Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Wed Apr 11 23:21:20 EDT 1990

Raymond's Reviews #32

%T Earthfall
%A Jerry Earl Brown
%I Berkeley/Ace
%D Jan 1990
%O paperback, US$3.95
%P 278
%G 0-441-85914-3

Jerry Earl Brown's 1981 debut, Under The City Of Angels, was an eerie and gripping SF novel that attracted far less attention than it should have. I missed Darkhold, which this one lists on a flyleaf; but Earthfall is nearly as good -- less impressive only because it takes fewer chances, and for another reason (not the author's fault) which I'll get to shortly.

Some hundreds of years in the future, the nations of Earth have destroyed themselves and much of the planet's ecology, leaving the planet a wasteland inhabited by fierce mutants and a few remnant humans. A high-tech human civilization still exists in space, but (as in John McLaughlin's Helix And The Sword) has turned its back on the mother world, girdling it with a network of satellite sentries to destroy woild-be visitors.

Chia Swann is a terraphile, one of the minority that feels drawn back to the home world. She risks everything to land and walk there, the first spacer to do so in as long as her culture publicly remembers. In the Valley of Mexico, one of the few areas still habitable, she first sees evidence that human tribes still roam the shattered landscape, then encounters Stares-At-Nothing, an outcast boy who heals the sick and has pre-visions of the future. She flees to orbit and is declared outlaw by the InterWorld Federation.

IWF has its own agenda. Somewhere in the Valley, near the place the Aztecs called the City Of Sorcerers, is the ruins of a Russian safehouse believed to contain the plans for a prototype FTL drive. The IWF's ruthless director, Allin Yaelu, is ready to break the ban on Earth and land troops there to get them.

Meanwhile, a drifter named O'Rourke rides into the Valley from the North, struggling against memories too terrible to bear. And the mutant chieftain Sikatre, the man who slaughtered Stares-at-Nothing's tribe, has plans of his own. Events propel Swann and Yaelu and the Earthers towards a collision that could finish the death of the Earth or send humanity to the stars.

This is good stuff, even if the post-holocaust background is a mite on the conventional side. But the biggest problem with it is its timing. It's getting harder to believe in post-holocaust SF at all these days, with the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party talking about "moving to free economic relations and a full-blooded market" and the Red Chinese looking increasingly isolated and vulnerable.

No -- if we humans manage to do ourselves in, it's increasingly clear that we'll do it by polluting ourselves into a slow environmental collapse, going with a whimper rather than a bang. And given the near-certainty of an active nanotechnology within the next century even that seems less and less likely. Earthfall's real problem is that it's been overtaken by events; the whole subgenre it belongs to is already obsolete.

And frankly, that doesn't upset me at all. :-)

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Wed Apr 11 23:21:20 EDT 1990

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>