THE EARTH IS ALL THAT LASTS
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Given the strong theme of conservation, the title of Catherine Wells's first novel, The Earth Is All That Lasts may, perhaps, be taken with some irony. The first book of a trilogy as well as the start of her career, The Earth Is All That Lasts is a sadly ignored novel which is currently out-of-print but deserves to be more widely read.
Wells tells two stories in this novel. The first is about Coconino, a great hunter and hero of the People. The People are the descendents of American Indians and a few caucasians who remained in America following a catastrophe that included famine, plague and flood. Once these disasters subsided, they rebuilt a tribal society in the vastly depopulated American west. This theme recurs in Wells's stand-alone novel, Mother Grimm, as well. The People are not alone in the wilderness, however, for there is a small enclave of scientists living nearby and Coconino forms a relationship with one of their number, a woman named Phoenix.
The second tale woven into The Earth Is All That Lasts is the weaker of the two stories. It tells of the Homeward Bound, a spaceship sent back to Earth by the Winthrop family to discover what has happened to the mother planet. Perhaps because this story seems to paint all capitalists with the same brush of evil, money-grubbing people with no regard for the resources they use up, it doesn't come across as well as the native portions.
The Homeward Bound also brings Derek Lujon, an exploitative scientist whose motivations are simple greed and ambition. Naturally, when the ship's arrival on Earth triggers a conflict between the natives and the newcomers, Lujon's presence only serves to exacerbate the situation.
The finest moments are the times when Coconino and Pheonix are trading their cultures. Coconino teaching Pheonix what it means to be a woman of the People and Pheonix helping Coconino learn how to read. At these times, Wells gets away from the intense environmentalist message and is able to focus most strongly on the relationships of her characters.
Although the first novel of a series, The Earth Is All That Lasts successfully stands on its own. The characters and situations come to a conclusion which allows Wells to logically follow them in the succeeding books, but doesn't leave the reader looking for the next novel to discover how Wells is going to tie up the particular plot threads.