I first discovered Sue Ann Bowling on my first A to Z Challenge, in 2012. I loved her blog, I loved her theme, and as I followed her afterwards, I loved what she was interested in and her view from Alaska. I was a little confused by the serialised Jarn’s Journal, which is a prequel to her books, but I read her novella Horse Power, and decided that I also loved her style, and looked forward to reading the first of her full-length novels, Homecoming.
It’s an epic tale of space-going aliens who may or may not live compatibly with other space-going aliens, including Humans. R’Ilnians have telepathic, telekinetic, and many other mind-power abilities, some of which are passed on to their crossbred children – crossbreeding with Humans ended up as the only solution to their survival after succumbing to a plague to which humans are immune. Lai, the only remaining purebred R’Ilnian lives a long and busy life – long since they live for centuries, and busy since the role of R’ilnians and R’Ilnoids (crossbreeds with a high percentage of R’ilnian genes) is to arbitrate and manage governance at a planetary level, i.e. they don’t interfere with local disputes, only those issues involving ‘international’ co-operation.
Am I making this complicated? Well, the context of it could be, but there are plenty of scifi series out there with similar ESP aliens. What makes this different is the richness, the level of good science engaged, and the range of it – genetics, medicine, engineering, sociology, psychology, botany, biochemistry, astronomy, physics, environmental management, geology, geophysics… I’d better stop. Ms (Professor) Bowling is a polymath and it shows!
In Homecoming, the first of a planned trilogy, a slave named Snowy has had it drummed into him from birth not to show his ESP talents – but it helps him and his friends out of many of their troubles. Then Snowy gets sick, and in healing him, his owners realise that he shouldn’t be a slave at all. In fact, he turns out to be of high R’Ilnoid parentage. So his life changes, not always for the better as far as he perceives it, but his talents take him in directions few could predict, and he becomes essential to the survival of Lai on a difficult and dangerous assignment. That’s really all I’ll say about the story. It’s intricate, beautifully entwined, and as rich and sound in its world-building as anything by those masters of story telling, Heinlein, Clarke or even E E ‘Doc’ Smith (does anyone else know the Lensmen series these days?)
I read this on my holiday with my mind working on three levels – the amazement of the detail of the world building, the enjoyment of a masterfully told story, and the sadness of knowing that Sue probably didn’t finish the last book. I tweeted a month or so ago to see if anyone had news of her. She told us all on her blog in September that the doctors had given her six months and she blogged from her hospice in November. Her last ‘live’ post was of the customary Alaskan weather update at the beginning of December, and at the end of December the probably scheduled quotes posts stopped. A fair number of people retweeted to spread the request for news, but as far as I know there were no replies. Yet I saw she had friended someone on Goodreads recently.
Homecoming is a superb story, and we may have lost a great author, one who found the time to write all too late in her life. I bought both Homecoming and the second, Tourist Trap, while Sue could still enjoy the royalties. I hope she did. I can now go back and read Jarn’s Journal, understanding where it fits into her totally amazing universe.
A brilliant book, for lovers of people and society, as well as scifi, adventure and life’s rich patterns.