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Terraforming Earth    by Jack Williamson order for
Terraforming Earth
by Jack Williamson
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2001 (2001)
* *   Reviewed by Marian Powell

In 1942 a science fiction writer coined the term 'terraforming' to describe changing the ecology of a planet to create earthlike conditions. Almost sixty years later, the same writer has used the word he coined in the title of his latest novel, Terraforming Earth. Jack Williamson has had a remarkable career. He published his first story in 1928, earned a reputation for high quality work, and is now renowned for having been published in every decade since the 1920s. At ninety-three he is still writing. Parts of Terraforming Earth appeared in Analog Science Fact and Fiction last year (one won an award), and several other stories by Williamson were published in 2001.

Jack Williamson is a master storyteller who has created a unique setting. Centuries from now, a colony of children is born on the Moon and raised by robots (all life on Earth having been destroyed by an asteroid). The children are clones of a tiny band of scientists who escaped the destruction of the Earth and created a refuge on the Moon, which holds a storehouse of tissue samples of plants, animals and people - the material to recreate life on Earth when it is again capable of supporting life. Robots tend the storehouse and create clones when the time is right for the first experiment in terraforming the earth. The story is told through the eyes of one of the children, the historian of the group. He has many tales to tell, for the cloning is repeated as first efforts fail, and centuries pass before new efforts are made.

The novel reads as a series of connected stories rather than a single storyline and at times it suffers for this. Each adventure is interesting and each could have made a separate novel. The inevitable result is a weakness in characterization, especially of the women. However, the cumulative effect is of a grand sweep, a magnificent epic as first hundreds, then thousands of years pass, bringing yet another group of clones to a far distant future where an advanced human civilization faces extinction yet again. Most writers would have been content with simply terraforming earth and reviving the human race. Williamson, with incredible generosity and creativity goes further, ending with speculation on the ultimate destiny of humanity two million years from now. It makes for a remarkable ride.

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