Monday, June 23, 2014

Orson Scott Card's Homecoming Harmony

It took me a while, but I made it through Orson Scott Card's Homecoming Saga -- all five books.  Today I'll review the first three, which are combined into this one big volume called Homecoming: Harmony.

Book #1: The Memory of Earth.

The first I realized right off the bat was that this book was a retelling of the Book of Mormon.  Not the entertaining (and not-so-accurate) musical, but the actual book.  Instead of Nephi, the main character is called Nafai.  His brothers Laman, Lemuel, and Sam become Elemak, Mebbekew, and Issib.  And instead of God leading the way, it's the Oversoul, a supercomputer that watches over humanity on the planet Harmony over the past forty million years.

At first I thought this was pretty cool and a neat idea, but then as the story progressed, I came to realize that I knew exactly how the book was going to progress.  This started to become annoying and distracting.  You ever try to read a book when your friend told you how it's going to end?

Also, I think the actual book I read was a first edition.  It had many errors such as bad punctuation, unclosed quotes, and misspelled/wrong words.  (And it was published by Tor?)  I'll just assume these got fixed in later editions.  All this came together for me almost as if this were an early attempt at writing from my favorite author, and not a particularly good one--heavily relying on a religious text to guide the plot.

But then I noticed something else.  In a way, it was commentary on what could possibly have gone through the heads of Nephi and his brothers as they did what they did in the Book of Mormon.  And when Card's book ended, it did feel like it was somewhat more than an imitation of scripture.  I had enjoyed some parts of it even though I knew what was coming.  After all, Orson Scott Card always finds a way to bring everything together with a satisfying conclusion.

Ultimately, I recommend reading this book, especially if you're an Orson Scott Card fan.  This book tells the story about Nafai and his brothers.  After forty million years of decay, the Oversoul computer realizes it's dying and losing influence on men.  He/she/it calculates that the humans will destroy themselves.  It chooses Nafai's family for reasons that become more apparent in the later books.  Nafai's family must flee their extravagant lifestyle and prepare for whatever the Oversoul has in mind.

Book #2: The Call of Earth.

This second book of the series tells the story of what comes next.  Nafai and his brothers must go back to their old city and bring back wives for their upcoming journey.  Eventually they must find their way to Earth, where humanity began, and repopulate it.

In many respects, I found this book to be better than its predecessor.  Orson Scott Card spends less time relying on the Book of Mormon and much more time fleshing out the characters.  He even introduces new major characters that have no parallel in the Book of Mormon.  The writing itself also seems improved and definitely free of the errors I saw in the first book.

This may surprise some Mormons, but this book spends a lot of time talking about sex.  It's nothing explicit, but rather it explores different attitudes toward sex.  This might be expected, considering the main plot point is about marrying the characters off.  One of the characters also turns out to be gay, where Card gives a surprisingly sympathetic point of view (well, surprising to those who think they fully understand Card's views).

Towards the end of the book, I saw the pages running out, and I wondered where Card was going, but as always, he ends with a very satisfying ending that ties everything together.

Book #3: The Ships of Earth.

The story continues as Nafai, family, and friends disembark on their journey across the desert.  They have no idea where they're going, but the supercomputer Oversoul watches them.  He tells them what direction to go, when to stop and camp, and when to keep on going, alerting them to any and all dangers along the way.

This journey takes a couple of decades.  Along the way, the group makes babies, which then become new characters.  At times, the details of the journeyings and who's who in the new generation gets a little cumbersome, but on the most part, Orson Scott Card keeps the direction moving forward at all times.

The biggest plot device seems to be the struggle between the oldest brother, Elemak, and Nafai.  Elemak wants to be in charge, but resents Nafai since he's the one who's chosen by the Oversoul.  Elemak would love to kill Nafai, but he can't without losing the support from the rest of the clan.  Also, most of the group wants to leave the difficult desert life and return to the lavish city life they had left.

When the group gets to its final destination, Orson Scott Card gives a very imaginative story as to how they come to build a ship to get to Earth.  Again, it's a satisfying ending.

There are still two more books in the series, and I'll get to them next week.

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