Monday, July 13, 2009

Homeward Bound

Maybe the problem here is that I read the last book first.

I'm normally a fan of Harry Turtledove. He produces some great counterfactual history stories and I've read some great short stories of his as well. But in spite of his sterling reputation with me, Homeward Bound fell short for me, and I say that with a great deal of irony.

Like I said, this is the last book in a series, one with the following premise: what if aliens invaded during the height of World War II? One minute, the Axis and Allies are at each others' throats. The next, they have to cooperate to repel the invaders. They are a bunch of lizards who call themselves the Race. Human beings have to fight tooth and nail to survive and, eventually, they begin to adapt. They steal loads of technology from the Race, advancing in leaps and bounds.

Homeward Bound picks up toward the end of the twentieth century. Things have stabilized on Earth and so the United States casts its gaze outward toward Home, the Race's homeworld. They've been tinkering with cold sleep, the suspended animation the Race uses to traverse the distance between stars. And so now, the U.S. is ready to send a delegation to the Race to try to hammer out a mutual peace.

It's not an easy task. Sam Yeager, a man seen as a traitor by most of the U.S., is sent (mostly to get him out of the way on Earth). So are his son and daughter-in-law. An assortment of other people are sent hurtling through space. Theirs is no easy challenge. They have to overcome the deeply entrenched pride and prejudice of the Race to convince them that they are equals. This becomes incredibly difficult when messages from Earth reach Home, hinting that the balance of power is about to shift dramatically.

This could have been a great book. I love the way that Turtledove described the Race. They were definitely alien beings. I also liked the way he portrayed the human race after living with the Race for half a century.

But this book really didn't do much of anything for me. For starters, it was too repetitious. Turtledove described people going into cold sleep at least half a dozen times, using very similar language. And then he described the same half dozen coming out of cold sleep, utilizing the same jokes. Then, when the humans are on Home, we see the same scene at least three times. And when the balance-tipping point comes, we see the same argument several times. Quite honestly, I think that Turtledove could have cut out all the repeating information. He could have easily saved us at least a hundred pages (maybe more) if he had.

The other major problem is that there were so many missed opportunities in the book. It never really went anywhere. Moments when the mission could have been put in mortal danger were glossed over or winked at. The balance-tipping point is hinted at so strongly I knew what was going to happen at least a hundred pages before it did. And the ending sort of fizzled (thanks to even more repetitious scenes!).

Maybe the problem is that I haven't read the other eight or ten books that came before this one. As a result, I had no clue who most of the characters were and had a hard time mustering any sympathy for them. Well, that's not entirely true. I could sympathize with them. But I kept wanting them to do something interesting. Instead, they mostly just sat around and talked.

So don't bother with this one unless you've read the others in the series. As for me, I don't think I'll be revisiting the Race any time soon.

No comments: