REVIEW SUMMARY: An enjoyable story but it lacked the characters’ motives.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Young Kaer and her extended family go through rigorous training in order to emigrate to the parallel Earth-like world of Linnea.
PROS: Clear writing style; interesting world building emphasizing culture and religion.
CONS: No clear motive for the family enduring this two-year-long hardship.
BOTTOM LINE: Good story, well written, I’d like to read the sequel and hope it fleshes out some motives.
Child of Earth by David Gerrold is the first in his Sea of Grass Trilogy. It follows the story of young Kaer, a 10-year old girl who is part of an extended family created by contract. The family decides to emigrate to Linnea, a parallel Earth-like world characterized by huge horses, dangerous giant wolves (“kacks”) and a strict religious culture devoted to the Mother-Goddess. Linnea is one of many worlds that are accessible via gateways. Before Kaer and her family can emigrate, they must undergo rigorous training under a massive dome that simulates the Linnean environment in every respect including the wildlife. The Linnea dome is home to some indigenous Linnean creatures like horses that are bigger than elephants and wolves (called “kacks”) that are as large as men. The training session is cut short, though, when an emergency arises on the real Linnea that tests the family’s resolve.
Gerrold has done an excellent job at depicting the Earth-like world of Linnea by emphasizing its history, culture and religion. It turns out that population of Linnea are descendents of early exploration teams. A time-slip in the gate connection has stranded them and a new culture has formed that has long forgotten the old Earth ways. (Interesting was the intentional time-slips in the gates to other worlds as a means of “quick” terraforming. Cool!) Linnea’s lighter gravity means that the plant and animal life tend to be a bit larger than their Earthly counterparts. Special attention is given to religious themes through the Mother-Goddess and how the Linneans worship her. In order to collect information for any potential expansion or resource mining, the Dome Authority sends families to gather information as they are deemed safer than lone agents. However, the families must learn the strict customs of that world. On Linnea, anyone found to be strange is considered to be a maiz-likka, or an evil demon who is then subject to torture and death.
The book reads a bit like a first-person diary of a training class. Through Kaer’s eyes we see not only the harsh environment of the Linnean dome, but also the impact it has on the extended family. “Extended family” here means people who are contractually bound together to be a family and not necessarily blood relations. Kaer’s family members lacked identities of their own, though. They seemed to blur together. It was more like “mother-figure A, father-figure B, uncle-figure C, etc. That was not a huge negative – this is Kaer’s story, after all.
Themes of perseverance are strongly displayed as the family meets with one obstacle after another. They get demerit points for using Earth ways and language and are monitored every step of the way. They have to fight for survival, face wild kacks, resolve family dissention and resist temptation from other families in training. The religious Kelly family, for example, has more than a few problems accepting the Mother-Goddess over Christianity. Such maiz-likka ways endanger agents who are already dispatched to Linnea.
Throughout the book, the one glaring omission that I could not seem to reconcile was the motive for the family wanting to emigrate. Sure, Kaer says she wants to see the big horses, and others are interested in exploring, but is that any reason to undergo such a harsh life? The two year long training alone is brutal at times and at one point during the long simulated winter, the family is on the verge of pneumonia. The real thing is bound to be worse. Am I to believe that this huge set of responsible adults are moving their family back to a veritable time of the “Salem Witch trials” to appease the desires of a 10-year-old? Is it patriotic duty? I just didn’t get a feel for the reason the family wanted to emigrate. Things just didn’t seem that bad off for them initially. What was the reason the stuck it out?
The family doesn’t actually reach the planet in this installment of the trilogy; this is just the training. The ending was reminiscent of the ending of Back to the Future where all seems OK, but then an emergency, and a satisfyingly dramatic one at that, hastens emigration plans. It was enough to make me want to read the next installment, even if I’m not sure why they want to go there in the first place.