Sunday, March 26, 2006

Poisoning Settlers in the Soil: H. M. Hoover, Another Heaven, Another Earth. New York: Starscape (Tor), 2002. c. 1981.

The basic outline of this book is straightforward and unchallenging. When Lee and her colleagues arrive on the planet Xilan to check it out for colonization they discover a lost colony on the verge of dying out. The colonists are being poisoned by the metal in the ground which is leading to physical attentuation, middle-age madness, and death in the late forties or early fifties.

What makes the book interesting is the politics. To begin with, Gareth a medic on the planet loves her world. When the survey ship arrives she is not thrilled to see them, nor to discover the truth about their world. And when she and her fellow colonists are told they will be "helped" they are not impressed. And in turn Lee and some of the scientists start to wonder what it is they are being asked to do: if the planet is poisonous, why has the suggestion come down from on high that Gareth's people be evacuated to make room for new settlers? Does this mean that other "unviable" planets are being settled knowingly? Lee realises she has never seen any papers on the success or otherwise of such plantations, and when she looks, they all turn out to be classified. And then there is the issue that forced removal of peoples has a long history of failure. Why does a supposedly benevolent company want this? Complicating all of this is that the supposedly benevolent surveyors have taken to behaving like colonial troops everywhere, sure in the knowledge that the natives are stupid.

When the book ends, the survey ship leaves the settlers with medical advice and technological assistance, but both sides know the settlers are doomed.Gareth's colleagues have collectively decided that they want to stay where they are: they have no desire to swap their poisonous but beautiful world for the overcrowded Out There. The surveyors leave with more questions than answers: the consequences of their rediscovery of Xilan stretch into the future.


Post a Comment

<< Home