Book Review – Earthbound by Joe Haldeman
In this third novel in the Marsbound series, the crew of the Ad Astra return to Earth after their brief and unsatisfying meeting with the mysterious “Others.” Their welcome back celebration has barely begun before the virtually omnipotent aliens decide to torment humanity again. We never learn much about them from direct communication, but from their actions, it is clear the Others are a sadistic bunch, treating humanity they way a budding psychopath might treat a fly, pulling off one wing and then one leg at a time for whatever amusement that might provide.
Humanity itself is presented as almost as bad. One of the torments the Others impose on Earth is to deprive it of electricity. Any technology requiring electricity stops functioning. Generators, no matter how simple, cannot create a current. Batteries won’t store it. Nothing electrical will work. Within an hour of this happening, people start shooting one another. Those whose veneer of civilization is not so thin and do not respond to disaster by immediately visiting their neighbor, murdering them, and stealing their canned goods are apparently in the minority.
Carmen Dula, the Mars Girl, from the previous two books again provides the first person point of view in this book. She has matured and not nearly as irritating as she was in the other two. Many of the other characters are back as well, but some of them die. New characters are introduced, and many of them die. Several unnamed characters die, and billions of nameless people are presumed to die quickly from violence or ultimately from starvation. This is not an uplifting story.
One interesting character, a humanoid construct of the Others called “Spy,” appears — and then disappears. He pops in and out of existence and we never learn much about him.
This trilogy begins with a hopeful humanity reaching for the stars and discovering new life. It ends with a humanity robbed of hope, powerless (literally) to recover, without even a way to speak to the entities that visited this upon them to ask them why. (Sorry if that’s a spoiler.)
I can’t say this was a fun read for me, but I am an ‘happy ending’ kind of guy.