a different one.
And this novel has a great deal of melancholy. There are characters caught between two worlds: Kassquit, the Chinese woman raised by Lizards as an experiment, and her opposites, Mickey and Donald, Lizards raised in a human family. And the characters not alienated by circumstances are alienated by time. Almost every other character, Lizard and human, ultimately realizes, to paraphrase a Steely Dan lyric, that the world they knew don’t turn no more.
It occurs to me, after finishing this book, that Turtledove is a theatrical writer. By having little action and each scene featuring at least one viewpoint character and so many dialogue and soliloquies, i.e. interior monologues, his novels are like plays.
American life is already obsessed enough with race that I really don’t welcome science fiction stories centered around it, whether in a literal or metaphorical way. To quote Brian Lambert, a local film critic, when he reviewed Alien Nation, “Science fiction fans already know racism isn’t cool.” So it’s a bit surprising that I like Turtledove as much as I do.
Racism and persecution are major themes in his alternate histories. There’s not much in the way of metaphor here. Persecuted minorities show up in circumstances not unrecognizably different from those of history. Some Jews, after the Holocaust, understandably side with the alien Race. American blacks are tempted to but most ultimately don’t. However, Nazi Germany and Jim Crow laws no longer exist and that renders most literary examinations of “race issues”, on the face of it, as whines with little sense of historical perspective.
Turtledove has a black character, Frank Coffey, state that humans are all alike. And so they mostly are as far as the Race is concerned. But Turtledove didn’t always present the bland modern piety that people are the same all over. His short story “Last Favor” metaphorically looked at, by turning Jews into aliens on another world, the theory that economic persecution created the superior IQs of European Jews.
Finally, this novel reminded me, in the cultural alienation of the crew of the Admiral Peary, of the fate of all those combat veterans featured in Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. Both have undergone missions which pull them apart from the evolution of human culture, and they find they simply can not enter its mainstream again.
Turtledove is one of those writers who has a fairly good fan site devoted to his work.