Bookshelf is a monthly column examining printed matter relating to television. While I love watching TV, I also love reading about it, from tie-in novels to TV Guides, from vintage television magazines to old newspaper articles. Bookshelf is published on the second Thursday of each month.
Earth 2: Puzzle
By Sean Dalton
First Published February 1995
Published by Ace Books
I’ve mentioned my love of Earth 2 (NBC, 1994-1995) once or twice over the past few years. It’s one of my favorite obscurities from the 1990s. I wrote a lengthy appreciation of the series back in November 2014 to mark its 20th anniversary, in which I discussed stumbling upon a copy of the novelization of the pilot episode in a used bookstore while on vacation a few years after the series went off the air. It turns out I remembered wrong. I found a copy of Earth 2: Puzzle in that bookstore, not the pilot novelization.
I later bought all three Earth 2 novels on eBay, so now I have two copies of Earth 2: Puzzle. The one I reread for this review was the very same book I purchased in that bookstore some two decades ago. Not because it’s special or anything. It’s just not as worn.
Front cover to Earth 2: Puzzle – Copyright 1995 Ace Books/MCA Publishing Rights
When I reviewed the pilot novelization back in June 2015, here’s how I described Earth 2 for those who haven’t seen the show:
Earth 2 was set in 2192 and starred Debrah Farentino as Devon Adair, the leader of a group attempting to colonize a planet 22 light years from Earth called G889. Most of humanity lived in space stations because the Earth’s surface had become nearly inhospitable.
Devon’s son, like many children, was sick with a mysterious illness called the Syndrome that was caused by living in space. She was convinced that life on G889 would cure him. The government thought otherwise and tried to sabotage the Eden Project, forcing it to launch ahead of schedule. Upon reaching G889, Devon and a small advance group of colonists crash land on the planet, far from the proposed site of New Pacifica. The show chronicled their adventures as they attempted to reach the colony site.
Earth 2: Puzzle starts with Devon and the group searching for water, which was also the basic plot of an early episode of the TV show. The mountain range they’re looking for is nowhere to be found, which strongly suggests they’re lost. A herd of buffalo-like creatures damages several vehicles and empties a water tank. With no other options, the group heads for a valley where their sensors indicated the presence of water, outrunning another herd in the process.
The group is warned to stay away from the valley not once but twice. But without water, they’ll die. They decide to ignore the warnings and press on. Fortunately, they soon find water. They also find the entrance to a massive, underground city that’s completely empty. One character decides to go treasure hunting. The two children in the group just want to explore and try to solve the mystery of the city. Why was it abandoned? Why were they warned to stay away?
Back cover to Earth 2: Puzzle – Copyright 1995 Ace Books/MCA Publishing Rights
In my opinion, a great TV tie-in novel has to do two things: capture the tone of a TV show and its characters while also offering a solid story. What’s neat about Earth 2: Puzzle is it features a story that couldn’t be told on TV. Much of the action takes place in a vast underground city, there’s an anti-gravity chair flying around, and several stampedes. There’s no way a city like the one described in the novel could’ve been realized on a weekly TV budget.
The story unfolds slowly at times, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s action, too. It ends without a satisfying answer to the mystery of the abandoned city. That’s not as frustrating as it sounds. The exploration of the city and what it reveals about the characters is more important than the mystery. I think it works well enough. At times, though, it veers dangerously close to focusing too much on the “cute” kids and their adventures.
Sean Dalton does a pretty good job making the novel feel like an episode of Earth 2, although there are several discrepancies. As was the case with the pilot novelization, the robot Zero has more of a personality on the page than it did on screen. Also, in the novel a Grendler (one of the alien life forms from the TV show) is able to converse in broken English. I don’t recall the Grendlers ever doing more than grunting. A few of the characters also don’t quite match how they were depicted on TV but not enough to ruin the novel.
I’ve read Earth 2: Puzzle at least three times. I probably enjoyed it most when I read it for the first time back in the late 1990s, years before Earth 2 was released on DVD. Back then, it was like having another episode to enjoy. It’s still enjoyable even though I can rewatch the series whenever I want.