Children of the Divide is the third installment of the Children of a Dead Earth series by American author, comedian, political commentator and provocateur Patrick S Tomlinson. Taking place years after the preceding installment Trident’s Forge, things have not necessarily developed as peacefully and cooperatively as everybody might have hoped. As humanity rebuilds and builds anew, the Atlanteans are finding adjusting to this species with advanced technology and strange culture more complicated and not quite as beneficial as they thought. An absolutely shining example of using SF to hold a mirror up to our own society, Children of the Divide deals with racism, prejudice, ghettoization, gentrification, gender politics, sovereignty and terrorism. All in a compelling world with a fascinating alien species and plenty of unanswered questions to keep us eager for the next book.
No matter how far humanity comes, it can’t escape its own worst impulses, in this far-future science fiction thriller from the author of The Ark.
A new generation comes of age eighteen years after humanity arrived on the colony planet Gaia. Now threats from both within and outside their Trident threaten everything they’ve built.
The discovery of an alien installation inside Gaia’s moon, terrorist attacks and the kidnap of a man’s daughter stretch the community to breaking point, but only two men stand a chance of solving all three mysteries before the makeshift planetary government shuts everything down.
At the end of Trident’s Forge we were left with the very early stages of a shared society that looked hopeful if nothing else. By the time we join events 18 years later, things are not looking quite so good. Humanity is using its advanced technology to bring all kinds of modern improvements to the world, mostly centered in the growing city of Shambhala. Unfortunately for the more egalitarian hopes about this burgeoning shared society, the city is very clearly separated into a Native Quarter and the rest of the city, where by Native Quarter we mean a ghetto. The Atlantean population has exploded since they no longer need to ‘cull’ their excess offspring, and humanity just really hasn’t bothered pointing the fire-hose of technological improvements at their part of town, because they’re still so paranoid that the presumed hostile, presumed real, presumed aliens that destroyed Earth might come looking for them. So while the Atlanteans struggle and build slapdash expansions to their slapdash part of the city, the Humans are building deep space detectors and grooming their topiary. This has exactly the effects you can imagine.
One of the best things about this novel, to me, is just the way that the injustice and imbalance that is going on is just so obvious to us reading it from the outside, and it’s clearly obvious to the disadvantaged Atlanteans, but almost all of the humans in that situation just have a sort of mildly sheepish reaction of ‘oh yeah…I know it isn’t great but’ and that -but- carries them through knowing somewhere inside that what they’re doing is wrong. They’re mining on the planet, they’re mining on the moons which have huge religious significance to the Atlanteans, they’re also growing their population, but they have this overriding focus on the fear of a repeat of the sudden and terrible attack that devastated Earth and sent them fleeing in the first place. Wait…wait a minute. So the advanced society is so afraid of a terrifying attack like one they suffered some years ago that they’re putting all their excess resources into defense even though there’s no real threat that justifies ignoring all the disadvantaged people in the inner citi….I mean….Native quarter? So if that’s the case, surely we can expect the Atlanteans to just accept that the Humans know what’s best for them and deal with it right?
All hell breaks loose, but this isn’t a book about all hell breaking loose. This is a book about how you can try to un-break hell. This is a book about how good and trustworthy allies can earn the trust of the disadvantaged, and how the ability to trust those allies to do the right thing even at the expense of their own kind is how you build bridges. This is a book about how you can’t ever fix a problem until you’re willing to stand up and point it out and not shut up until people listen. This is a book about remembering who you are, and that what it means to be who you are is to step up and get the work done. And then, even with all of that, this is a book about just how difficult it is to actually accomplish effective change and how, once you’re the ones in control with all the power, it is just so easy to justify continuing to maintain the status quo. All it takes is one more disaster, after all, so you can always justify continuing to be prepared. Building walls instead of gardens.
In terms of plot, there’s so much being left out of this review. A mysterious installation full of incredibly advanced technology, kidnapping, terrorism, but all of it feels like a backdrop (albeit an important, interesting and well-written backdrop) to the social elements at play between these two societies. And it isn’t just about politics, and racism and gentrification either. We’ve also got some compelling issues of gender politics and identity. Benson has an Atlantean adopted child. Atlanteans are gender neutral. Bennex, coming of age and acting like a rebellious teenager, keeps reading to zer father as a ‘she’ in spite of his knowing that’s not how their race works. Ze is a ‘bearer’ which are the type of Atlantean that carries young, and that basically forces his human mind to not help but think of zer as a girl, even though Earth has plenty of species that don’t work that way. At one point, ze is accosted by another Atlantean named Jolk, ze is a warrior, and aggressive, and makes some inappropriate remarks to Bennex about zer role as a breeder, and even three books into knowing all about the fact that Atlanteans don’t have genders, ze was such a ‘fuckboy’ stereotype that I definitely pictured zer as a man. That sort of thing goes a long way to helping even people who feel enlightened and modern and liberal realize just how deeply ingrained stereotypes get.
And that really is one of the best things about science fiction. By recasting important social and political issues in completely ‘other’ terms, it can force you to really evaluate what your true core beliefs are by sneaking past all the constructed enlightenment which is what most of us have if we’re truly honest. Xenophobia goes very deep to the animal brain. A human can only really truly fully care about a shockingly small number of people compared to the number of people in the world. That old saw that one dead is a tragedy and a million dead is a statistic highlights that we really can’t think on a global scale.
So for all our closely held beliefs that we’re above the kind of petty ignorance that results in racism, sexism, prejudice, we can go from that lofty pedestal we put ourselves on to reading about aliens we know don’t have gender, read through the cavalcade of zes and zers and then instantly we go “That one’s a man”. We read about how they believe the moons are their deities, and they worship them, and then we read about humanity mining on the surface, deciding basically on their own to blow up a chunk of one, and we go “Well it isn’t like the moon is ACTUALLY their God, it’s just a moon.” Or we look at how they’ve come to Shambhala for sanctuary and to reap the benefits of the technology they’re supposed to be getting in exchange for the use of -their- planet, only to be neglected and ignored in favour of the quite possibly paranoid fears of the upper class, and we say “Well it’s -their- technology, it’s up to them how they share it. The Atlanteans are already better off than they were, with their savage ways and their foolish beliefs.” And they’re aliens, so somehow it doesn’t feel problematic, and then you think about it. And you watch them forced into civil disobedience, and widening mistrust and hostility and of course you say to yourself “That makes perfect sense, why -wouldn’t- they be angry at the way they are….oh…..” Well, at least we hope you have the ‘oh’. And that’s one of the most powerful tools of science fiction, and Tomlinson wields it here like both a scalpel and a shotgun.
Children of the Divide is definitely my favourite of the three books in this series so far, and I’m absolutely looking forward to the next. If you’d like to get started with this series, pick up The Ark wherever you like to buy books, but especially if you like to buy them from an indie bookstore. Those folks are the best.
Dan received an advanced review copy of this book from Angry Robot via Netgalley
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