Greetings, Happy Readers!
This is Part 2 of my Review of
The Legacy of Heorot Series!
This series review will be in 3 parts:
Part 1 – Book 1: The Legacy of Heorot (1987)
Part 2 – Books 1.5 & 2: The Secret of Black Ship Island (2012) & Beowulf’s Children (1995)
Part 3 – Book 3: Starborn & Godsons (2020)
This series is what I consider to be Epic Science Fiction. It is some of the best Extra-Terrestrial Colony Science Fiction out there. The world building is so detailed, and the alien creatures’ biology so intricate, that it is hard to NOT believe that they could exist.
|I will also be doing a Part 4 at a later time for the novel Destiny’s Road (1997), which is written in the same universe, but on an entirely different planet.|
Now, on to the important part!
It has taken 33 years, but the Heorot Trio (Niven, Pournelle, Barnes) has finally graced us with a concluding sequel to their Epic Sci-Fi series. This finale (or is it?) is at least one good thing that we got in 2020, and the storytelling is still as amazing as ever. Detailed characters, creatures, action, suspense, and exceptional storytelling are all found within the pages of this book. Yes, there are some imperfections that one might argue should have been hashed out in editing, but I’ll tell you now that I was able to ignore those for the most part. Let’s discuss!
Book #3 – Starborn & Godsons
Avalon was thriving. The cold sleep colonists from Earth had settled on a verdant, livable world. The fast and cunning predators humans named “grendels” were under control, and the mainland outposts well established. Avalon’s new mainland hydroelectric power station was nearly complete, and when on-line would compensate for the nuclear power systems lost in the Grendel Wars. Humans would have power, and with power came the ability to make all the necessities for life. They would survive.
They would not survive as a spacefaring people.
What they were losing faster than they knew was the ability to get to space. But unbeknownst to the planet-bound humans, something was moving out there in the stars, decelerating at a rate impossible for a natural object. And its destination was Avalon. The most probable origin was Earth’s Solar System.
This is a novel of first contact—between the human Starborn and the self-named Godsons who followed on, between the first generation of Avalon born humans and their descendants, and between humans and the almost ineffably alien species native to their new world….
As with Parts 1 & 2 of this series review (Go read those if you haven’t yet! Links are at the top.), I will be doing the ‘Discuss’ & ‘Summarize’ vs my normal ‘Review’ of the book. So there will be spoilers! But I’ll do my best to warn you ahead of time so you can skip those parts. If you don’t like spoilers, then don’t go past the warning sign when you see it! You’ll be fine reading the first part, which will be my typical ‘Review’ section.
And, Review Time…
Starborn & Godsons: This was a great conclusion to this series. It was a long time in the making. It had a different feel to it than the first two (and the Black Ship Island novella). I think that is partly because of the circumstances under which it was written. The forewords written by Niven and Barnes regarding Jerry Pournelle are NOT TO BE SKIPPED! They are touching and literally brought a tear to my eyes. Having just re-read Beowulf’s Children with its motif of aging, and then coming into this book with the last of the Earthborn growing old, I could see the real-life parallels written into the story itself. I don’t think it was intentional, but I couldn’t help but compare Pournelle’s own health struggle with cancer and the aftermath of a stroke with the Hibernation Instability of the Earthborn of Avalon. The IRL background of this book is poignant to read.
The novel is an action-packed thriller just as you would expect with the Heorot series. New alien critters with surprising abilities, new people and familiar ones, new loves and old, new challenges – both external and internal – alongside the existing ones (Grendels, man!), and all of it wrapped around the idea that, if they don’t get it all figured out, then mankind is doomed to regress to barbarism, or simply fail as a star-faring species.
I am holding back 1 star because a couple of points I felt a bit under-explained or presumptive (like it was in the author(s)’ heads, but never got written for us readers. Cadzie’s heir apparent status was one that was eventually explained, but when/how he and the character Trudy developed their relationship… at least from his point of view… was not. The other shocker was that Aaron, from book 2, who should have been a pariah (or executed) is apparently an important and contributing part of the Colony again. I know he could speak to grendels, but that seems to not be a very good reason to let someone get away with murder. The why of that is explained, eventually, but not until way too late in the book. All of these points could have been easily fixed by moving a sentence or two to a point much earlier in the novel.
The other major ‘oops’ is the timeline mistakes. There’s really no easy way to say it. They screwed that up. The book starts off stating that Cadzie Sikes is 28 years old, which is impossible to reconcile with the stated setting of 50 years since Landing Day and 16 years since the events of Black Ship Island. Cadzie was an infant in Beowulf’s Children, which happened two or more years AFTER Black Ship. Infant + 16 years does NOT = 28 year old. Even Aaron states that he was Cadzies age when that happened, so that would put Cadzie at around 18 or 19. There is also a comment about Black Ship events happening when Cadzie and Joanie were learning to read, which is impossible since neither were born yet. So, I’ve decided that the mistake was made at the beginning of the book and Cadzie is really 18 Earth-years old and not 28. There… all settled.
There were also several instances where name spellings changed (Chaka to Shaka, Carlos was called Garcia once instead of Martinez) and I also saw the name Jessica reference once (that would be Cadmann Wayland’s daughter who died in Beowulf’s Children) when I think they mean Jennifer (Carlos’ daughter).
All of that stacked together made the overall novel feel a bit ‘sloppy’ compared to the other books. Baen needs to do a better editing job… or hire ME as beta reader! 🙂
Anyway, despite that, I still give this book four stars.
From this point forward, spoilers are going to be in play. Duck out now if you don’t want them. Otherwise, if you want to see more about Starborn & Godsons, carry on!
Plot Summary & Discussion:
We start right on the cusp of the 50th anniversary of Landing Day on Avalon. The A.I. computer known as Cassandra, still in orbit aboard Geographic, has problems. Indeed, the whole colony has problems with failing technology and regression to the point of no return for many things. Due to losses of equipment, setbacks in the expansion of the colony, and loss of skill-sets, Avalon is in a state of decay that will keep them from ever reaching space again for centuries once the existing equipment fails.
With that as the backdrop situation, Cassandra detects an incoming ship from the general direction of Earth. She informs an old (and I do mean old) friend from the first books, Carlos Martinez — now leader of the colony — who then must communicate it to the other ‘groups’ in an agreed-upon fashion. The next to be informed is Aaron Tragon. He can’t reach him, so he enlists Cadzie (Cadmann II) Sikes, grandson of Cadmann Weyland — and survivor of the speed-bee attack that killed his parents and introduced the colony to that particular threat — to take the message to him on the mainland in person.
Doing so, Cadzie interacts with Joanie, the daughter of Aaron, with whom he shares a mutual dislike. She takes him to Aaron who is training grendels, and shares the news. Cassandra seems to be malfunctioning because she will not give any specifics. This brings out the secret that many of the younger Starborn have been keeping for a while now. They basically reprogrammed Cassandra with a physical bypass that kept her from sharing information about unknown sentient lifeforms with anyone other than themselves. This was done to protect the secret of the sentience level of the creatures known as cthulhus. Aaron, of course, is aware of the creature’s nature, but even he has been kept in the dark about further developments… namely that they are tool users. Unfortunately, the reprogramming of Cassandra has set up a paradox for the A.I. which now treats the incoming ships as ‘unknown sentiments’ and will not share that info with anyone. And it can only be fixed by going back to space on the failing Minerva craft.
Once the truth is out, a mission to repair Cassandra, and to bring her down to the surface, is undertaken by Cadzie, Joanie and “Toad” Stolzi (who is basically an introvert who is the last trained astronaut due to his lineage). A love-hate relationship between the pair of Cadzie & Joanie while on board Geographic (CH 10 – Enemies With Benefits) sets the stage for some later jealousies on the ground that push events in specific directions.
Cassandra is returned safely while Toad remains on board to meet the incoming ship. That ship, called Messenger, is manned by a group called the Godsons, a religiously motivated ‘cult’ that believes it is mankind’s destiny to spread out and conquer the galaxy. Manifest Destiny of the Stars, if you will. They were launched 20 years after Geographic, but were headed toward another star system to a planet called Hypereden. The captain apparently went nuts and changed course to Avalon at some point. Eventually, they found out about hibernation instability via the news-feed from Avalon, and their leader, known as the Prophet, decided to stay awake and turn the sleeper ship into a partial generational ship. The Prophet grew old and infirm, so he went back into stasis after turning over the reins to the current leader, First Speaker Augustus Glass. The group is very hierarchical, and the Speaker’s word is Law… with a capital ‘L’. He orders a select group of trained soldiers, a tri-d star (Narrator Marco Shantel), and a programmed courtesan (Trudy) to prepare to interact with the colonists.
The groups come together in general camaraderie at first. There are some suspicions at first, and the Godsons are certainly prepared to take command from the start, although they don’t act on it. They bring renewed life to the technological state of the colony, and in fact, upgrades. One of those upgrades is the powered armor they wear. It is powerful enough to allow individuals to fight off grendels HAND TO HAND! In fact, Cadzie does so, and in the process manages to break through a fear-state that the Starborn don’t even realize they have. It comes from the training they have all been subjected to, almost from birth, to fight the grendels. It has unknowingly been holding them back from their true potential as explorers. Thus, the Godsons arrival and their armor represents a turning point in the colony’s viability.
As an offshoot of that, the groups decide they need to investigate the other sentient creatures of Avalon, the cthulhu. They set off to an area in the north of the mainland that seems to be a focal point of cthulhus activities. While investigating, Aaron showed up with his tamed grendels and rush ahead. Cadzie, who was known to harbor a dislike of Aaron because of what happened to his grandfather, chased after him ahead of the group to try to make sure he didn’t cause an incident with their first contact. Aaron is killed by the cthulhu who react instinctively to the presence of grendels in their ‘cathedral’ area. The cthulhu’s leave before Cadzie arrives to find Aaron’s corpse. Cadzie is suddenly under suspicion of an opportunistic vengeance murder and is put on trial.
The trial is conducted with a bit too much fervor from the prosecution (a guy name Thor who is Joanie’s normal partner and has become jealous of their tryst in space) and ends up convincing the Godsons’ Speaker that Cadzie is guilty. Mainly because Aaron died from electrocution, which is how the grendel gun that Cadzie was carrying work. Noting reasonable doubt because cthulhus are known to deal shocks, the local council finds him ‘not at fault’. [Side note: This is the same verdict they rendered for Aaron in Cadmann’s murder after Little Chaka was not able to remember the details of the event. This should have been revealed as soon as Aaron was first mentioned, in my opinion.]
The Speaker decides that justice has not been served, and that the colonist are not capable of making good decisions. Some of that comes from the fact that many of the current generation of colonist don’t work very hard and are seen to be lazy and/or incompetent. This is a thing to be fixed by the Godsons for the colonists’ own good… at least that’s how the Godsons see it. The Speaker has his troops take over the colony and declare martial law. They arrest Cadzie and hold a new trial conducted by the Godsons in which they find Cadzie guilty (surprise, surprise) of murder. They sentence him to cold sleep aboard Messenger until they can either capture a live cthulhu and determine that it did have the ability to electrocute Aaron, or until they have a ‘cure’ for Cadzie’s ‘mental aberration’. This is a potential death sentence due to the dangers of hibernation instability, assuming they ever thaw him out in the first place.
It should be noted that this is where we see the faults in the ideology of the Godsons. The have come to believe in their own infallibility, or at least the Speaker’s. The idea that they might be wrong, or that they might not even have the right to exert their will on the colonist, is simply a rejected thought. They are right because… well, basically… Deus Vult.
At this point, Trudy, the courtesan, has already decided that Cadzie is the most influential male in the colony. She has basically imprinted herself to him, which is a function of her mental skill and programming. This is why her loyalty shifts from the Godsons to Cadzie. That fact leads her to help him escape because she believes in his innocence. [My observation is that this development is a ‘surprise’ because it is revealed suddenly, and there was not much seen from Cadzie’s perspective that might have led up to this. That makes it seem to me that Trudy, as a character, was put in place for this one purpose only. Deus Ex Amicam, if you will. That means her entire character is superfluous and could be left out of the book without changing the story. I hate that I think that. Cadman needed help escaping, but hell, Joanie and Thor could have done that somehow (out of guilt), or even Sylvia asking to see him. Now, I could have missed that subtle relationship development, I suppose, but I’m not going to re-read the book to find out. If anyone reading this sees it differently, please let me know why in the comments.]
The escape leads to a man-hunt across the mainland. Cadzie and his supporters decide to continue their investigation of the cthulhus in order to prove that they were responsible for Aaron’s death. There is an underground river that can be accessed through a mine shaft that will potentially lead them back to the cthulhu cathedral area where Aaron died. To make the trip this way, though, they require the Godsons’ power armor.
They set a trap for the Godsons by luring them to a speed-bee colony and then stirring up the hive. The Godson soldiers, having never dealt with this Avalonian threat before, don’t have their suits fully sealed. The bees get inside the suits and kill them, leaving the armor available for the Starborn to scavenge. While the Colonists did not actively kill the soldiers, the lead soldier, a woman named Major Gloria Stype, is hell-bent on revenge because one of the dead was her lover, Captain Sven Meadows. These soldiers have been actively programmed to excel at, and even take orgasmic pleasure in, killing. It’s hard to convince them to stand down once they get their blood-lust up.
The Godsons’ soldiers continue their pursuit. The Speaker, already sensing a dangerous tendency from his troops, wakes from cold sleep Colonel Anton Tsiolkovskii to take control and try to calm things down. He initially takes a wait-and-see approach, but is wary of the Major’s motivations. The pursuit continues.
Cadzie and the Starborn, along with Trudy Hendricksen, enter into a tunnel system and underground river that leads to the cthulhu cathedral, and then, they hope, eventually to the planet’s north magnetic pole. Once there, they discover more evidence of the cthulhu civilization’s previous level of higher technological advancement. Unfortunately, the cthulhus have regressed to a much lower level for some unknown reason.
While all this transpires, the cthulhus deal out a punishment of exile to the entities that attacked and killed Aaron, thus breaking the ‘understanding’ between the Starborn youths from Black Ship Island incident and themselves. Those cthulhus either die of injuries received from the grendel fight, or simply beach themselves because they are outcast. The colonists find the bodies and study them. This eventually leads to enough evidence to prove Cadzie’s innocence. Even so, Major Stype is out for blood.
Unfortunately, communications are sporadic with the group, now well below ground. A firefight between the two groups in the cathedral area leads to the capture of all but Cadzie and Trudy. The Colonel continues pursuit of his quarry while the Major is forced to stay with the team guarding the prisoners. They take initiative and begins to explore the ruins of the ancient cthulhu cathedral. They open a secret doorway and suddenly find themselves overrun with grendels that were in this space. The power armor that is usually effective against single grendels, cannot handle the shear ferocity of dozens of grendels at once as they swarm the wearer and chew through the armor. The group must work together to fight and flee in the same direction as Cadzie and the Colonel.
The truce becomes permanent when communications are finally restored. Cadzie and Tsiolkovskii work together to save/rescue the survivors. They make their way to a chamber that is a natural ice-coffer with an exit. The contingent engages in a fighting retreat, collapsing tunnels behind them as they go, and manage to climb out. The last remaining people, Cadzie, Tsiolkovskii & Stype become dangling bait as the grendels pour into the chamber. Stype, unable to control her anger for her loss, attempts one last time to kill Cadzie as they climb. Cadzie avoids her knife, but she is so bent on vengeance that she become sloppy and she loses her grip, falling down to become grendel chow.
The fallout of the incident brings a realization that the Godsons may not be perfect. They still believe in their mission, but decide that they should continue to their original destination. After establishing a base on Avalon, they resupply the Messenger, and continue on to Hypereden. Several of the individuals who were initially gung-ho for their cause — Trudy, Tsiolkovskii & the Narrator Marco Shantel (who is now with Joanie) for instance — decide to stay on Avalon. Several Avalonians also join their crew, like Toad Stolzi (the astronaut), Thor. They also exchange 100 Starchildren embryos to broaden each colony’s genetic diversity. (Now there’s a story to be written!) The Messenger does a detailed survey of the other planets in the system on its way outward. At the same time, an expedition to the north pole reveals that the ancient cthulhu civilization actually made a trip over-land to the location. There they apparently established a space program!
This leaves an opening for continuation of the history of Avalon and more! I personally would love to read a story of Cthulhu’s In Space. Descendants of Cadmann Weyland and the current generation of Cthulhu culture set off together to find the Ancient Cthulhus! In Space! The Godsons show up and there is an epic conflict for who should control the galaxy! Ooh Ooh Ooh, I want this now! Oh, Mr. Niven! Mr. Barnes! You got a minute!!!!
Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my ramblings. Let me know in the comments. Tell me if I missed any points that you think were important. I’d love to continue this as a conversation!
Oh, and eventually, I will be doing a re-read of Destiny’s Road, which is considered part of this universe. It is another colony from Earth that’s out there somewhere. I’ve read it before, and I remember it fondly. This time I’ll be reading it with an eye for details and dissection!
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If you like intrigue, humor and a bit of speculative technological supposition, you should pick up a copy of my technothriller-comedy eConscience Beta from Amazon today!
Peacekeeper Incorporated’s breakthrough nanotechnology could bring repeat offense crime to an end, freeing society from the need for criminal incarcerations. But first, they have to finish testing it. With funding on the line, and time to prove out the project getting short, the lead scientist must find a way speed things up. That’s unfortunate for his guinea pig, and anyone who would stand in his way.
Can the goal of ending most crime justify committing one… even a few?
And what happens when you conflate altruism with egotism?
Find out in eConscience Beta, where two lab techs and an uncouth petty criminal must outwit a brilliant but sociopathic scientist who’ll stop at nothing to establish his legacy as the man who ended crime.
If Science Fiction Space Adventure is more your speed, then you should check out my anthology, Horizons Unlimited: Volume 1.
Matter conversion technology—Matt-Con—has broadened the scope of mankind’s existence. It has opened up the real possibility of viable colonies on other planets in our solar system, and even space itself. Anywhere matter can be captured or energy from the sun can be felt, the possibility of expanding human habitation exists.
In this volume:
Quicksilver (short story)
The space station Chariot of Helios—on its way to Mercury to become a power collection station for Earth’s growing need for energy to power matt-con tech—encounters a strange anomaly that threatens ship and crew.
Null Gravitas (short story)
New crew and new relationships form above the skies of Venus. A post-prequel to Escaping Aurora.
Escaping Aurora (novella)
The sudden destruction of mankind’s first atmospheric terraforming platform leaves three unlucky exonauts struggling to survive in the skies of Venus aboard a cobbled-together airship. Meanwhile, the commander of the space station above battles obstacles that might keep her from rescuing her stranded husband and crew in time.