Review: Earthseed by Pamela Sargent

Earthseed
by Pamela Sargent

ISBN-13: 9-780765-332158
Publication: this edition, February 2012 from Tor Teen
Rating: 2.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ (close to a 3) – I basically liked it

The ship hurtles through space. Deep within its core, it carries the seed of humankind. Launched by the people of a dying Earth over a century ago, its mission is to find a habitable world for the children — fifteen-year-old Zoheret and her shipmates — whom it has created from its genetic banks.

To its inhabitants, Ship has been mother, father, and loving teacher, preparing them for their biggest challenge: surviving on their own, on an uninhabited planet, without Ship’s protection. Now that day is almost upon them…but are they ready to leave Ship? Ship devises a test, and suddenly, instincts that have been latent for more than a hundred years take over. Zoheret watches as friends become strangers — and enemies. Can Zoheret and her companions overcome the biggest obstacle to the survival of the human race — themselves?

I have mixed feelings about Earthseed by Pamela Sargent. I enjoyed the story and main character Zoheret well enough, but there were parts that just did not mesh well with me as the reader. I do have to say that the story holds up well to the test of time and does not seem dated at all (despite being written in 1983, and the rollerblading in the beginning). This review may be a little longer than my usual, as I’m going to try and articulate my thoughts as clearly as possible, and I may run into a few spoilers though I will try my best not to.

First of all, the concept and idea behind Earthseed? Love it. Zoheret and her fellow passengers were all born and raised aboard Ship, an AI spacecraft that is on its way to settle a new planet. Ship was probably my favourite part of the story – the AI is both mother and father to these teens living on board, and tries its best to prepare them for what they will face by settling an unknown world, but to also pass on the history of Earth so that they will remember where they came from, and their mission’s purpose. Even Ship is not perfect, though, and things don’t go completely to plan all the time. Ship is a bit mysterious, too, and you can’t help but wonder if it has hidden commands it is following.

I enjoyed Zoheret and the other teens, though they often had me exasperated (especially Zoheret). Zoheret is a pretty independent girl with a smart mind, but she makes some crazy choices. At one point she thinks to herself that she cannot trust Ho, and then not even a minute later, trusts him! Of course it gets her in huge trouble. I found her to be a bit naive and fickle in the beginning, but as she goes through the experience of learning to survive on a planet and the major twists that occur in the plot, as well as not knowing who to trust, she does a lot of growing up and really comes into her own. Ho is definitely one of the “villains” of the story and I quite disliked him. He would threaten others, steal, do things that would get others hurt and could not be trusted.

I think one of the major reasons I didn’t mesh quite so well with the book is the fact that many of the characters, like Ho, Manuel and the group they run with become fairly violent and dangerous (Ship does little to stop it, too) and I just don’t like to believe that our default as humans is to be aggressive, despite the desire to survive. One would think that cooperation and kindness would go a long way in making sure everyone survives on the new planet – not fighting and dissent. But even though I would have wished for a more happy outlook on how we could turn out stuck in space, I appreciate that Pamela Sargent did a great job of using growing up on a spaceship to showcase human nature, and to present the idea that maybe violence and negativity will always be present in us as parts of our personalities. Every one person is different and with unique views on how best to survive and adapt, even if that means stealing, kidnapping and general mayhem.

It seems like everything that could go wrong (or at least make things difficult) does, and Pamela Sargent does not shy away from the violence or tough stuff. And don’t take me the wrong way from my remarks above, I don’t object to the violence being present in the book – not everything is puppies and roses, no matter how much we (I) wish it to be, and violence can be a fact of life. There’s frank talk of sex and partnership (they are colonizing a planet after all), alcohol use (one of the teens makes his own still, but Ship even provided beer at a party) and the teens are faced with the deaths of friends, and I’m glad to see these things not being glossed over to save sensibilities. There were a few huge twists that while they are awesome and made me go “holy crap” also made me go “what, really?” (you’d think that growing up, at least one person would have stumbled across the secrets on board).

There’s a bit of an odd romantic arrangement between Zoheret and Manuel that I did not agree with, but suppose fits into the feel of the story. We don’t get to see much of Manuel’s character, but what we do see is generally thrown in with Ho, causing nothing but grief for Zoheret and the others. Zoheret and Manuel have such an abrupt get-together once in the new settlement, it took me by surprise. I did really like the descriptions of the new settlement and how they set up their governing, and there is a lot of action in the last third of the book before they reach the planet that really drives the ending.

But, despite all my quibbles over characters and decisions, I basically enjoyed Earthseed by Pamela Sargent. If you like sci-fi I definitely would recommend picking it up, since not everyone is going to have the same reading experience I did. Also, I’ll be looking to get my hands on the sequels. I’d like to see how the new colony/planet is turning out, and to see if Ship has any more surprises for the new characters we’ll be introduced to, and the old ones.

Paperback copy provided by Tor in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

This has no baring on the story at all, but I did want to mention the cover. In the book, Zoheret is described as having black hair and olive skin, as is Manuel. Gowon is described as having worn “a brown shirt almost as dark as his skin” (page 26), Lillka’s parents lived near the Black Sea (page 22), “Ho’s parents were from the south-east part of the Asian continent” (page 65), Anoki is Native American (page 65), Kagami is Japanese (page 65) and Arabic is often used throughout the story. I don’t see the cover as representative of the wonderful diversity present in Earthseed.

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2 thoughts on “Review: Earthseed by Pamela Sargent

  1. Pingback: Author Interview: Pamela Sargent | Escape Through the Pages

  2. Not only does the cover not represent diversity, but it’s kind of ugly. Just my opinion.

    Sounds like a cool concept for a book that just doesn’t quite deliver.

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