Homeward Bound (Review)

Homeward Bound (Review)

uthor Harry Turtledove started his Game of Thrones-ish mega-series years back, the sprawling Worldwar/ Colonization series. In it, a hapless lizard race which takes everything in stride (including technological advancement) probes our world in the middle ages and decides that it will take humans thousands and thousands of years to get any sort of comparable technology. Taking their time (roughly twelve hundred years), they gradually assemble an invasion fleet (followed by a colonization fleet). And imagine their surprise when they arrive but instead of knights with white satin they find themselves in the screaming confusions of World War Two.

The first few books of the series really held my attention (a couple of the scenes are still with me). It was all good fun. And then it began to grind down and I lost interest. Well, several books later, I intercepted one of the later books (Homeward Bound) at a used bookstore. So, sure, why not? Couple of bucks. What would be the harm?

So now, human technology is improving (through native ingenuity and outright theft). Suddenly the Race (these lizards) realize that they can’t keep up, that humans are outstripping them. And then, to their utter chagrin, an American space ship shows up over Home (the lizard home planet) with nuclear weapons, demanding to speak as diplomatic equals. Tastelessly, they even name their ship the Admiral Peary. Get it?

And that’s when the books’ progress stopped.

Sure, it’s an interesting premise, the idea that The Race has opened a Pandora’s Box of headaches. What will keep the humans from over-expanding or even simply wiping The Race out? In this, I am reminded of the Moties and the danger they represented. But where the story was advancing with interesting concepts, it’s as if Turtledove (and possibly his ghostwriters) had a note – Americans wait at Embassy, go on tours of Home – 300 pages.

Really, nothing happened. The tour groups added very little to the novel – the Americans were boorish and judgmental. And yes, the world was desert and the air hot. I got it. Over and over. As far as the diplomacy, neither side had any concept of tact – the slightest accidental insult would result in pages and pages of bluster and closure. Add to this the tepid romance between a Race-raised Chinese girl (and her wallowing in not-fitting-in) and a black character (with his sulking about race relations) and the lizard characters endlessly confronting the tiger-by-the-tail truth the humans represented and you had a very slow book indeed. One could actually imagine being on a real tour with these people, complaining about how there was no ice, how alien The Race’s concepts were (belittlingly) and how crummy the hotel was, and you pretty much had an all-expenses-paid trip to Borneo.

The plot needed to move. And it didn’t.

As far as reading some of the bridging books, I’ve got no need. The characters talked those prior events to death, along with everything else.

Turtledove has really impressed me in the past, particularly with Days of Infamy. But this one, I really found myself cooling to, even on an exotic world where the temperature hovers at the upper end of comfort.