Rating: 6.2 (out of 10)
In Alan Dean Foster’s new novel, Relic, there is only one known human left in the universe. The Myssari find Ruslan, the last known human, wandering the crumbling wasteland of his home planet Seraboth after a super virus called the Aura Malignance wiped out all other human life from every human occupied system in the galaxy. The worst part is, humans engineered the virus as a kind of doomsday weapon, which, it would appear, lived up to its billing. Now, the various alien species who populate the rest of the galaxy are moving in to claim the territories the extinct human civilization left behind, and the discovery of any remaining humans becomes a political football between two of the expanding groups: the aforementioned Myssari and the more aggressive Vrizan. Both want to reseed humanity, and while the Myssari appear to have benevolent intentions, the Vrizan’s motives are more uncertain. The problem is, Ruslan isn’t sure humans deserve to exist anymore, and he has no desire to be the new progenitor of his race. He soon strikes an uneasy bargain with the Myssari: He will let them use their cloning technology to restore humankind, if they agree to help him find the human home world of Earth, long since lost to history.
Foster writes with an easy confidence one would expect from someone who has produced more than a hundred novels and novelizations in a career than will soon span half a century. The plot builds with effortless efficiency. Foster gets down to business right away, laying out the history that led humanity to its demise and leading right into the major dramatic question Ruslan faces. He sets a clear goal for the story and charges ahead until all questions are answered and all obstacles overcome. The storytelling sometimes feels too clean, but it’s comforting being in the hands of a seasoned pro.
Despite my general enjoyment of the book, little issues nagged at me from the corners, and compounded as the novel progressed. Though Ruslan spends most of his time in the company of the Myssari and even counts many of them as friends, I never felt that enough effort went into distinguishing them as individuals beyond a few prescribed personality traits. Their society appears homogenized in terms of culture, motivation, and their intentions toward Ruslan and humanity. Much needed tension arises in the form of obstacles placed in their path by the Vrizan, but most of these conflicts find easy resolution, and more than once the Vrizan back down at the first sign of push back from the Myssari, even though Foster describes the Myssari as less militant and with inferior technology. The most significant issue I had, though, was that the novel becomes too enamored with its search for the possibility of other living humans. While this provides a more hopeful tone rover a cynical and depressing one, it sidelines one of the main thematic threads that hooked me from the start: one lone human contemplating and coping with the tragedy of his solitude.
Relic is a well-written, well-structured and satisfying novel that doesn’t quite elevate itself above the fray.