Top positive review
A Surprising Finish
Reviewed in the United States on September 16, 2013
While reading this book, I got the feeling it was geared more toward young adult readers although I didn't get the sense it was advertised that way. "Half Way Home" was written by Hugh Howey, the best-selling author of "WOOL" and the Silo Saga and it was my overwhelming love for those books that led me to read some of his earlier work.
In a scenario somewhat reminiscent of James Cameron's "Avatar", colony ships have been sent out from various countries on Earth in a sort of "Cold War" era space race intent on exploiting the resources of new worlds for their mineral wealth and any patents that might be gained from the exotic and alien flora and fauna they encounter along the way. In an unusual twist, these ships carry their human colonist cargo in embryonic form, in a sort of biological stasis until they reach their target world. If the potential colony is deemed "viable", the ships' Artificial Intelligence allows the embryos to grow and develop for 30 years in artificial wombs or vats while the automated machinery that made the crossing with the colonists goes about preparing the landing site for their eventual "birth" as full-grown adults. With assigned jobs and all the knowledge they need to do them well, delivered via specialized computer learning while they were "en faux utero", these new humans are expected to establish the colony, harvest its resources, and eventually build more ships to send out and establish other colonies. If the colony proves to be "unviable" however, the AI has the authority to abort the whole process at any time.
The novel opens with an unexpected and chaotic birth scene... more than 400 of the 500 intended colonists have perished in a fiery conflagration, halfway through their maturation process. The 50 or 60 survivors quickly discover that their AI has for unknown reasons first initiated and then halted the abort sequence, leaving several dozen teenagers woefully unprepared to survive on a world they know nothing about. The situation quickly disintegrates into a "Lord of the Flies" type scenario with some colonists wresting control and subjugating the others, forcing them into hard labor to build a rocket that the AI insists must be their primary goal, even over self-preservation and survival.
The rest of the novel unfolds in a sometimes slow narrative, following a handful of colonists who have escaped the primary compound, determined to get away from the crushing workload, limited food sources and dismal future. In the process they discover the reasons why their AI first deemed the colony unviable and then changed its mind.
In spite of the slow parts in the middle, the novel begins and ends well, the last couple of chapters proving to be the most exciting in the whole book. Hugh Howey paints an intriguing picture of a complex alien world and it is definitely worth reading for its unusual premise and satisfying finish.