Seeds of Earth is the first volume in Michael Cobley’s new space opera trilogy to be published by Orbit in March 2009, here’s the synopsis form the back cover:
First contact was not supposed to be like this. The first intelligent species to encounter mankind attacked without warning and swarmed locust-like through the solar system. Merciless. Relentless. Unstoppable. With little hope of halting the savage invasion, Earth’s last, desperate roll of the dice was to send out three colony ships, seeds of Earth, to different parts of the galaxy. Earth may perish but the human race would live on… somewhere.
More than a century later, the human colony on the planet Darien has established a new world for humanity and forged a peaceful relationship with the planet’s indigenous race, the scholarly, enigmatic Uvovo. But there are secrets buried beneath the surface of Darien’s forest moon. Secrets that go back to an apocalyptic battle fought between ancient forerunner races at the dawn of galactic civilisation.
Life is about to change for the last children of Earth, as surprises spring from below and above. How will the Darien colonists react when all they have worked for is overturned at a stroke? And what choices will the Uvovo make when their true nature is revealed and the skies grow dark with enemies?
The Uvovo and the human settlers of Darien and its forest moon have been cut off from the planet they once though lost and the other colony ships that fled Earth. Living alone on this planet has bought them together and they have built a thriving civilisation after a bitter war against their ship AI. After a mysterious event that caused life on Darien to be wiped out 100,000 years ago, investigations are ongoing to try and uncover the cause of this event. The Uvovo that live on the forest moon can shed no light on the matter, although the ancient and mysterious Pathmaster – an entity long thought dead – has now shown himself to the Uvovo in preparation for the events that are converging on Darien.
These events are kicked off by a ship from Earth announcing its arrival to the colony of Darien. Of course, the questions are raised on how Earth survived, what became of the Swarm and why are they now reaching out to this one lost colony. With a great Hegemony in this part of the galaxy responsible for Earth’s salvation and subsequent expansion, humanity are finally living amongst the stars with advanced AI technology. With the discovery of the colony on Darien, a planet in the middle of a disputed section of space, the Hegemony and Earth representatives travel to assist wherever they can. With political maneuvering from both sides at every turn the Darien colony has its hands full, and with more and more revelations coming to light the decisions they have to make bear more and more weight.
Although the above is a general outline for the events in Seeds of Earth it doesn’t do it justice without getting into the realm of spoilers. What Michael Cobley has done here is create a wonderfully vivid future that has been realised to the full. We have the large scale sense of wonder, from the perspective of the Darien colonists as the Earth ship arrives at the planet, the representative from Earth encountering the colony, and that of Kao Chih, a representative from one of the other lost colonies who himself is on the way to Darien for reasons I won’t go into here. Everything that is done is what I love in space opera – a huge canvas, plenty of action, political sub-plots, hidden secrets, a well executed story and some good characterisation.
Seeds of Earth also contains one of the things I have a love/hate relationship with: info-dumping. If done well it can blend into the story and enrich it in many ways, if not then it can make the book drag and be a chore to read. Although not all of it is perfectly balanced in Seeds of Earth, I had only a few problems while reading, none of which was bad enough to stick out terribly and only a minor bump along the road.
As far as the characters go, there isn’t so much a main character in Seeds of Earth, more like a good cast that all contribute to the story in their own way. Greg, a Darien colonist who is working on the excavation, is the closest we come to a main character for the main plot of the story. He is both likable and believable, something he has in common with all characters we encounter. Kao Chih is also a close contender, but his story is one of adventure, exploration and travel, all separate from the main story, although he is my favourite and Cobley uses humour to good effect during this sub plot – a regular occurrence that always put a smile on my face is the way that not one person he meets pronounces his name correctly, in fact they all pronounce it differently! The rest of the characters feel well rounded and supportive to the main story, each giving that little bit to the whole.
All in all I enjoyed Seeds of Earth considerably. It isn’t perfect, but the foundation it gives for the future books is solid and the consequences of actions here will make for very exciting reading. Here’s another author that is being added to my buy-on-release list and one that is a breath of fresh air into the genre with an intriguing, complicated and a well executed story. Highly recommended.