Orson Scott Card can lay claim to the title “prolific.” A quick review of his works shows that he’s released at least one, sometimes two, even three novels in a year. At least two of his novels have been adapted for film (Ender’s Game and Pathfinder)—are there more? Obviously, he has clout and talent. He must, how else could he sustain such a career?
When the bookstore had a completed (matching) set of his five volume “Homecoming” series, I thought that might be a great way to introduce myself to his writing. I’d recently seen a couple of the sets sell, too. Book one, The Memory of Earth, opens with several maps of an ancient city which I immediately mused “Hmm, this is rather reminiscent of Jerusalem.” Card even provided a name pronunciation chart and a genealogy which was again indicative of biblical records in first and second Chronicles (and elsewhere). The minimal plot summary plays out to something like this: humanity has basically been rebooted on another planet because they destroyed earth with warfare. However, no one knows this except for the super computer which has been established as the guardian of the world to prevent humanity from developing the technology to kill each other again. A hybrid of sci-fi and fantasy in an ancient-world city drawing on biblical records sounded gripping.
So I say all of the aforementioned to say this: I cannot dismiss any of Card’s other works, nor can I draw definitive conclusions on his clout, talent, and unique narrative abilities—but very little of them were evident in The Memory of Earth.
Now I don’t want to say I disliked a book and not provide some evidence to defend that indictment. So here are my three primary beefs:
1). The means did not equal the ends / the ends did not equal the means. Characters’ motivations were wholly unjustified. On several occasions a character’s action played out like this:
Character: I’m going to do something!
Me (as reader): Why? That’s inconsistent with your motivations.
Character: Well because if I don’t, then the story can’t continue!
Me (as reader): At this point, maybe that would be for the best.
2). The world building was underwritten/under-explained. Take for example in multiple scenes protagonist, Nafai (among others) eat from a refrigerator. You can’t grab (a never elaborated meal—also a disappointing lack of detail) out of a refrigerator in an ancient city and not give some hint as to how that’s perfectly normal. Someone may refute this by pointing out that it’s only (spoiler alert), in essence, a replica of an ancient city. But I maintain that if they don’t even know what a chariot is (plot point) then they absolutely have no business not explaining the presence of refrigerators.
3). The dialogue was clunky, cliché, and indistinct. I am of the opinion that you cannot merely write words and include attribution tags (example: John said, Sue yelled) and expect that to be enough distinction between characters. Dialogue itself is a means of characterization. Therefore, if the dialogue tags were removed from a conversation the reader, in most cases, should still be able to tell who is speaking because of the way a certain character speaks, the words only that character would use. It’s not idealism. If I write the sentence of dialogue “It’s gunna be YUGE!” I bet just about everyone knows who’s talking—even without context. Halfway through The Memory of Earth I started covering attribution tags up with my thumb and I was clueless who was speaking the dialogue.
Beyond my gripes, I did a little research and discovered that the Homecoming series is actually a thinly veiled retelling of the Book of Mormon. The protagonist of that book “Nephi” has been slightly altered to “Nafai” here. The similarities continue on and on until it begs the question, should I just read the Book of Mormon instead? Maybe the dialogue would be better. 1.5/5 stars (.5 for the maps).