Earthbound completes (?) Haldeman’s Mars series, and where the second book, Starbound, ended disappointedly, this novel redeems the series after the brilliant first book, Marsbound.
The first book, of course, detailed how humans met aliens on Mars who it turned out where not native to the red planet, but creatures created tens of thousands of years ago by the mysterious and very powerful species called the Others. As it turns out, these Others were using the pseudo-Martians as observer’s, keeping an eye on the planet, waiting for the humans to achieve spaceflight. The Others, for reasons not fully understandable, does not want humans leaving the solar system. But humans being human’s, ignore their threats. So the Others, not fully understanding the yahoo part of humanity was forced to prove their power: a planet-scouring bomb that was designed to eliminate the humans. But things don’t go as planned. The second book dealt with the trip to the Others home system of Wolf 25, all while Earth is creating a fleet of ships to protect themselves from further attack. But the power of the Others was not to be taken lightly, and they destroy half the Moon, along with the fleet, which will prevent humans from ever leaving Earth again. They also redirect all electrical power off the planet, returning the 22nd Century Earth to a technological-less nineteenth century of living.
This is where Earthbound begins. As expected –something that is a thread within all post-apocalyptic literature- is the ones with the guns begin calling the shots. Carmen Dula, with her husband Paul, along with several military and medical people, are on the run from everyone, heading towards a commune that may –or may not be- their salvation. Along the way, Spy –the avatar the Others created to interact with Carmen- pops up and tries to explain the motivations of his creators, only to admit even “he” is unsure why they do what they do.
In this third volume, Haldeman infuses the book with realism –once again, lifted from his time in Vietnam- and a procedural aspect about the total breakdown of society. And while Carmen and her compatriots have some luck, they encounter some helpful people who believe in some sort of mutual trust, while others use weapons and death to get their point across –something of a cliché with these types of novels, but to be honest, I sense there is some truth to it.
As always, Haldeman’s low key approach makes the book work. I’ve been struggling with Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars since the early part of January, getting only through a 160 pages in two weeks. I basically read this book in a matter of hours. Of course, while Haldeman does use some scientific gobblygook, it’s more “magic” than Red Mars, which seems to be a more realistic, thus technical manual wrapped with fictional characters, on what it takes to live on Mars. Perhaps because I find all that dry, mathematical (logical?) stuff boring, I’ve created a resistance to reading it. It’s a rarity for me not to finish a book once I’ve started, but I may end up just setting Red Mars aside.