Every general bit of praise and criticism I have for Earthside can be cribbed/shared directly with my criticism/praise for Outland, so I’ll avoid rehashing all this here and get to what’s both different and worse, much much worse, about Earthside: Dennis E Taylor turning his Pollyanna rose-tinted glasses to a post-apocalyptic justice and political system.
There are witch trials, and it’s terrifying. The stakes of these witch trials are life and brutal, unyielding death. If you’re lucky you’ll be exiled to an almost uninhabitable Earth, and if you’re unlucky you’ll be exiled to an Earth where you’ll definitely be eaten alive by dinosaurs. And these are our main characters doing the exiling. It’s meant to be a sympathetic thing, and Taylor goes out of his way to make the bad guys comically, over the top evil in service of that. Every one of them is unapologetic, most defiantly choose death by raptor, just to show ’em, and in some of the non-court room summary justice, it’s made clear that the people being exiled are beyond cruel so that we don’t feel any sympathy for them. I don’t want to get too breathless in my pearl clutching here, but with a tiny perspective shift and without the third person omniscient voice showing us how cruel these baddies are, this is just The Crucible.
I used to love The Walking Dead, but I gave it up around the time Negan baseball batted [spoiler redacted] and I realized the rest of the show was just going to be messy misery porn. I’m not advocating for this, but the tidy way all these episodes in Earthside are wrapped up and the good guys get to sleep at night after sending someone to be devoured, screaming, by raptors, is messed up. Walking Dead deals with Negan a different way, and one that I think while not necessarily being more realistic, at least deals with the fact that summary justice is not a good solution. Maybe the Earthside characters didn’t have much of a choice, it’s not like they can build and maintain a jail system easily, but the literal cheering crowds who have, and I’m not making this up, already made up their minds before the trials start, terrified me more than any environmental danger the main characters face. It’s not that I’m drawing parallels to mobs controlling our modern culture or anything like that. I don’t subscribe to that viewpoint, it’s bullshit catastrophizing from people who are afraid that the world is continuing to evolve around them. it’s more that I think within two generations of a society with this brand of justice, the main characters or their immediate descendants are going to be fed to the raptors sooner than not. Summary justice is not sustainable.
Then come the politics. Here Taylor does a good job of pointing out that a society made up of college kids isn’t going to have the most realistic viewpoints, and he explores some good things around ageism, bizarre libertarianism, and also the limits of green philosophy. But once again, when we get to the actual settlement of these issues, we have a clean and tidy solution to a super complex problem that only works because the bad guys are SO bad that there could be no question of an alternative. It’s like Taylor didn’t want to handle these issues at all, so he did them in the most minimal way possible, keeping them from ever actually being an issue that needed handling, just swept under the rug and moved on from. So why bring them up in the first place?
Read Earthside if you enjoyed Outland, the engineering porn is still there and the problem solving is fun. I rate it a thorough “meh.”