Science-fiction enthusiasts will recognize some familiar elements in Earthseed. The story of children living in physical isolation who reveal their inherently violent tendencies was explored thoroughly by William Golding in Lord of the Flies (1954). The concept of a sentient computer with control and surveillance over its human space cargo is at least as old as the malevolent HAL in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
Sargent shares with these authors the ability to craft convincing characters in a future setting that is realistically possible. Zoheret earns her final position of leadership through daring and sacrifice (she loses an arm), and rivalries among the boys are typical of teenage males. Moreover, Sargent’s fiction is based on real science. The Project designers are pragmatic in making use of an asteroid for their vessel, and its velocity is slightly less than the speed of light (something that has been deemed possible in the far distant future). Sargent correctly describes the effects on time of such a velocity. She demonstrates this same passion for realism in the novel Venus of Dreams (1986), in which future colonists transform Earths sister planet and create their own society. The most effective example of the authors sense of realism is her convincing treatment of the human condition. The violence inherent in Homo sapiens—a major theme of Earthseed—develops slowly as the children gain their independence and are forced to construct a society.
Also noteworthy is the feminism in this work. The violence is perpetrated largely by impulsive males, both in the corridors and in the Hollow. Zoheret, with her combination of intelligence and strength, sets the correct example for the new colonists. This prefigures Sargent’s The Shore of Women (1986), a novel that describes a world dominated by women.
Critical reception of Earthseed was generally, but by no means wholly, positive. A critic in Kirkus Reviews claimed that the novel was “marred by sententious and preachy tendencies.” Other reviewers praised Sargent’s ability to craft an interesting protagonist within an exciting story. Earthseed was a Booklist Reviewers Choice for 1983 and was named as one of the Best Books for Young Adults for the same year by the American Library Association.