Orson Scott Card:The Memory of Earth

I confess, the first thing I thought when The Memory of Earth came out was, "He's in the middle of two series(at least), and he's starting another one?" But eventually I calmed down and figured that if I bought this one, he'd be more likely to continue with something I was reading. So I did.

Card is one of those authors who continue to surprise me. His style is quite consistent(barring anomalies like Hart's Hope[*])and eminently readable. But I guess it's more a case of "Where does he get his ideas?"

Background: Earth gets blown up in a nuclear holocaust. The survivors, so disgusted with what they've done, abandon earth into the hands of a "Keeper"(I think a computer, but I'm not sure yet), and go off to settle another planet, called Harmony. To make sure it lives up to its name, they design a computer, the Oversoul, with the overriding purpose of keeping humanity alive. Then they engineer their descendants so that the Oversoul can influence them to make sure they don't blow themselves up.

The Oversoul selectively suppressed technological ideas that may prove harmful; thus we have the bizarre situation of computers, holographic projectors, antigrav devices, etc. being commonplace, but nobody having come up with wheeled vehicles(which are harmful because they can be turned into chariots).

So, fine. This goes on for forty million years. But the designers of the Oversoul had figured that humanity would reach a better state by ten or twenty million at the most, and the Oversoul wouldn't be necessary anymore. Far too optimistic, they. Now the Oversoul is breaking down; people are becoming less receptive to its control, not to mention a fair number of the satellites it uses to broadcast dying of attrition. And so people are starting to come up with forbidden technologies.

In despair, it turns to one family, in the city of Basilica, who seem to be more receptive than average. For most of the book we follow some member of this family: mostly Nafai, who is fourteen and thus extremely annoying for most of the book. Going into the society of Basilica would be overlong here; suffice it to say it's quasi-matriarchal in structure, with men allowed to own property only outside the city walls, and women the ones who decide on who they'll contract with for marriage.

The book proper(this is just the setup!)deals with Nafai and his family, and intrigue regarding these newfangled wheeled-carts and those unscrupulous enough to sell them to other cities. Having gotten this far, I don't know what to say about the plot, except that it gets most of its strength from the characters of Nafai, his brothers, and his parents. Nafai's interaction with the Oversoul matures him visibly over the course of the book, though he still makes some dumbass blunders. And at the end we seem ready to leave the city of Basilica behind...though this could be deceiving, and I almost hope that with all the work he put into it we see more of it in the next book...

%A Card, Orson Scott
%T The Memory of Earth
%I Tor
%C New York
%D March 1992
%G ISBN 0-812-53259-7
%P 332 pp.
%S Homecoming
%V Volume 1
%O Paperback, US $5.99, Can $6.99
[*] Don't get me wrong. Hart's Hope is still my favourite Card to date.

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The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com