Pamela Sargent's Seed Seeker is the long-awaited third book in her early 1980s Seed Trilogy. It's a graceful coming-of-age story set on a colony world, where a group of troubled teens meet the generation ship who engineered them.
The descendant of humans who colonized the planet Home many generations ago, Bian is a young woman who has never wandered far from the tiny riverside village where she grew up. She's heard tales of distant worlds and generation ships from her grandmother Nuy (a character in the earlier novels), but she's never had the courage to follow the river to other towns, or to the high-tech enclave of the Domes, where all that remains of advanced Earth technology is being tended by a small band of separatists. But when a strange light appears in the sky overhead, she joins her friend Arnagh on a quest to find out whether it's Ship, the generation ship/A.I. who deposited her people on Home centuries ago.
Ship had always promised to return to check on the colony, but its existence has blurred into legend. And in its absence, the colonists have split into two groups: Those who remain isolated in the Domes, maintaining old Earth technologies, and those who have incorporated genetic material from Home into their offspring so that they can evolve into beings best suited for the dry, green-skied world. Bian's people have keener senses than the Dome dwellers, and though they are low-tech agrarians, they are also socially much more liberal those in the Domes.
The story jumps between Bian's point of view, as she makes her way down the river and picks up companions, and that of Sayrah, a Dome dweller. Sayrah has begun to question the narrow-minded wisdom of her (now dead), elders and the growing violence of her youthful companions. She too wonders if the light in the sky might be Ship, but Dome society has deteriorated so much that they're unable to contact the Ship using the radio left for that purpose.
Sargent suggests that possibly the people of Home fear Ship because they think it's a potentially godlike creature who will judge them and find them lacking. But mostly her focus is (as in the previous two novels of the trilogy) on how the two groups of humans judge each other. The river peoples fear that the Dome dwellers will turn Ship against them, and vice versa. And the mistrust between the two groups - non-industrial agrarians and decadent technophiles - goes back to fundamental ideas about who gets to call themselves "human." Indeed, by the end of this deceptively simple story, it's not clear that anybody can lay claim to humanity - and even if they did, that wouldn't be much of a triumph.
Though sometimes Sargent's story feels simplistic rather than simple, it's an engaging story about growing up in a world with a history of conflict that has been resolved only for the moment - and could erupt again at any time. It's also about how we define civilization. Is a good community one that feeds everyone in it, and where everyone puts in equal work? Or do we also need to nourish pursuits like art, music, and scientific knowledge for its own sake, even if these things don't necessarily help build houses or improve crop yields?
As Bian's relationship with her new friends strengthens, and her connection to Ship evolves, we discover Home's true history - and possibly its future, as well. I highly recommend Seed Seeker if you're looking for a book about post-humanity that explores what would happen if humans used biotechnology to return to their humble, agrarian roots. Is it possible that the world of Home is the most advanced of all human civilizations?