An adventure in colonization and conflict from acclaimed SF writer Pamela Sargent
Several hundred years ago, Ship, a sentient starship, settled humans on the planet Home before leaving to colonize other worlds, promising to return one day. Over time, the colony on Home divided into those who live in the original domed buildings of the colony, who maintain the library and technology of Ship, and those who live by the river, farming and hunting to survive. The Dome Dwellers consider themselves the protectors of "true humanity" and the River People "contaminated," and the two sides interact solely through ritualized trade: food and goods from the River People in exchange for repairs and recharges by the Dome Dwellers.
Then a new light appears in the night sky. The River People believe it might be Ship, keeping its promise to return, but the Dome Dwellers, who have a radio to communicate with Ship, are silent. So Bian, a seventeen-year-old girl from a small village, travels upriver to learn what they know. As she travels through the colony of Home, gaining companions and gathering news, Bian ponders why the Dome Dwellers have said nothing. Has Ship commanded them to be silent, in preparation for some judgment on the River People? Or are the Dome Dwellers lying to Ship, turning Ship against their rivals?
Whatever the answer, life is about to change radically on both sides of the divide.
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Returning to the world of Home, which humans colonized in 1983's Earthseed and where they split into two cultures in 2007's Farseed, Sargent continues exploring the nature of violence and rivalry. The farmers along the great lake and river lead low-tech lives, while the dome dwellers try to maintain the remaining bits of imported technology. Then the sentient Ship that planted the colony returns, triggering fear and suspicion. As the few mature dome dwellers try to repair their radio and keep their uncaring youngsters from rebelling, teens Bian and Arnagh make the journey north from the river to find out whether the dome dwellers have betrayed their agrarian brethren. With prose as spare as the unadorned clothes and tools of her characters, Sargent digs down to the raw emotional roots below the contentment of a materially satisfied life.