01/02/2010. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
pub: Orbit. 488 page enlarged paperback. Price: £10.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-632-0.
check out website: www.orbitbooks.net
SF. First contact, aliens attack Earth, colony ships go elsewhere and start a new colony with another indigenous species and discovers they have a secret.
Michael Cobley's big space opera, 'Seeds Of Earth', features lots of characters and lots of groups with different interests and uses the effective technique of switching author point of view with each chapter to another character. This works well. So we follow Greg, an archaeologist, Chell an alien, Robert, an ambassador from Earth, and so on.
First Contact for Earth in this story was with the Swarm, an alien insect-like species that attacked without warning and without mercy. As they devastated the solar system, three multi-generational colony ships were sent out so that mankind might survive. One of the ships, the Hyperion, eventually found the planet Darien where they established good relations with the native Uvovo. En route, there was a bit of trouble with the ships AI which has bequeathed them a healthy wariness of computer intelligence. This is important to the plot.
One hundred and fifty years later, another Earth ship discovers Darien, almost by accident, and the inhabitants discover that Earth survived, which is nice and that they are in a hotly contested sector of space. On one side, the Brolturan Compact, an aggressive arm of the Sendruka Hegemony. On the other, the Imisil Mergence. Regrettably, because the Sendruka Hegemony assisted her against the Swarm, Earth is closely allied with this ruthless, expansionist empire, one not loved by the rest of the galaxy. They move in on other territories, blatantly in their own interests but always ostensibly for good, altruistic reasons, to restore order or to defend the existing government against some rebellious faction. Earth sort of goes along with this but the implication is that they are not yet wise to the full dastardliness of the Hegemony. A Sendrukan AI advises his mind brother: 'Humans are sentimental, especially about military events and achievements: helpfully, their governments routinely employ such sentimentality to mask historical details and to maintain doctrinal integrity as well as popular support.' This obviously brings to mind present day politics.
The various aliens are well described physically but it did occur to me that many of them have the values of Robert Heinlein. They are free market or black market supporting individualists on the make, wheeling and dealing and stealing for money. The politicians are all pretty cynical, though not without ideals and the scientific types are pretty noble. I have nothing against the late lamented and much maligned Robert, who even at his right wing nuttiest maintained a core of good morals and in the humans such attitudes are reasonable. I doubt our nature will change much in a few centuries, if ever. It would have been nice to get a bit more philosophical variety in the aliens, though. However, the author is full of surprises and I may be judging too soon. Certainly there are hints, like the quote above, that Michael Cobley is not of one mind with Heinlein, especially about the military, even though he emulates that worthy's clear writing style and good plots. We shall see.
The exceptions to free market money hunger and political ambition are the Uvovo who are sort of nice eco-hippies, connected to nature. In fact, the theme of the book is not dissimilar to 'Lord Of The Rings' with nature lovers against machine lovers and especially against AIs. The human race is sort of caught in the middle of this, not yet wholly machinist but perhaps getting that way. Prominent Earth humans have personal AIs to advise them and it is hinted that those computer minds might have their own agenda.
It's hard to say much about the plot without spoiling it. As you read the book, layers of history and meaning unfold and it gets more and more interesting. This is really a fine piece of work and could, when it's all finished, be up there with the aforementioned Tolkien or Asimov's 'Foundation' series as one of the all-time greats. It's also similar to Peter Hamilton's long, convoluted, multi-volume stories. Likening it to fantasy may seem odd but I think SF writers have learned from that genre to think in larger terms and tell big tales with epic themes. I look forward eagerly to book two.
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