New Earth follows the first manned Earth mission out of our solar system, an expedition to the surprisingly Earth-like planet Sirius C. When the explorers arrive at “New Earth”, they find much more than expected – intelligent life, and scientifically impossible similarities to Earth. And as they struggle to unravel this mystery, Earth is undergoing its own catastrophes.
The premise of the book was pretty exciting – first contact with a mysterious planet and its uncanny inhabitants. However, the book itself was not very good, mainly because of its characters. I definitely understand that classic sci-fi sometimes doesn’t have the most fleshed out characters, instead choosing to focus on the ideas and plot, and I still enjoy it. New Earth‘s characters were almost comically bad, though – the author seemed to have tried to humanise them by giving them flaws and problems, which take up a lot of the book, but are really stereotypical and badly resolved. For instance, the leader of the expedition, an acclaimed diplomat, is distraught over the death of his wife, which he feels responsible for. All his angst vanishes when he meets his first native girl, with whom he develops a passionate romance instantly, ignoring all concerns from his team. You would think that with his extensive diplomatic experience and his grief for his wife, he wouldn’t go completely native over the FIRST woman he meets… but, no. Most of the other characters have similarly dumb plot arcs, and these arcs take up most of the book.
Aside from these terrible “character growth” plot points, the exploratory team’s behaviour at New Earth doesn’t really make sense. After an eighty year journey to get there, most of the team members seem to favour giving up and returning to Earth as soon as there’s more to the planet than they expected (“there’s nothing in the mission protocols about this!”) Also, wow, humans must be ridiculously arrogant to assume that their orbital telescopes could definitely tell if there was life on the new planet – mission protocols should have covered the possibility. The scientists show no signs of curiosity, and are in general so indistinguishable from each other that their specialty and ethnicity has to be mentioned in almost every sentence they’re mentioned (Longyear, the Native American biologist, Thornberry, the stereotypically Irish roboticist). I’d be so ashamed if human first contact with aliens was with that team.
I didn’t realise that New Earth was part of Bova’s “Grand Tour” series (this is the 21st book set in the same universe), but I found it perfectly approachable as a stand alone. The worldbuilding aspects of the book intrigued me enough that I do want to read more of Bova’s books set in this universe – the glimpses of what was going on in Earth and the other human colonies hint at a rich history. I’d be reading them more to get a sense of his vision of the future, though, and not because I expect them to be good books.
New Earth by Ben Bova (Grand Tour, #24)
Tor Books, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.