Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Longest Way Home

by Robert Silverberg


The Longest Way Home may be set in the far future, but it has an old-fashioned, almost medieval feel. The planet of Homeworld is sparsely populated, and most of it exists under a feudal system. The ruling Masters are the people who control the Great Houses, whilst the Folk do the menial work and accept their leadership. The Masters use technology and learn to read, whilst the Folk do not, and everyone knows their place in the hierarchy. It's a system that has ensured peace for hundreds of years, and Joseph Master Keilloran sees no reason why things should ever change.

Whilst the heir to House Keilloran is visiting relatives the Folk rise up, and Masters are massacred in a bloody revolution. Although Joseph manages to survive the first onslaught, he's stranded thousands of miles from home without working communications. Hundreds of miles of sparsely populated or even uninhabited land stand between the young man and his destination.

There's no map at the start of this novel, which adds to the sense of disorientation that the reader shares with the main character. It's also a clue about what kind of novel this is not: although it shares some similarities with epic fantasy settings, this is a stand-alone novel that is all about getting a message across, rather than an immersive, sprawling story of heroism and adventure in the tradition of Tolkien.

Joseph has been taught that he has a right to rule one day, and that the Folk are a lesser people, slow-witted and passive. They were the original human settlers of Homeworld, before the Masters conquered it and took charge. The world is also home to a number of other sentient species, though none of these are particularly numerous or threatening. What Joseph has been taught appears to go against Darwinian theories of evolution, since he's been brought up to believe that the planet is full of helpful and pacifist species who all work together in harmony, rather than the vicious fight for survival that evolution implies. But as he flees for his life through the forests and over mountains he learns that things are not all as he was taught, and he finds the other species to be very alien to him indeed.

On the way he has to contend with various obstacles including injury, hunger, and the risk of capture. He doesn't even know whether or not his own family are alive, and he fears his entire journey could be in vain. It's a story of survival, of hope, and also of growing up and coming of age. It's an intense tale, with moments of brilliant tenderness and harrowing loss. Joseph is likeable because he is always ready to learn from his journey, and he's a thoughtful character who can adapt to his changed circumstances.

The Longest Way Home deals with concepts such as noblesse oblige, racism, and the way victors tend to rewrite history to suit themselves. It's a clear and unambiguous novel which doesn't come across as preachy, and in fact it manages to cover a lot of ethical topics in the course of the story. Yet Silverberg never allows this story to lose its entertainment value. This is a well thought-out book which deals intelligently with a number of issues, to the extent that it wouldn't be out of place being taught in post-16 English Literature lessons. It takes readers on a journey that's intended to leave them better for having travelled it, rather like the main character.

Book Details

Year: 2002

Categories: Books

  Science fiction
  Male Protagonist  

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Robert Silverberg