Three lost space shuttle explorers and some alien friends land on late-21st-century Earth and find America to be a devastated, brutal, and divided land in Aithal’s (Beyond the Milky Way, 2015) sequel.
NASA astronauts Terry Carter, Don Stockton, and Kim Williams accidentally went on a trip to the far-off planet of Etoo, where they met an older, wiser alien race that learned hard lessons about the dangers of runaway progress and eco-devastation. Now, accompanied by a somewhat Spock-like alien/human hybrid named Tom and his earthling father, Sam, the trio passes through a “portal” and arrives on Earth nearly a century after they departed. It turns out that after an (unnamed) African-American president was succeeded by an unqualified, racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, media-manipulating, climate-change–denying businessman (also unnamed), everything went bad—and millions died. The United States has since been reduced to a few uneasily coexisting territories due to civil war, bigotry, and global warming. A cruel, Confederacy-like “Heartland” nation has revived slavery; African-Americans, Mexicans, and other minorities are casually murdered, and anyone accused of being gay is branded and exiled. An earthquake has shattered the West Coast, creating a parched, semilawless “Coastal America,” where the astronauts meet a surviving Native American tribe. To repair their vandalized spaceship, the heroes must trek to Los Angeles—now a self-sustaining island. Aithal’s second book in his Galaxy series shows signs of being quickly written in order to slam the results of the recent U.S. presidential election. As a result, it may hold the distinction of being the first sci-fi tale to comment on the Donald Trump presidency. But although Etoo, in the last novel, was an exotic, mysterious place, this one’s nasty, dystopic-states-of-America locale has been done numerous times before. That said, the fact that members of an indigenous tribe are the hardy holdouts for positive values in the wastelands is a nice touch. Most other secondary characters are thin, however, and remarkably unfazed by the extraordinary visitors. The fast-paced narrative ends with an abrupt cliffhanger, feeling like half of what it should be, compared to the longer, more detailed predecessor.
Dystopian, cautionary sci-fi that leaves a lot to be desired—including an ending.