- A standalone novel
- Published by Macdonald in 1990
- A classic Science Fantasy
- 598 pages
- Social SF driven by hard science
Planet Earth isn’t doing so well. Climate change is reshaping continents. Food shortages drive humanity to the brink of war. Nations rise and fall. And in an accident that could spell the end of the human race, a black hole has been unleashed on an unsuspecting world . . .
David Brin amazed me a few years ago with his role in the Second Foundation Trilogy. His was by far the best of the three, and I dutifully jotted his name down as an author to keep an eye out for. I can only assume he’s better known in the US than the UK though, as it’s taken me around half a decade to actually find one of his books. That book is Earth, and it is a monumental piece of science fiction. It just might not be a good one.
Earth isn’t so much a novel as a thesis in literary form. The characters and plot jump around like nobody’s business, and for well over half the book I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on. It feels less like a continuous narrative, and more like a dozen unrelated short stories patched together. Traditional storytelling is consistently broken up by news reports, email exchanges and newspaper cuttings. The shape that eventually takes form from all of this is still not a story in any traditional sense. What emerges from the near six-hundred pages is more like a prolonged essay from Brin, giving us his thoughts on everything from space exploration to overpopulation. How much you enjoy this book depends wholly on your tolerance for that sort of thing.
David Brin is clearly a very clever man. You don’t write a book like this if you’re not. But I come to books for the world and the story, not to be spoken to by the author. That’s what interviews and conventions are for. To Brin’s credit, he is both level-headed and even-handed with the topics he approaches. This isn’t that dreadful sort of didactic politics lesson that some books devolve into (*cough* Heinlein *cough*). Brin is an optimist, and follows through on his theories with logical arguments rather than impassioned chest-beating. Any book like this is written with an agenda, and Brin’s appears to be ‘Can’t we all just get along?’ That’s a suggestion I can fully get behind. There are some courses he suggests that I am against, of course. A lack of agricultural understanding will always get on my nerves. But overall Brin’s research is deep and broad. This is a book that attempts to tackle everything. And if it succeeds in some regards, the odd failure is only to be expected.
Even though it doesn’t do much for me as a story, there are enough interesting ideas in Earth that I don’t regret picking it up. Of particular note are the number of real-life technologies that are seemingly predicted by the book. The rise of the internet is the big one, with all the emails, social media, and scams that the world wide web entails. And I’m sure I don’t haver to tell you how depressingly accurate some of his climate change depictions are. Now thirty years old, it’s fascinating to see how close to Brin’s world we actually are. One of the joys of reading older works is seeing how different their futures are. In the case of Earth, it a startlingly familiar picture.
This isn’t the magnificent David Brin novel I was hoping to find. But it’s also unlikely to be the sort of book a man writes twice. It’s special, ambitious, and ultimately not quite what I wanted. The quest for more David Brin novels will go on a little longer yet.