Terraforming Earth – Jack Williamson (2001)
‘When a giant meteor crashes into the Earth and destroys all life, the small group of human survivors manages to leave the barren planet and establish a new home on the moon. From Tycho Base, men and women are able to observe the devastated planet and wait for a time when return will become possible.
Generations pass. Cloned children have had children of their own, and their eyes are raised toward the giant planet in the sky which long ago was the cradle of humanity. Finally, after millennia of waiting, the descendants of the original refugees travel back to a planet they’ve never known, to try and rebuild a civilization of which they’ve never been a part.
The fate of the Earth lies in the success of their return, but after so much time, the question is not whether they can rebuild an old destroyed home, but whether they can learn to inhabit an alien new world – Earth.’
Blurb from the 2003 Tor paperback edition
Williamson would have been ninety-three when he published this book which is an incredible achievement for a man who began his publishing career in 1928.
As Williamson is one of the official Grand Masters of Science Fiction it comes as no surprise that this was nominated for the main SF awards. It has been a practise in the past for establishment figures to have ‘late’ novels nominated, one presumes as a mark of respect, with seemingly little regard for the merits of the book. Asimov’s later Foundation novels and Heinlein’s ‘Friday’ spring to mind, but there are no doubt others.
With ‘Terraforming Earth’ however, one does feel that it has a certain quality to it, and for once, one has no qualms about its inclusion on the nomination list.
Some time in our near future, Duncan Yare, obsessed with the idea of a global extinction event caused by meteor impact, sets up a station on the moon, in the event of such a catastrophe. The catastrophe of course occurs almost undetected because the meteor heads in from the direction of the sun.
Yare and his team manage to launch a ship, carrying two uninvited guests who force their way on board.
The station, in the rim of the Tycho crater, is staffed by ‘robots’ and run by a master computer.
Yare’s plan is that a small number of the team are cloned periodically to check on the status of the Earth which appeared to have been sterilised by the impact. Their mission is to reseed and terraform the Earth, eventually to repopulate it with cloned humans from a storehouse of tissue samples.
So, several characters are re-cloned again and again, slowly revealing that certain traits are inherent in the characters of the clones and their subsequent lives.
There’s an odd, and perhaps deliberate retro feel to this book, as if Williamson were referencing some of the clichés of his career. The use of the word ‘robot’ is something a contemporary SF writer would surely not use unless employed in a post-modern or satirical manner. Also, the phrase ‘master computer’ is redolent of older styles. No doubt today it would be at the very least an AI. ‘Microbots’, infinitesimal machines which infest the future human race, making individuals immortal, are what we modern readers know as products of nanotechnology.
And yet, it works. There is something very much of yesterday running through, but it’s a clean, modern and sometimes beautiful piece of writing. There are echoes of Pohl, Vernor Vinge and Clifford Simak (particularly in the singing alien trees, a poignant creation Simak would have been proud of) and a final transcendent denouement.