The Earthborn by Paul Collins
Tor HCVR: ISBN0765303078 PubDate: April 2003
Review by Ernest Lilley
224 pages List price 23.95
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When the starship "Colony" reached Tau Ceti it found its destination planet in a deadly eccentric orbit in front of them and Earth in ruins after global war behind. Some wanted to go on and find new worlds...but they lost the shipwide civil war and the winners, the "Skyborn", took control of the upper decks and headed the ship back to Earth.
They'd come to spread civilization to the stars, after all, and Earth needed civilization more than ever. Pity that they'd have to Terraform Terra to get rid of all the nasty bugs and radioactive fallout left from the war they'd heard so much about. Pity they'd have to wipe out the degraded vermin scum that the Earthborn must have become.
But there were bright sides to the way things worked out at journey's end. First off, it was planet fall at last, and the old ship was getting old indeed. Secondly, all those losers on the lower decks, the ones who wanted to go on to the stars? Well, they'll be useful in the end after all...as letting those deck collapse during the impact/landing should cushion the upper decks just enough for the good people to survive.
Welkin Quinn was one of the good people. Fourteen, an ensign with a bridge assignment, about to see the end of the many generation voyage the Colony had traveled, Welkin's future looked pretty good. Until he got caught in a purge of lower deck sympathizers by not choosing his friends wisely enough, and suddenly he's got the privilege of being part of the first party out onto the surface of the old world. So, out he goes onto the deadly surface, determined to regain his honor and his place among the Skyborn. Not that the Elder in charge of the reconnaissance of Earth actually wants them back. "Expendables...I doubt they will last long out there...and if any of them make it back to the ship, throw them down below".
The Elder is nearly right, and soon Welkin finds himself the sole survivor, alone on this battered planet, or worse perhaps...taken in by the Earthborn. Funny, the air's not bad though. In fact, it occurs to our lad, if you'd breathed this fresh stuff all your life, you might think that recycled ship's air was pretty awful.
Just how many preconceptions can you overturn in one day anyway? Whatever the limit, Welkin's pushing it.
He keeps on pushing it right through his exile from the ship to the exodus from the city (it was Melbourne once) with Sarah's group, who call themselves "The Family". Sarah is one of the rare Earthborn that don't suffer from rapid aging, leaving them worn out and dying by twenty. The Skyborn do even better though, with longevity drugs to keep them alive long past normal human standards, drugs which will even keep the Earthborn alive.
Sarah's age resistance may have affected her perspective, because she's got the long view. Earth's nuclear winter is waning and she thinks it's time to bring people back together to build something more than the a scavenging existence in the rubble. The Skyborn could have come as heroes, but instead they came ready to wipe the scum off the face of the Earth, so the stage is set. A starship designed to colonize a world on the one hand and a band of nearly feral humans on the other.
Most of the book is spent setting up the conflict and adding characters to the story. A few survivors from the lower decks make it out and join the party, Sarah's younger sister Gillian takes a shine to Welkin, and Welkin's own sister - a tech who can fix most anything - is sprung from the ship.
All this leads up to a confrontation, not with the Colony and its dogmatic ruling council of elders, but with a cutthroat band of humans lead by a classically nasty sort who's been turning in colonist escapees to the ship in exchange for longevity drugs.
The tale ends too soon, but we can hope that it's the start of a trilogy, or an even longer series.