Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Homeward Bound forms a coda to Harry Turtledove's "Worldwar" and "Colonization" series. While based on those alternate histories, this is the most straight-forward science fictional novel Turtledove has written since Earthgrip (1991). Focusing his attention of Sam Yeager, only a few of the characters from the earlier series are on hand as Turtledove moves the action to the invading lizards' home. Furthermore, Turtledove cuts down on the number of viewpoint character to a more manageable level.
The book opens with a variety of Turtledove's characters from the earlier novels being subjected to cryonics with the intention that they will be able to be revived in the future, possibly on a mission to the Lizard's home world. Foremost among these is Sam Yeager, the minor league ballplayer turned Lizard specialist. As the years progress, his son, Jonathan, and daughter-in-law, Karen, are also frozen. Eventually, most of the characters put on ice are revived in orbit around Home.
Unfortunately, the glimpses Turtledove provides of Home are disappointing. While Home has enough strange flora and fauna, Turtledove focuses his attention on the planet's culture. Although in previous books, the Lizards were portrayed as being extremely different from humans, the familiarity of Home and the Lizards' government, especially its bureaucracy, cause portions of Homeward Bound to verge of satire, although it is unclear from the book's context whether such was Turtledove's intention.
Yeager's negotiations with the Lizards are interesting and Turtledove does a good job demonstrating how difficult it is for the Lizards to fully understand the new reality they are facing with the humans who are demanding to be dealt with as equals. This is what causes most of the tension in the novel. The question of whether the Lizards will understand the manner in which human technological advances will make the Lizards technology and culture irrelevant in enough time to avert the worst possible crisis.
Moreso than in the previous books, Homeward Bound looks at the fish out of water, whether it is the humans now making their way across Home, Kassquit, the human raised as a member of the empire, or the Lizards who have returned Home after being tainted by their long exposure to human civilizations. Some of the characters adapt better than others, naturally, but the real interest is in how Turtledove portrays those who can't adapt but must instead make do.
Homeward Bound is meant to serve as a conclusion to the earlier series, and it does tie up many of the loose strings. However, despite the continuation of specific characters, the feel of Homeward Bound is so different from the earlier books, that it hardly seems as if it is in the same series, belonging more to the space opera sub-genre than the alternate history sub-genre in which the other books reside.
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