March 12, 2005


Time for a book review. Today, I'll talk about Orson Scott Card's "Homecoming" series, a 5-book set that sorts with "The Memory of Earth". The premise is that, millions of years earlier when Earth was facing destruction due to constant wars, etc., they sent out colony ships. On one of the colony worlds, Harmony, the ship contains a computer-run device called the Oversoul, which prevents warlike impulses from breaking out and keeps the colony running smoothly.

As the Oversoul begins to break down, these warlike tendencies are starting to break out again, and so the Oversoul selects some individuals down on the surface of Harmony for a mission to help the Oversoul communicate with or travel to Earth, perhaps for repairs or further instructions. The people called are part of an extended family, and there are good ones and bad ones. The primary good character is Nafai, who has some similarities with Ender Wiggin. Nafai grows into an adult throughout the long timeline of the series.

Nafai's oldest brother, Elemak, gradually evolves during the series from your basic arrogant, immature, jealous jerk into a monster. Elemak is a provocative character, but he is just so rotten, I find it hard to accept the motivation of the people who decide to keep him around. And I find it hard to understand what is driving him to be so evil. I guess the payoff, though, is that lots of very interesting ethical situations develop, and it's neat to watch the characters (both good and evil) work through them. If everyone were content and working for the good of the whole, it would probably be a very boring series.

The first four books of this series involve the characters finding the Oversoul and travelling to Earth. I tore through these pretty quickly. The series didn't drag at all. Once they arrive at Earth, the fifth book is a bit of a mess, and if I had to do it over again, I would just read the first four and be done with it.

Posted by Observer at March 12, 2005 10:09 AM

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I read these books quite a few years ago, and, after reading Card's views on gay marriage, read them again.

I can't recall the name of the gay librarian in the novels(Zzordab?), but he was forced by circumstance to marry a woman, and eventually voluntarily had a kid with her. Their relationship eventually evolved into a kind of platonic love.

Anyhow, I think this is kind of a 'model homosexual' for Card. I found the contrast between the apparent empathy in his novels and the apparent homophobia in his news articles to be disconcerting, to say the least.

Posted by: Andrew on March 13, 2005 08:56 PM

I've read enough about Card to know that I'm probably diametrically opposed to most of his political views, but I also respect him as an author. Let's say for the moment that Card intended to portray the gay guy as an ideal role model (in his mind). At least he's expressing his point of view in a reasonable way, instead of say, Crichton or Clancy, who put their arguments in the mouths of the heroes and the opposing arguments in the mouths of the most hateful and/or shallow characters you can imagine.

I've also read that a lot of this series reads like the Book of Mormon, which I've never read, so I can't say. Still, I don't find it bothersome in the least. The way I see it, I read in part to be exposed to new ideas or ideas I might disagree with -- it's part of a healthy overall philosophy, to expose yourself and your ideals to the occasional challenge.

I read what Card does with his gay character and think to myself, "Ok, that's a little weird," but I never stop and think that's how things should be. It just never occurs to me because that's so out of sync with everything I know and have experienced.

I'm also fascinated by the idea of an Oversoul, which some would say is the ultimate fantasy of the well-meaning fascist who just wants all the wars and hurts to go away, but I also reject it as incompatible with my beliefs about how society should work. If I were to find out that Card really likes the idea of an Oversoul, I wouldn't really think to be offended, even though I disagree with him.

The difference between a rational and an irrational ideology and that a rational ideology should be falsifiable. It should be testable, and more than that, it should routinely be exposed to tests. In that way, we grow more certain of its validity (without ever knowing for sure, of course). Or, if it is proven wrong, we can change course and try to construct a better, more consistent ideology. I'm a rationalist, and I'm comfortable with that.

And I don't say all that to say that you shouldn't be offended. Just why I'm not.

Posted by: Observer on March 13, 2005 11:18 PM