After roving through space for centuries, a starship unburdens its cargo of human embryos on a harsh new world. They quickly grow to maturity in the ship’s artificial womb. A lifetime of Earth memories is programmed into their dreams.
But before their indoctrination is complete, an alien intruder infiltrates and destroys the system…and the reason for their odyssey is never learned.
Now, on a verdant island surrounded by quicksand, Othman, wanderer, dreamer, and self-proclaimed leader of the Earthling band, builds a mighty bridge to span the ocean of molten mud that keeps them from the world beyond.
He has to face the deadly toll his quest will take on the delicate ecology of the planet—or the revolt of his beautiful, strong-willed wife, Silandi. And he has yet to discover the hidden knowledge locked deep within their hearts.
Okay guys, the cover of this book. I love it. Omar Sharif and Raquel Welch are sitting on top of a wooden…thing…and Omar has what appears to be a flamethrower or something, and also there’s stuff on fire and an ooze monster from Zelda II. Did Omar set the bridge on fire? Why are his clothes torn? I don’t have to ask why Raquel’s clothes are like that, because this is a science fiction book cover from the seventies. We know why.
This book begins with the single greatest disclaimer in the history of books. I swear, the copyright page contains the following quote:
Nothing but respect is intended in this novel toward the religion of Islam.
You know when a book starts out with a disclaimer like that, it has to be offensive as hell.
Well no, actually it doesn’t. This book portrays Muslims as, well, basically just like anyone else. In fact, the fact that all the characters are of Arabic descent doesn’t really play into the book at all. I’m really not sure why that decision was made, actually. All the characters have Arabic-sounding names, and there are occasional references to Allah and His Prophet, but really, it doesn’t go anywhere.
Actually, that’s a lot like the rest of the book.
I mean it, this book was two hundred pages of tiny text, and very little happened. The back cover actually covers ninety percent of the plot.
We start off with a look at this ship that contains the colonists or whatever they are. It’s been flying through space for a really long time and it’s finally locked-on to a habitable world, so it begins its landing procedure automatically. All of the people on board are actually just eggs and sperm at this point, but the ship binds those two things together and begins an accelerated-growth program, so the people are fully grown before the ship lands. As they grow up, “memories” of their lives on Earth are pumped into their brains in order to prepare them for the jobs they have to do once they land. Unfortunately, though, some alien thing shows up and wrecks the computer, so the first batch of people don’t get a complete picture of what they’re supposed to do, and subsequent batches don’t get anything at all, so they end up completely empty-headed and not in a three-Greek-letters kind of way.
Immediately upon landing the ship disassembles itself so the crew can use its parts for the colonization effort, if in fact that’s what they’re supposed to be doing.
See, up front I really liked what was going on. The book had set up a pretty good picture of what was going on with a lot of mystery and potential plot hooks, and the automated ship systems were a nice touch. Where did it all go?
As soon as they become aware of what’s going on, the colonists begin bickering with themselves about who should be in charge. You see, nobody knows because they didn’t yet get the “memories” of what their individual jobs are supposed to be. Some people were able to figure it out, but no one knows who the leader is supposed to be. Maybe it’s one of the people who don’t have anything in their brains.
The main contenders for leadership are guys named Othman, Jessum, and Said Rak. They’re an engineer, an architect, and a soldier, respectively. Othman eventually wins out and the other two guys become his lieutenants, basically. Also we meet the woman who is essentially programmed to be Othman’s wife, Silandi, who is apparently beautiful as all get-out.
Othman basically proves himself to be a real jerk for most of the first half of the book. This leads to friction between him and his wife, as you might expect, and not (always) the good kind with the making-up and the way-hey-hey. Although there’s a fair amount of way-hey-hey in this book, to be honest. It’s never super graphic or anything, but sometimes I felt like it wasn’t entirely necessary.
The colonists realize they’re on an island on this strange new world, and the island is surrounded by quicksand for some reason. Othman really wants to get to the other side of the quicksand, so he forces everybody to work on a giant bridge to the mainland. At the time it seems really meaningless and arbitrary, but eventually it gets an explanation that didn’t really work all that well.
While all this is going on, the “morons,” that is, the people who ended up with blank brains, are making friends with some of the elusive inhabitants of this world, which the colonists refer to as “stickmen.” It becomes evident that these stickmen have special powers, and for some reason they are able to pass these powers along to the morons from the ship. This is dealt with very briefly.
Really, everything in this book is dealt with very briefly. The main part of the plot, as it is, concerns Othman being mad at Silandi and Silandi being mad at Othman, eventually leaving him, hanging out with a guy named Zayid, and coming back. Meanwhile, a bridge is built.
Once the bridge is done Othman gets everybody to cross it and head into the mainland. Once there they meet some strange stuff, like a giant snail creature and some whirlwind monsters. Eventually everybody gets sick of Othman’s bossypants and makes Zayid the new leader. Othman really mellows out at this point and turns into a more tolerable character.
Zayid decides that the colonists should build a town, and then one of the whirlwind monsters shows up and shoos them out. This happens two or three times. There are also other people on the mainland who are basically savages and make it clear that they like being savages, so they capture and torture and kill people and then put their skulls on spikes with strings between their teeth so they make wacky noises when the wind blows. I seriously wonder if that would work, because that’s pretty cool.
Othman gets captured and tortured, but Jessum and Zayid rescue him. Othman gets all philosophical at this point while the colonists kill off a lot of these “natives.” Zayid attacks a whirlwind monster with a grenade and then gets imploded.
The point of view cuts really briefly to the aliens on another planet in that solar system who are controlling the whirlwind monsters and basically straight-up says that they’re interfering with the people of the planet so they don’t get any decent technology. It then cuts away and never mentions them again.
I mean, seriously, what’s up with that?
Othman survives and has some philosophytimes. At one point they find out that the “natives” they’ve been fighting are also humans, and that their ship was actually part of a fleet. I say “find out” but really Othman just suddenly remembers and explains the whole mystery of the book in the last couple of pages.
They were supposed to be the vanguard for a large colonization effort, but since the computer borked up they didn’t know that, so when the other colonists show up they get borked up too and the whole effort is busted. Othman and crew survive, though, and start a real colony and start to learn the magical abilities of the stickmen from the morons, and the book ends there.
I mean seriously, guys. This book was huge for a paperback and so little happened. Everybody wanders around for a bit while the reader is left wondering about the mysteries of the plot, and then in a few paragraphs the mysteries are answered out of nowhere and the book ends. This was a totally unsatisfying read.
And that’s a real shame, too, because I was actually interested. I kept reading, not just because I wanted to do this review, but also because I was genuinely curious as to what was going on. What were they here for, why did some alien bork up their memories, and why do the morons get magic powers?
Apparently the aliens that borked up their memories were the same aliens that were influencing the planet’s development, incidentally. They did the same thing to the other ships. Apparently they weren’t acting out of malice or anything, but some kind of weird alien compassion.
And then there’s the whole Islam thing. It comes up occasionally in the text, but it doesn’t make much sense or have much impact, even within the story. The characters know they’re supposed to be Muslims, but whoever programmed them to go to the stars decided that they should have only the most basic knowledge of their religion. By that I mean they didn’t know anything about Muslim architecture, art, science, theology, or history. They didn’t even give them a copy of the Koran. All they decided was to make sure they knew there’s no God but God and Mohammad is His Prophet. How is this supposed to help them? You’ve given them vague religious feelings with absolutely no context, and for what? No reason was given.
No reason was given as to what circumstances forced the people of Earth to send Muslims into space in the first place.
And what the heck was that opening disclaimer about? Like I’ve pointed out, the fact that these people are Muslims is barely an issue. Why was the publisher or author so afraid they’d be offended? Was it just a knee-jerk reaction? I know that there were some crazy doin’s over in the Middle East during the late seventies, because when isn’t there, but really, I’m just confused.
Maybe he was afraid that someone would interpret the book as advocating shooting all the Muslims into space as a trouble-saver.