Seeds Of Earth by Michael Cobley

Orbit, 2009, 485p

The author is another member of the Glasgow SF Writers’ Circle and as a consequence I have known him for many years. He is also one of nature’s good guys. The usual caveat therefore applies to this review.

The Seeds Of Earth, part one of Humanity’s Fire, is set several centuries after an alien race called the Swarm had attacked the solar system. Three colony starships, Hyperion, Tenebrosa and Forrestal were sent out on random courses to preserve at least some of humanity from imminent destruction. The descendants of the Hyperion emigrés (of Scots, Russian and Scandinavian extraction) live on Darien, a planet which has a lush habitable moon, Nivyesta, to which many of Darien’s natives, the Uvovo, have moved. Darien’s galactic neighbourhood is also inhabited by a congeries of races some of whom have designs on the planet. The novel proper starts when contact from Earth – saved from the Swarm by one of the competing galactic powers – is finally established.

Aside: Would colonists of Scots descent really accept the name Darien for a new world? Given the doleful associations of the real Darien Adventure I would doubt it.

In Cobley’s scenario there is a lot of setting up to do. Back-story and explication are somewhat too in evidence in the early chapters. He uses a multiply stranded structure – each chapter has its own narrator whom we return to by (irregular) turns, with the inevitable corollary that the story is fragmented and, as is usual with this device, the reader develops a preference for some viewpoints over others.

Cobley has a lot of plot to cram in. As a result many of the scenes – especially the action ones – feel a touch rushed but the political machinations of the alien incomers to Darien are believably Machiavellian and redolent of Great Power activities in our own, or any, time.

The story only really gains momentum in Part 2 when we meet Kao Chih – one of the Tenebrosa Émigrés (kept in a kind of indenture on a secluded world far from Darien) – who is sent to Darien as a secret emissary. Much of the latter part of the novel deals with his misadventures en route. His arrival on Darien is, though, crucial to the dénouement.

The book seems to stop rather than finish, leaving rather a lot unresolved. There is a strong unexplored hint that the Forrestal also managed to achieve a successful planetfall, for example. Seeds Of Earth is the first of a trilogy, of course, which may provide an explanation for the loose ends.

An eclectic mixture of Space Opera, quasi-police procedural and thriller, complete with bizarre alien transformations, ancient artefacts and their attendant guardian technology, plus betrayals galore, Seeds Of Earth has perhaps rather too much incident – even if there is a particularly fine edge-of-atmosphere dogfight in the ultimate chapter – but space for character development and exploration is necessarily restricted.

I will, though, be looking out for the second in the Humanity’s Fire sequence, Orphaned Worlds.

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