Homeward Bound  
Author Harry Turtledove
Language English
Series Worldwar Franchise
Genre(s) Alternate History, Science fiction
Publisher Del Rey
Publication date December 28, 2004
Preceded by Aftershocks

Homeward Bound (Del Rey, 2004) is a science fiction, alternate history novel by Harry Turtledove. It is the last published novel in the Worldwar timeline, follows the Colonization trilogy, and serving as an epilogue to the series overall. Its tone and format are somewhat different to the preceding volumes.

Plot introduction[]

Homeward Bound begins in 1972, then flashes forward to 1977, 1982, 1984, 1994, 2012, and finally to 2031 when the American starship Admiral Peary arrives at Tau Ceti and Home, the homeworld of the Race.


British Edition

Plot summary[]

The Admiral Peary travels at approximately one-third c and took a little over 30 years, instead of 24 (the Race's starship velocities were one-half c), to cross the 12 light years between Earth and Tau Ceti. The ship is named Admiral Peary for its role as a military exploration ship, after Adm. Robert Peary, who did the same in Arctic exploration.

When the Admiral Peary arrives in orbit around Home, the Race's planet in the Tau Ceti system, it causes a crisis in the highest levels of the Race. The 37th Emperor Risson and Fleetlord Atvar (sent back to Home, with the dubious distinction of being the only Fleetlord not to conquer a planet) argue the merits and drawbacks of attempting to destroy mankind by massive nuclear strikes. Meanwhile, Researcher Ttomalss investigates reports of a major breakthrough by human scientists back on Earth.

The Race inadvertently cause themselves a possible ecological disaster, similar to what they are causing on Earth with the Race's introduced species into the Earth's ecosystems, by letting the humans' caged rats loose on Home. The rats were used for food testing for the humans.

It comes as a great shock to the Race when a human starship (the Commodore Perry) arrives in orbit around Home, having traveled the twelve light years in just five weeks. The faster-than-light drive (which appears to be based on the principle of folding space) allows the crew to return to Earth, which is familiar, yet different, from how they left it. Another pun is the ship's officer Major Nicole Nichols, inspired by Star Trek's Lieutenant Uhura but playing off the actress' real name. The ship is named Commodore Perry for its role in opening up the Race's empire to US access, after Cdre. Matthew Perry, who did the same with Japan.

Characters in "Homeward Bound"[]

Major themes[]

Diplomacy is a major theme of the novel. The humans spend their time trying to convince the Race that they are not dangerous barbarians. However, this is a mindset that the previously-technologically-superior Race has, and they will not be dissuaded. The Americans are negotiating from a position of weakness, but both sides know that it is only time until that position becomes one of greater strength.

A terribly destructive war in which "millions, and probably billions" would die on Earth, Home and possibly also on the Empire's two other worlds is an ever-present possibility, though none of the negotiators on either side is especially warlike, and they are on quite good terms on the personal level. The Admiral Peary orbits Home, loaded with nuclear missiles which could be launched to rain death and destruction on a world which had not known war for a hundred thousand of its years (only fifty thousand in Earth reckoning). Even The Race's imperial capital Preffilo, with the Emperor in his palace (a shrine at the center of the Race's religion as well a center of government) might be obliterated, as the Emperor explicitly remarks in one scene. Actually using these missiles is clearly not the Americans' preferred option, but it is never ruled out.

On the other hand, representatives of the Race are increasingly driven to the reluctant conclusion that they must launch a war of annihilation against the humans, even though they have only a very doubtful chance of winning, since waiting would reduce their chance of winning to zero. However, such considerations are rendered moot by the arrival of the FTL Commodore Perry, showing the Race that time has already run out for a pre-emptive war against the Tosevites.

The younger, newly-arrived Americans behave with a manifest arrogance of power - not only towards The Race, but even towards their own "obsolete" older countrymen and women of the Admiral Peary. However, representatives of The Race - while embarking on a desperate struggle to catch up and achieve FTL flight for themselves - are able to devise a counter-deterrence even with their existing sub-light ships, coming up with the idea of launching them to hit Earth at half-light speed, causing horrendous damage dwarfing that of nuclear weapons and possibly destroying Earth altogether or rendering it uninhabitable. The threat of so retaliating for a nuclear strike at Home in effect establishes an interstellar version of mutually assured destruction.

Still, the situation remains fragile and precarious at the end, with not only the Race throwing their resources into the effort to achieve FTL flight, but also the other human powers on Earth engaged on a similar effort. Members of the Race are especially worried about Germany, which had managed to recover from the terrible blows its war with The Race in the 1960s, and which, still ruled by the Nazis, would like to get revenge for that destruction. There are also the Soviet Union (still existing in 2031 and not having undergone Perestroika or Glasnost) and Imperial Japan, which still retains its 1930s nationalist and militarist ideology, never having undergone a democratizing US occupation.

As against such dire threats, there is the hope that FTL would open up so many new planets for colonization as to give full satisfaction to everybody's expansionist inclinations, with no need of destructive wars. This hope is voiced by Human as well as "Lizard" characters. However, the book ends on a deliberately ambiguous note, with both optimistic and pessimistic scenarios fully feasible in the characters' immediate future.