Fatesocruel's Reviews > Earthseed

Earthseed by Pamela Sargent
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's review
Jul 24, 11

liked it
bookshelves: summer-reading-list-2011, meh

2.5 stars – Right in the middle. It’s not good enough for three, and certainly far from a two; more accurately I’d give it 2.75 stars, but I don’t subdivide that far.

For all the crap I’m going to give this book, I actually did enjoy it. It was good, good enough that I’ll probably read the sequel. Despite this, there are some things that I just can’t let go. For some indication of what I mean, it ranks about a 1.5 on the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness.

Let’s start with the most obvious issue: Ship. Ship is not bad, and actually gets character development (there’s a super-cool reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey at one point) toward the end. Unfortunately, Ship is not plausible. Its entire mission is a sound idea, but how it’s carried out….does not quite work. First, to raise (view spoiler) about a hundred (more likely more) children from birth to teenage years takes a crazy amount of resources, which it seems unlikely that a ship would be able to carry with it. After all, Ship is unlikely to be Starship Luxurious, and the food alone (which does not seem to be freeze-dried or anything) would conceivably take up a lot of space and mass. Then there’s clothes, as Zoheret mentions picking out clothes for a party, so she must have multiple garments to chose from. I could go on, but you must get the picture. Then later we learn about how exactly Ship was acquired, and the people who live off world in like ships. It’s mentioned that they could have unlimited populations, unlike on Earth where everything had to be rationed. No. Just no. Everything may be rationed on Earth, but it would be ten times worse on the ships. Especially since the people who live on those ships don’t go beyond the Solar System, and I don’t know that they could be getting resources from any of our fellow planets (except maybe Mars with a colony at a stretch, or possibly some asteroid). Also, fuel and propulsion of Ship are not discussed; I suppose that I should leave it alone then, but when in the beginning you learn Ship’s been traveling over a century… And then, I couldn’t help thinking of something I heard in my seventh-grade (I think) history class – about experiments performed by Hitler on babies raised by robots, with no human contact whatsoever, and none of them survived past one or two years. I do not very directly recall this though, and it’s entirely possible that the children of Ship were raised together.

More specifically about Ship, there’s the Hollow. It’s a lovely idea, really, but it makes less of an effort at reality than the timey-wimeyest episode of Doctor Who or Star Trek. I mean, come on. A natural, Earth-like space in the middle of an interstellar ship that takes two frikkin’ days to cross? With a raging river and stocked lake and enough dirt soil for farmland (view spoiler)? Really? I can suspend my disbelief pretty far, but this is ridiculous, even keeping in mind Ship is built as part of an asteroid. When Zoheret and company go to the Hollow to live, it’s a nice and purposeful segment, but it’s just too unrealistic when you start to think about it. Where does the water come from, and go? Is it recycled? How do the crops grow without real sunlight, because, you know, photosynthesis isn’t just some textbook thing? How are all the animals not dead already, or hunted to extinction? For that matter, how is there enough oxygen to support the Hollow, and Ship in general? I know trees do a lot, but they can’t do it without photosynthesis. I don’t know, maybe Sargent’s just saying, here’s the advanced technology that maybe runs this world, and you don’t have to worry about how it works, so let’s move on. I guess I like my science fiction hard or character driven. This book doesn’t really do a fantastic job of either.

Characters are a pretty mixed bag, but they’re mostly well-developed. In particular, Zoheret and Ho get excellent development, as well as Manuel, the (view spoiler) conspiracy theorist Lillka, and hypocritical Willem. Actually, I don’t like Willem that much. But he gets an interesting moment at the end. Zoheret especially has quite a journey, especially after the finale. Humanity’s stupidity and stubbornness is present in full force, and realistically depicted as that, as frustrating as it is to read sometimes. However, specifically at the beginning, there are a lot of sudden character changes and new feelings with little to no explanation, though this mostly evens out by the time the main action rolls around. I also can’t quite see all teenagers having casual sex and drinking, and that such things are completely condoned by Ship. It’s also hard to imagine them as being the perfect age for colonization, but maybe that’s because of the society I grew up in.

Generally speaking, it works as a story. There were two twists I did not predict (though I should have seen the first one coming), which was interesting just from a storytelling perspective – because I am very good at predicting twists/endings. It did not have a neat, happy ending, which makes me incredibly happy. I would have been utterly disappointed if everything had worked out. The first hundred pages or so start the book out roughly. There’s the character issues, plot events seeming to happen just to happen and give the characters something to do while the rest of the book is set up, and some clunky writing. If you can get through that, though, the book’s worth a read. It’s unexpectedly fast-paced, and certainly not what you would think it was from either the cover or this review. It’s hard to review a book that has so much spoiler potential for conversations, so the best I can say is to give it a try. If you can look past the logic fails, it’s not so bad.

(view spoiler)
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