Seeds of Earth (Humanity's Fire) by Michael Cobley

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Seeds of Earth (Humanity's Fire) by Michael Cobley

Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Solid Sci-fi in the Humanity against the Universe vein. A few too many aliens, described in too much detail, when their impact on the story is minimal impedes what is otherwise a solid plot of myth, magic, mechanics and old-fashioned political intrigue.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 656 Date: January 2010
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841496313

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It's a strange fact of the human psyche that while we send out our travellers in peace and exploration…we fear that whoever else is travelling out there, towards here, does so with malice aforethought.

Cobley is no exception to this rule. In his future world Earth's first contact with aliens came with the Swarm: a species of many reptilian similarities yet their appearance was unavoidably insectoid. With six, eight, ten or more limbs they could be as small as a pony or as large as a whale… and they ravaged through our home galaxy like locusts destroying all in their path.

That was a 150 years ago. We – the human race, that is – we fought back, but we were never going to win. Our last, best hope (as the voice-overs always have it) was to send out the colony ships. The programme was in place, some fifteen or more exploration and settlement vessels were under construction when the swarm war arrived. Only three were despatched: Hyperion, Forrestal & Tenebrosa – all fitted with the new translight drive and all placed in the care and custody of AI's programmed to avoid pursuit by random space jumps and to seek out not the strange new worlds of Star Trek fame, but Earth-like ones, where humanity has a hope of surviving.

Now, those 150 years later, on Darien that hope has come to fruition. The descendants of the travellers live in peaceful communion with the indigenous Uvovo: a slender, diminutive race, with large amber eyes, set in a small face. The Uvovo are a quiet, scholarly people with myths and legends of the ancient past when wars were fought and the current world became as they now know it.

They have a deep relationship with Segrana: the spirit of the forest, or maybe the forest herself…and it is hard to escape parallels with Tolkien's elves. But this is no Middle Earth, and in fairness, Cobley is no Tolkien.

To take the downside of those comments first: Cobley can match the master step for step in imagination. The world he has created is every bit as complete as The Shire and the Mines of Moria and all the rest. Where he slips however is in restraint. Every last imagined detail he feels the need to share, to the detriment at times of keeping the story flowing or the mood intact.

Ships that we will pass in the fight are described in minute technicality; every hard dark street must have its buildings enumerated; a cop on the run cannot grab a bite to eat without us having to consider exactly what creature and vegetable provide its filling. The devil truly is in the detail. Without it the worlds out there in space cannot be realised in our minds, but too much of it and we find ourselves trying to keep track of the irrelevant and losing the plot in the pursuit.

This does make Seeds of Earth a difficult book to get into. The depiction has a tendency to get in the way of the story-telling…and it is in the story-telling that the comment about this being no elf-tale, becomes a compliment.

Humanity might feel that in Darien and its forested moon it has found at least one sanctuary, but their safety and the millennia of Uvovo lore are about to ripped and realised. Humans are just as much scholars as the Uvovo, so of course when they find traces of long gone civilisations they start to dig…and the secrets that lie buried begin to stir.

What lies buried is a monster of a kind, but it is hard to tell whether it is a living creature or a created sentience or whether there is a difference. And does any of that matter? Surely what matters is: whose side is it on?

Because another conflict is approaching. Other ships appear in the skies bringing dangers long forgotten and allies unthought-of.

Meanwhile… in another galaxy far far away…

…our author decided that perhaps his epic saga of what happened when we left the earth should not be all doom and gloom.

And so we are introduced to Kao Chih, who is shortly joined by a small droid companion. Think C3PO & R2D2…or Huey, Dewey & Louie…or even Hiro & Ando…(or get Shakespearean and think Pistol & Flewellyn)…these two are the light relief.

On a sacred mission of their own, with serious intent, they cannot help but get into and out of, the kind of scrapes that simply make you smile. You just know it will go wrong, and believe it will come right. Right up until the point when it doesn't.

For reasons of their own: their course is also set for Darien.

After struggling through the complicated set-up of trying to learn who is who, where is what, and why…the individual characters, political complexities, myths and realities of Darien begin to take over. A millennial-aged conflict between organic and inorganic intelligences is being re-awakened and it is not always easy to tell one from the other.

Seeds of Earth is classic Science Fiction in quest of the monsters – both made and born – across the infinite expanses of a space that holds more entities that our dreams or nightmares could imagine.

For a new author it is a master achievement, and it is just the beginning. An epilogue gives a taste of where the next volume will take us…and I'm looking forward to more of the story, but tinged with a hope that we'll get none of the unnecessary set-dressing and more of the action.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For more forays into worlds where the dangers of the AI's have been recognised, you cannot beat Iain M Banks' The Algebraist.

Buy Seeds of Earth (Humanity's Fire) by Michael Cobley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Seeds of Earth (Humanity's Fire) by Michael Cobley at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Seeds of Earth (Humanity's Fire) by Michael Cobley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Seeds of Earth (Humanity's Fire) by Michael Cobley at Amazon.com.


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