To quote Douglas Adams, “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.” The Milky Way is ancient, a hundred thousand light-years wide, and contains four hundred billion stars, give or take. It would be easy to misplace a particular world in space and time; a number of SFF protagonists have done so. Consider these five vintage works in which home worlds have been lost.
The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov (1955)
In one sense, Andrew Harlan knows exactly where Earth is. Although he and the other agents of Eternity live outside time, they can and do visit Earth almost any time they care to. Literally. The Eternals monitor and shape Earth’s history over a 70,000 century span. This paradoxically means Harlan can never return to the Earth he grew up on, because Eternity’s incessant tweaking of history to bring about a perfect, stable world means that version of Earth has long since been overwritten.
Harlan knows he can never go home. What he can do is allow himself to be drawn into an ill-fated romance with Noÿs Lambent, who is beautiful, irresistible, and as far as the skilled Eternal can ascertain, slated to be erased from history as an unintended but unavoidable side effect of Eternal tampering. Harlan is determined to save the woman he loves at any cost. Any cost may mean the very existence of Eternity itself…
Dumarest of Terra by E. C. Tubb
(The series has thirty-three volumes so I won’t list them all.)
As previously discussed, series protagonist Earl Dumarest finds himself in quite the pickle in the novel in which he makes his debut, The Winds of Gath. He wakes from cold sleep to discover that he has been delivered to the wrong planet. This is but the beginning of Dumarest’s adventures. He is a man driven to search for his lost home. Dumarest subjects himself to the dangers of Low Passage over and over, for it is the only way he knows to find the Earth he abandoned when he was but a young boy (stowing away on a passing starship).
Initially, his difficulty appeared to be entirely due to the scale of the galaxy and the fact Earth has a pretty stupid name (Who ever heard of a planet named “Dirt?”). But as Dumarest discovers over the course of thirty-three volumes, there is more to Earth’s curious obscurity than poor naming choices, dodgy star maps, and an over-abundance of settled worlds. Earth was hidden for a reason.
The Diadem Saga by Jo Clayton
Diadem From the Stars (1977), Lamarchos (1978), Irsud (1978), Maeve (1979), Star Hunters (1980), The Nowhere Hunt (1981), Ghosthunt (1983), The Snares of Ibex (1984), Quester’s Endgame (1986)
Aleytys misplaced her home world due to no fault of her own. The child of marooned off-worlder Shareem and a Jaydugaran barbarian, Aleytys was left behind when Shareem escaped backwater Jaydugar. Aleytys’ red hair marks her as Other on Jaydugar, as do her impressive psychic powers. Life on Jaydugar is nasty, brutish, and short, which are good reasons to leave as soon as one can.
Aleytys believes that she can find a better home elsewhere. Her mother was a Vrya. The Vrya are powerful but reclusive. If she can find their home world, perhaps she can join her mother’s people.
The Vrya have made sure that they cannot be found on any star map. This fact ensures Aleytys will have to survive many exciting adventures (at least nine!) if she is to locate her mother’s home planet.
The Faded Sun Trilogy by C. J. Cherryh
The Faded Sun: Kesrith (1978), The Faded Sun: Shon’jir (1978), The Faded Sun: Kutath (1979)
The mri mercenaries have served the regul for two thousand years, most recently fighting a losing war against humans that spanned two generations, leaving the mri close to extinction. One might think the regul would feel some degree of gratitude for this long service. Not so! The regul are very Bad Bosses indeed, inclined to blame the mri for military setbacks that were caused by regul’s own version of Dunning-Kruger syndrome. When the mri prove a minor embarrassment—Kesrith, the world they currently call home, is due to be handed over to the humans, which might mean that the surviving mri could ally with humans—the regul decide to tidy up by exterminating the thirteen remaining mri. Only Niun and his sister Melein survive.
Kesrith is a haven no more. Niun and Melein set off in the company of sympathetic human Sten Duncan. After all, Kesrith is only the latest world on which mri have settled. Their true home world may prove more hospitable. But millennia of mercenary service have obscured memories and records; the mri home world might well be lost. The quest to find it will consume years and uncover forgotten mri history, as bloody as it is disquieting.
(Yes, three of these series were published by DAW. Donald Wollheim must have loved this series-friendly trope)
The Hunted Earth by Roger McBride Allen
The Ring of Charon (1990), The Shattered Sphere (1994)
The bold visionaries of Pluto’s Gravitics Research Station had very high hopes for their space-time-manipulating Ring. Fame, professional adulation, perhaps even a nudge for human progress could well have been in the cards if their research had gone as planned. Inadvertently destroying the Earth was something of a setback, the kind of experimental error that could produce a sternly worded rebuke in one’s permanent file.
Closer examination revealed that the scientists had not just exterminated all life on Earth. Instead, their experiments woke…something. Ancient mechanisms relocated the Earth from the Solar System to elsewhere. All the scientists need do now is reverse engineer unfamiliar alien technology and they can plunk Earth back into its familiar orbit around the Sun. First step—deducing where the enigmatic alien mechanism dispatched our home world. Good news: it’s almost certainly somewhere in our native universe!
These are all works of a certain vintage. The Lost Earth (or Lost Home World) trope is alive and well. Feel free to mention more recent examples in the comments below.
In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and the Aurora finalist Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is a four-time finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award and is surprisingly flammable.