Rating: 6.2 (out of 10)
In Alan Dean Foster’s new novel, Relic, there is only one known human left in the universe. Ruslan is found by the alien Myssari, 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, the virus was engineered by humans 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 nearly 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 the human race deserves to exist anymore, and he certainly doesn’t want to be its new progenitor. Eventually, he strikes a deal with the Myssari: He will let them use their cloning technology to restore the human race, if they agree to help him find the location of the human home world, which had long ago been lost to history.
Foster writes with an easy confidence one would expect from someone who has written more than a hundred novels and novelizations in a career than will soon span half a century. The plot runs on the kind of motor an experienced hand can build: efficient and engrossing in a seemingly effortless way. 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 the questions are answered and obstacles overcome. Even if the storytelling is too clean and straightforward at times, there is comfort to be had in 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 entirely homogenized in terms of culture, motivation, and their intentions toward Ruslan and the restoration of humanity. Additionally, much needed tension arises in the form of obstacles placed in their path by the Vrizan, but most of these conflicts are resolved too quickly and easily, and more than once the Vrizan back down at the first sign of push back from the Myssari, even though the Myssari are described as a less militant and technologically inferior race. The most significant issue I had, though, was that the novel rather quickly becomes enamored with its search for the possibility of other living humans, and while this provides much of the excitement that made the novel upbeat and hopeful rather than cynical and depressing, it sidelines one of the main thematic threads that hooked me from the start: the idea of one lone human contemplating and coping with the tragedy of his uniqueness.
In the end, Relic is a well-written, well-structured and reasonably satisfying novel that doesn’t quite elevate itself above the fray.