BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Young Skyborn Welkin Quinn joins an Earthborn clan after being rejected by the elders of a failed colonization mission.
PROS: Fast-paced; lots of action; cool story and backdrop.
CONS: Some parts too contrived.
BOTTOM LINE: A worthwhile read.
One hundred fifty years after the generation ship Colony set out from a decaying Earth to colonize a planet in the Tau Ceti system, the colonists were surprised to learn that the most suitable planet to support human life wasn’t suitable at all. (A time dubbed “The Great Disappointment”). As if that weren’t enough, disease spread throughout the ship’s population killing most of the adults, save for a few immune “elders”. The elders made the decision to return to Earth but those who disagreed rebelled and were eventually exiled to the lower decks of the ship. Cut to 150 years later still (the start of the story) and the Colony arrives at Earth only to crash land on an almost unrecognizable Earth. Throughout the voyage, the genetically engineered children of the Colony were taught that Earth’s atmosphere was poisonous and that the remaining Earthborn were all savages and must be eradicated. This is only partly true; since most of the adult Earthborn population has also perished, all that remains are scattered bands of youths, some of them scavengers and cannibals.
Welkin Quinn, born and raised on the Colony (a Skyborn), is fourteen years old and, through association with a rebellious friend, is thrown down in the lower levels just before the Colony crashes on Earth. To restore his status, Welkin agrees to help eradicate the Earth of the vermin Earthborn, but he quickly learns that the portrait painted by the elders was not quite the truth. Welkin the Skyborn escapes his captivity and bands together with a group of Earthborn, led by the eighteen-year-old Sarah, to save his sister from the Colony and hopefully unite the scattered groups on Earth and start a new age for mankind. But the going won’t be easy; he must contend with several enemy factions – Skyborn and Earthborn alike.
If all this sounds like exciting backdrop and plot, well, that’s because it is. By starting the story 300 years after departure, with their arrival on Earth, the story begins where the action starts. Those parts that aren’t action sequences are focused on showing Welkin’s growth as a character. His attitude morphs from brainwashed kid onboard the Colony, to confused outcast, to adventurous explorer discovering the wonders of a new planet and, ultimately, to hero.
That’s quite a range of worldview change for a single character in one story. And it mostly comes off well as a fast-paced story but there were a few problems in its hurriedness. Some of the plot elements seemed a bit too contrived. For example, while this book is targeted at young adults, was it really necessary to kill off most of the older adults on both the spaceship and on Earth? It seemed like too much of a coincidence. On the other hand, it did made the book come off like a cool, post-apocalyptic version of Lord of the Flies. Also, although I liked the element of the space-operatic wool being pulled over the eyes of the children, the comparison with Nazi Germany came off a little heavy-handed. On the bright side, Welkin’s eventual realization that the world doesn’t always appear as it seems is a good message for younger readers.
Once Welkin hits ground, his adventures are essentially portrayed in a bunch of ever-increasing, action-packed sorties to gather, rescue or pillage. In these passages Welkin encounters several different factions of both Earthborn (besides his home “family”, there are cannibalistic “ferals” and the slightly-less-violent “jabbers”) and Skyborn (the “genetically inferior” people of the lower decks, the righteous military and the renegade colonists). The more far-seeing and cerebral parts of the book were interesting in that Sarah’s vision was to essentially rebuild mankind through a peaceful union of all the disparate groups of Earthborn; not a bad vision for an eighteen-year-old – but then again, she’s the oldest of the pack. Along the way are a few plot twists (some predictable, some not) and lot’s of entertainment.
The Earthborn is a worthwhile read.