This is not an easy read in spite of the well written, accessible prose, some good characterization, and some exciting scenes. The difficulty is due to the ambitious scope of the book which seems to necessitate numerous plot strands, myriad characters, and frequent expositions and infodumps. Personally I am not wired for reading nonfiction, I am always grateful to novelists who manage to impart some new knowledge to me packaged in their fiction. Indeed, I am also grateful to David Brin for the bits of knowledge I picked up from this book about astronomy, homeostasis, biology and such. Unfortunately during the first half of this book I had the feeling that entertainment is not a priority for Brin in the composition of this book, I am not even sure it is of secondary importance. Halfway through the book I was frankly a little bored and took a break to read some other books and I resumed reading it a week later. I did not want to abandon it all together because the major plot strand is very interesting (and I paid full price for the book!). I am glad I persevered because the second half of the book makes it all worthwhile.
Set in 2038 (written in 1990) the basic plot of Earth is about a man-made tiny little black hole that is accidentally dropped into the Earth and begins to devour the planet from the inside atom by atom; left unchecked there would eventually be nothing left of our planet. A team of scientists go after this little runaway black hole and make some startling discoveries in the process. The lost little black hole is an attempt to create a cheap new source of energy, as human civilization is in a state of general dystopia approaching the point of apocalyptic collapse. The maximum sustainable human population has been passed and food is scarce, and the cities are polluted. This is a world Brin is cautioning us away from.
While the book grew on me, exponentially in the second half, I think it could have benefited from being about 200 pages shorter. I feel that it would have been much tighter and better paced and easier to read. More often than not my eyes start to glaze over when I read the exposition passages, but in all fairness to Brin I think he explains the science better than most sci-fi writers that I have read, unfortunately, there is just a little too much of it here for me. Brin clearly cares very much about the environmental issues he raised in this book, almost to the detriment of the story. However, he is a gifted storyteller, and he does write good prose and dialogue. The central characters in the book are quite well developed and believable, but there are just too many of them. The narrative is based on multiple viewpoints as expected, but it caused the early part of the novel to feel fragmented, particularly as some of the point of view characters do not seem to be of much consequence in the grand scheme of things. Brin does bring most of the strands together by the end though, and the explosive (not to mention implosive) climax is quite thrilling. While I don't believe that it is the job of science fiction to predict the future, Earth
is successfully prophetic on several counts; the advent of the worldwide web, e-mails, spams, web forums, citizen reporters, global warming and rising sea levels etc. Hopefully, the imminent collapse of the planet's environment won't be one of them, but then that is Brin's main motivation for writing the book I think.
At the end of the day, I would just about rate this book at 4 stars, probably something like 3.8 or some similarly silly decimals. Worth a read if you have the time and patience. My next Brin book will be from his famed Uplift saga