Monday, October 28, 2019

Progeny's Children, by Ray Jay Perreault (author), Christopher M. Allport (narrator)

Ray Jay Perreault, November 2016

This novel is what we used to call a fix-up, previously separate short stories put together with some revision and interstitial bits to make one novel. I have no idea if that term is still in use with newer sf readers, who don't recall the era when selling short stories to sf magazines was the main way for a writer to build a career.

On Earrth, its residents are living peacefully and harmoniously, following the four laws, and pursuing the increase of knowledge. This last, as it happens, includes some genetic research on the creatures they call "the organics," that leads to the discovery of their own origins, with the previous inhabitants of Earth.

On Horizon, humans have been thriving, increasing in number, and, unlike their ancestors, whose mistreatment of Earth forced them finally to leave seeking a new planet, treating planet gently. They've finally reached the point where they have not only equaled but surpassed the technology of their ancestors. They have just perfected a faster-than-light drive that makes it possible to send a ship to check out the current condition of Earth. Has it recovered? Is it livable and welcoming for them? Because, with a faster-than-light drive, if it is, their dream of returning home can be achieved without the terrible, multi-generational trip the Migration required, a trip which not even all of the ships survived.

You see where this is going.

Captain Harnessey, commander of the first ship to visit Earth finds the planet more recovered than he would have thought possible, and some serious anomalies that are hard to explain. Yet it's clear the planet is now completely habitable, seemingly welcoming humans' return.

And then they get radio contact from one of those anomalies.There are people on Earth, even if most of them are robots, or, as they call themselves. "units." Or "Us."

And there are a variety of opinions, among "Us,' the robots, "Them," the new humans on Earth created by the Us scientists, and the humans of Horizon. The humans of Horizon have been too focused, too long, on a return to Earth being their destiny to let go of it easily--and there is a lot of space available on Earth. There are a variety of opinions even within Harnessey's own family, with Harnessey and his older daughter, Serene, far more ready to see the Us and the Them as people, while his wife, Bea, doesn't see it at first, and Bethany, the younger daughter, a bit too young to worry about it yet.

Others among the Horizon group, with Prime Minister Billings are their leader, simply believe that Earth belongs to the descendants of the humans who left Earth, and the units and the recreated humans can perhaps be tolerated if they know their place and do what they're told. Yet even within Billings' own group, not everyone agrees with her supremacist and rather ruthless viewpoint.

Among the units, the "Us," Helen, a scientist, is always committed to the idea that more knowledge (the increase of which is the Third Law) is always the way forward, and she has colleagues who agree. Her partner, Lorenzo, whose job is basically the First Law (make more units), worries that some of what Helen is doing may wind up violating the Second Law (protect the units already made.)

The Fourth Law is "seek diversity of thought," and they're all doing great at that!

I love the characters, and the story is thoughtful and interesting.

If I were to make a complaint, it would be one that comes directly out of what I enjoy most about the book. This is a story that really hits that sweet spot for what I think of as The Good Old Stuff, a solid, exciting story with some interesting ideas. Except, of course, in the days of The Good Old Stuff, you didn't get major characters who were whole, intelligent, believable women very often. Or, really, anything other than straight, white men. And yes, before you flood me with outrage, yes, there are plenty of exceptions--but they were exceptions, and notable because they were exceptions. I learned very young how to identify with male characters very different from myself, because otherwise it would have been much harder to just get into the story and read.

Often, not always, but often, when there was a female main character, it was actually worse, because for all the good intentions, too many male writers seemed to have very odd ideas about how women thought. I remember the first time I read a book with an important female lead, and was startled when I came back up for air long enough to be reminded that the writer was a man, because the female character was not just a good intention, but a believable female character. (No, I'm not telling, because people do react differently, and it's not important whether you would agree with me on that particular example.)

Perreault is a man of this century. I look at his bio and his picture, and I don't think he can be much off from me in age, but it wouldn't have surprised me to see that he was a Gen-Xer or a bit younger, because his work reads as if he were never exposed to that nonsense. All his people are people. Men and women are different in his work, but only as real men and women are different, not in intelligence or emotional stability. Billings is awful because she's a politician with some awful ideas, not because women don't make good politicians. It's one of the things I love about his great characters.

So what's my complaint? Here it is: In the days of The Good Old Stuff that this reminds me of, if you pretend all those smart, capable women aren't there and that Billings is bad because she's a female doing a job only men should do, he'd have sold it to Astounding, and Campbell would have made him do the math to tighten up the timeline and plot. That 189 lightyear trip to Horizon, and .6 lightspeed--how long did that take? Taking time dilation into effect, how long did it take subjectively? Does the 1300  years that gets tossed around a few times include that travel time, or only the time they've been on Horizon? It's really not clear. In short, how long have they been gone from Earth?

And with that determined--is that enough time for Earth to have so fully recovered? I'm thinking probably yes, but I'm nor sure. Furthermore, we're told that plate tectonics has moved the continents. We're not told how much, but I'm wondering whether plate tectonics could move the continents enough to be worth mentioning in, at most, a bit less than 2,000 years.

And does this really matter? Not at all! It's just an itchy detail I wouldn't have noticed if the story didn't so effectively hit all the Good Parts of The Good Old Stuff, and is probably not going to matter all to younger readers who aren't deep into the equations of relativistic space travel, or plate tectonics.

So, very much recommended! Enjoy!

I received a free copy of this audiobook from the author, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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