The young adult genre has enjoyed something of a renaissance recently. Film adaptations of hot properties like the Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Twilight series have all made money hand over fist at the box office. This relatively newfound popularity has worked to weaken the stigma carried by YA books, though it still exists. Consider that many well loved films would be filed under the Young Adult section, where they books instead: The Goonies, The Monster Squad, Super 8 (an argument could be made for the Back To The Future series). This rings doubly sad when science fiction fans exclude interesting adventures like FARSEED simply based on where Barnes and Noble shelves it.
For those unfamiliar with FARSEED, it's part of the critically acclaimed Seed Trilogy from author Pamela Sargent (winner of The Nebula and Locust awards for her science fiction writing). This is the second installment in the series, which is separated from the first by a span of twenty-three years. Earthseed concerns the exploits of Ship, an artificially intelligent vessel, which is tasked to save the human race by discovering planets with an Earth-like atmosphere and populating them with new people using DNA stored on board. When Ship discovers a habitable planet, it creates a group of children and moves them into The Hallow, a large Earth-like environment within itself, so that they can learn the skills necessary to survive in their new home. Trouble breaks out when the children split into groups, one of which is led by the violent Ho, the other lead by the responsible Zoheret. How their differences are resolved is the subject of one hell of a page turner. Having read it when I was quite young (remember those Columbia Book Clubs? Totally critical in my early Science Fiction literacy), I highly recommend it but it is not at all necessary to enjoy FARSEED.
FARSEED resumes the story roughly twenty years later. On the planet of Home, the two groups have established separate settlements. The larger group, who stayed with Zoheret, have thrived, while Ho's group has not been heard from in ten years (and they looked emaciated during that last encounter). The narrative splits time between Ho's daughter Nuy, a sixteen year old survivalist who is quite at home in the wilderness, and Zoheret's daughter Leila, also sixteen though she's lived a much more sheltered life amid the safety of the domed communities. The prosperous group sends a party toward the outsiders, both to reestablish trade, and to find out what happened to their long unheard from kindred.
The initial portion from Nuy's perspective is interesting on several levels. As her education level and familiarity with technology are quite low, her descriptions are quite different than we'd expect from someone familiar with a futuristic existence. She's our gatekeeper to this world, which is a smart move on Sargent's part. However, the narrative does drag in the following section, where we follow Leila and her existence among the settlers of Home. This portion, roughly the second quarter of FARSEED is the slowest moving and least interesting. Critical in setting the stage for later events, it is a necessity, but I can't help wishing that it flowed more. Leila's inner monologue early in this adventure is just far more mundane than that of Nuy. This is a product of Nuy's abusive upbringing; she not only battles the world around her, but also her own self doubts, making it an solid coming of age tale as she tries to become a better person.
Fortunately, the second half of FARSEED (and the first 1/4) are great fun, in the spirit of daring adventure. Being a wilderness survival tale, it's hard not to draw allusions to The Hobbit, especially with the new film fresh on the mind (and my having just completed a reread of it prior to picking up FARSEED). This isn't nearly the epic fantasy of Tolken's famous work, but it has the added benefit of not being nearly so dense in it's minute descriptions of the hereditary of each roadsides plant passed by the party. There are a few more adult moments present, include murder and pregnancy, though anyone who's read The Hunger Games is undoubtably up to the task here. On the exploring interesting futuristic ideas through the parable of Science Fiction front, the dynamic of humanity grafting itself into an alien world is given ample exposition. Our species' invasive nature is weighed heavily and seriously, and the reprocessing of this act are also brought into the equation. It's fascinating. And also quite apt, given the current environmental straights we find our world in. Will we need Ship one day to carry our species on once Earth is ravaged?
There's never been a better time to pick up the Seed Trilogy, with Earthseed having been optioned by Paramount Pictures for a major motion picture adaption (being adapted by Melissa Rosenberg, who filled the same role on the Twilight films). With the film due out in 2014, Tor Teen publishing has issued a handsome trade paperback edition of FARSEED on January 8th (it was originally published in hardback in 2007). It's available now for $9.99 in both the trade paperback edition and for Kindle.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Saturday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.