Downward to the Earth by Robert Silverberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is one of those books that require a certain frame of mind to truly enjoy. We used to get a lot more books like this in the '60s and '70s, the serious type (SF or not) that really went into deep worldbuilding AND deep soul-searching. That doesn't show up quite as often, or quite as thoroughly, as this particular type of novel.
In this case, I was disturbed by the de-facto post-colonialism, the easy way that humans were racists even after pulling out of the alien world, how so many had felt guilty for treating the local aliens like dumb brutes.
There was no revolution, no great uprising. Indeed, most of us still didn't understand why the aliens were so forgiving or accepting of brute labor. We would have gotten truly pissed.
And then the whole novel has a fantastic Heart of Darkness feel to it that becomes almost mystical, but it was the mystery and the crazy bio-punk and flower-child type feel that made it really disturbing and weird.
The final reveal was really great. It doesn't have anything like a modern novel feel. Indeed, it subverts many SF tropes by being seriously introspective, guilt-searching, and understanding.
The turnaround from the post-colonial view was pretty fantastic.
Yes, a reader CAN read subtext into this, but the novel is deeply weird and nicely disturbing and quite unlike that kind of read.
It is its own SF beast, and wonderfully so.
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