The Longest Way Home, by Robert Silverberg

Having just read Silverberg’s The World Inside, I must say I was expecting a different sort of book. The World Inside is almost a collection of short stories, each chapter with a different main character and each character with a different ‘voice’. I described this book previously on this blog.

The Longest Way Home is a first person narrative with the story related by a 15 year old boy on a colonised planet where the human race is divided into Masters and Folk. The boy is the eldest son of a powerful Master, sent to visit distant cousins. But, while he is away from home, the local Folk rise up in rebellion. In the ensuing mayhem, he flees for his life and attempts the long walk home to his father’s city.

Along the way he survives due to the indifferent help of various alien species and the unwitting help of non-colonised Folk. Along with learning some vital survival skills, he grows in understanding and self awareness.

The story ends with the possibility of a sequel but, as far as I know, there is none.

What I liked about this book:
The narration was gripping and I could hardly bear to pause in my reading; I was so keen to find out what happened next.

The depiction of the two divisions of human was, pretty obviously, a parable about slavery and/or serfdom. The various types of alien sentient species were wonderfully depicted as being entirely different from humans in both their anatomy and physiology, and in their society and culture.

The boy’s plight was realistic. I enjoyed the moral ambiguity and the hero’s dawning realisation that perhaps his people’s superiority was not a given right.

There was a gentle love story but no forced happy ending. The real ending was satisfying with a variety of possibilites still open for the future of this young Master.

What I didn’t like about this book:

Well, there was nothing to not-like, really. Maybe the first person narrative constrains the story – it would have been interesting to understand what the aliens (for example) were thinking about the young Master who lived with them. And the ‘Folk’.

Maybe this book isn’t really a Sci Fi novel? Apart from the setting on an alien planet, there was no real ‘science’ or technology involved. But, as a ‘what if…’ story, it was great.

Also, I am delighted to discover a new (to me) and great science fiction writer who seems able to write in different styles and can create SF worlds with great conviction.

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