Review by Meg Stivison
Letters To Earth is the first novella in The Last Diaspora series. In the opening, young Zed agrees to join the interplanetary military and help colonize new planets, but without too many dreams of glory and adventure. He’s brave, sure, but he’s also thinking about his retirement benefits, when he’ll receive a homestead outside the domes as a reward for thirty years of military service. As launch draws nearer, his superiors give Zed his assignment and also, almost casually mention that alien contact has been made, and that an alien species, known as the Strangers, have had a hand in choosing not only the destination planet, but the team of human colonists as well. This layered opening blends familiar science fiction elements, like space marines, interplanetary colonization, and mysterious first contact, to create a compelling starting point for Zed’s adventures.
Zed’s world is connected to our own, but in a distant future, with some recognizable versions of present-day cultures, some entirely new religious cultures, and some elements directly from our world. Unexplained environmental problems require many people to live under protective domes, with others living rural, simpler existence in the Out Camps. The novel presents us with a troubled world, without getting bogged down in specifics, and suggests space colonization as a solution.
Once on the new planet, exploration, harvesting and crafting is the basis of the colonists’ lives, and this is the heart of the novella, too. When the planet rejects the planned terraforming, the colonists must rely on strangely appealing new natural resources. Alien versions of familiar foods appear, and along with fiber suitable for making important goods like thread and paper. In this intriguing world, the planet continues to provide for them in mysterious ways. The two goals, the crafting and survival of a new colony and the exploration of a mysterious planet, create the background for young Zed to grow and mature.
In the fledgling colony, relationships focus on friendships, mutual cooperation, and acceptance. This is an under-explored area in traditional space-adventure scifi, but the author makes it clear that group cooperation is essential to life in the stars.
Most importantly, this is a space settler story with friendships. Questions of survival aren’t settled by one man and his blaster in a harsh spacescape, instead, a community of gardeners, mechanics, and weavers creates a lively homestead. With the short-term loss of their supplies and the long-term goals of a thriving settlement, the colonists must make everything they’ll need, working long days and celebrating all their small successes together.