OR: Earthfall

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #25:-


Orson Scott Card

Orbit pb, 370pp, £5.99

Volume Four of The Homecoming series, this book sees the patriarch Volmak and his extended family leave the planet Harmony and commence the long journey back to Earth, abandoned by humanity over a million years before. Tensions run high between eldest son Elemak and Nafai, the chosen one of the Oversoul, the computer that rules Harmony and whose malfunction has prompted the return to Earth, and desperate measures are required to prevent internecine strife. The problem is further compounded after arrival on Earth by contact with the two races that have evolved in mankind’s absence, the angels and diggers, who Elemak attempts to suborn to his own ends.

‘First Publication in the UK’ the cover boldly declares, begging the question of why the book took so long to get into print over here when it was written five years ago,. One tentative answer is that possibly the three previous volumes of Homecoming were not as well received as Card’s other work.

In Homecoming Card’s Mormon religious convictions are much closer to the surface than in any of his other series. Harmony’s society is cast in an Old Testament mould, with the Oversoul performing the function of God and Nafai as a messianic figure. Card uses this scenario to examine the nature of man’s relationship to his creator, questions of good and evil, the problem of free will. Gene Wolfe has touched on similar themes in his Long Sun series, but Card’s work is not as subtle and the analogy he uses is inexact, so that the reader is left continually wanting to protest at the liberties the author permits himself, especially when he attempts to reconcile Biblical disapproval of such things as homosexuality and adultery with his own tolerance for his characters’ natures.

By taking the story into space and away from the Oversoul, by introducing the angels and diggers, Earthfall distances itself from the religious bias of the earlier volumes, giving us instead something that shares more common ground with novels like Speaker for the Dead, a story with spiritual values but not the taint of an orthodoxy based on received wisdom. The result is a work that is far more mellow and as accessible as anything else Card’s produced, with two intriguing alien cultures for the reader to explore and an absorbing clash of personalities. Characterisation, both human and alien, is handled well with, as so often in Card’s work, the primacy of the family unit at its heart. While the back story might be questionable, this book scores points for its intelligence and compassion, and I’m curious to see just how the author wraps it all up in the final volume.

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