The Legend That Was Earth
By: James P. Hogan
Type: Science Fiction Novel
Setting: Earth in the near future
As we enter the story, a race of aliens known as Hyadeans have already made contact with Earth governments and businesses, and are assisting those governments in improving the quality of products, services and life in general for their citizens. We focus on Roland Cade, a charismatic California businessman who makes his fortune by acting as a go-between for groups that would not normally intersect but occasionally have need for each other’s services. Hyadeans pay particularly well for these services, hence Cade’s fortune.
Early in the book, we learn that not everyone thinks the Hyadeans’ involvement in Terran affairs is a good thing. Cade’s ex-wife, Marie, is one of these people, and seems to be in possession of some information that would implicate the American government in a prominent political assassination involving both Hyadeans and government officials. Against his will, Cade is drawn into a world of counter-intelligence, intrigue and lies that he had never believed existed, despite his ex-wife’s repeated attempts to point it out.
As the novel progresses, Cade learns that he doesn’t like much of what he sees in the American government, and Marie learns that not all aliens are bent on destroying Earth’s occupants. Some of the Hyadeans actually thrive in the diversity of Earth’s varied cultures. Having never lived in a diverse culture themselves, they never realized the importance of the individual, nor the benefits of art, music and religion. With the help of a few key Hyadean and Terran dissidents, Roland and Marie Cade set about trying to spread the word that all is not as it seems on Earth, and in the United States in particular.
Their efforts spark a civil war in the United States, fueled by pro-government (and pro-Hyadean) sentiments in the east and anti-government sentiments in the west. The war threatens to spread globally, and Roland is faced with the prospect of saving the world that he is helping to destroy.
This book reads more like a spy adventure novel than a science fiction novel. To Hogan‘s credit, the integration of the Hyadeans into the world is seamless because we enter the story after First Contact has already been made and resolved peacefully. However, the book suffers from uninteresting characters. I found Roland Cade difficult to like, despite his portrayal as a charismatic individual. His ex-wife, Marie, was equally difficult to identify with because of her fanatical views and her penchant for sharing them. (Think Sarah Connor in Terminator 2, but without the grit.) Sparks of romance fly between the two throughout the novel, especially as they come to understand each other’s viewpoints better, but the romance never really feels like it takes off. Thankfully, though, the romance is not overdone, which would have been worse.
The military portrayals in this book seemed weak to me. The descriptions of some of the Hyadean weapons were excellent, but the strategies followed by the American commanders on the western side of the civil war seemed childish, particularly when the Hyadeans started using their space-based weapons. The only Terran military that seemed to have any clues at all about the scope and speed of advanced alien technology were the Chinese, and even they underestimated the Hyadean power. In a world that had been benefiting from Hyadean technology advancements for several years, I would think any military commanders would have a better idea of what they faced, rather than producing blank stares at the results of the Hyadean strategies.
The bright spots in this novel come in the form of a few characters and the contrast between the Hyadean and Terran modes of life. The most memorable characters for me are Luke, Cade’s assistant, and Hudro, an enlightened Hyadean military officer who makes a conscious choice to start saving lives, rather than taking them. Both of these characters tend to take the focus in any passages in which they appear, and Luke does so primarily through his quiet, observant-yet-commanding nature. Hudro is, in my opinion, the most individual of the Hyadeans, but not because he wears non-conforming colors. He stands out because he learns how to think for himself, rather than relying on the spoon-fed pabulum that the other Hyadeans have never questioned. In this way, Hudro is the focus of the book’s big strength: he illustrates the difference between a society that focuses on the community and a society that focuses on the individual.
On a minor note, I didn’t see how the title related to the book until about fifty pages remained, in which Hogan makes several references to Earth as having a kind of legendary status on the Hyadean home world, Chryse. This is mentioned a few times throughout the book, though I don’t remember Earth being billed as “legend” until the end. In any case, I never was convinced that Earth was truly legendary to the Hyadeans (except maybe Hudro and couple of others.)
Though I don’t feel the book works well overall, I think it does carry an important message for today’s post-9/11 world. I often hear people complain about how they don’t understand why the Islamic nations hate the United States so much. Part of it is that they are raised to have that viewpoint; it is ever present in their media, especially in veiled totalitarian states like Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. They are taught to see us as a nation of infidels, as Satan’s tool, and they are taught not to question that, much as the Hyadeans are portrayed in Hogan’s novel. They don’t see us as individuals, but as a group.
In the US, we are taught to be individuals from birth. Even though we may belong to various ethnic, religious or political groups, we are always reminded of how we are distinct from each other and the world. When we see television coverage of an al Qaida terrorist act, we see an individual and wonder, “Why would he want to do that?” Like the Terrans in the novel, we don’t grasp that the other group’s motivations are societal, not individualistic.
If for no other reason, The Legend That Was Earth is worth a read with an ear toward that the illustration of that distinction.