(I like listening to audiobooks and lectures when I’m walking the dog by myself etc but struggle to find suitable fiction. This popped up a little while ago so even though I’m not particularly a fan of ACC, I thought I’d give it a go.)
I think the original premise that sold this book to me was something basic, along the lines of someone “watching humanity come to an end from a spaceship orbiting the Earth”. I’d pictured humans on something like the ISS watching the fit hit the shan a few hundred miles below but it was a whole lot more complicated than that: an alien race, “the overlords”, arrives and takes control of earth as, essentially, benevolent dictators for life. They eliminate war and nations, cruelty and inequality, and through their technology, they automate the production and distribution of all of life’s necessities. The world becomes a nicer place to live but also a duller one, since tranquillity does little to foster art and the pursuit of (higher level) science becomes pointless, since the overlords have already achieved so much in terms of technology (even if they don’t always share it with the humans). One man still has a desire for scientific discovery though and eventually, he stows away on a spaceship to the overlord’s home planet: to “escape the nursery”. Their “star drive” allows his return journey to only take a few months as far as he is concerned, but eighty years have passed for someone on Earth, and in that time, homo sapiens have died out, or rather have evolved into another species, part of a Borg-like civilisation called the Overmind, and gone into a type of suspended animation while their powers develop and they wait to join the collective. The overlords, who had been appointed by the Overmind to be nannies to homo sapiens and midwives to the new race, leave the Earth as the newbies dissolve the planet during their assimilation.
It is an intriguing book, with some interesting ideas on religion as well as science and culture, but overall, I found it uneven. Some early episodes (such as Stormgren’s abduction) seem out of place when looking back on it as a whole and other parts – including the background to the New Athens section and most of Jan’s time on the Overlords planet – seemed superfluous. I didn’t like the Greggsons’ as characters, particularly George (in fact everyone at Rupert’s party was pretty repugnant) – I can’t decide whether that was intentional or not. It was also dated – though set from 1975 to around the turn of the 22nd century, references dated it to the 1950s when it was written. There were few female characters and those that were included were flatly drawn, either wet and prone to silliness (Jean) or noteworthy only for their looks (Maia) (though we only see both through George’s eyes, so it might be that he’s just a sexist dick). The “homo sapiens = children” metaphor was good but laboured too much.
On the positive side though, I liked Stromgren and Overlord Karellen’s interactions and the idea that the race that is “overlords” to humanity is ultimately just a slave race to a greater force, one that it’ll never be able to join itself. There were also a few wonderful quotes, my favourite being “a well stocked mind is safe from boredom”: I think I might stitch that on a bookmark ;)