Frederik Pohl has imagined an interesting alien culture, the Hakh’hli, who sent out ships to explore the universe three thousand years ago. One of these ships, lost more than eight hundred light years from the home star, approaches Earth in the twenty-first century. Limited nuclear war, AIDS, the greenhouse effect, and other ecological disasters have decimated Earth’s population, but forced a saner political and economic organization upon the planet. When the alien ship arrives, Earth has become a comparatively comfortable place to live, though climatic change has altered all the continents. However, humans are planet-bound by a shell of orbiting junk that prevents the safe launch of a spaceship.

Pohl tells the story mainly from the point of view of Sandy Washington, a human infant rescued from a disabled Earth ship during the nuclear war, and educated for twenty-two years, while the aliens explored another star system. The Hakh’hli raise him to be their good-will ambassador when they re-approach Earth, ostensibly to trade technology for fuel and supplies. Once Sandy is landed on his home planet, he begins to discover complexities and lies that make it increasingly difficult to know the true intentions of his rescuers or of his own species.

The Hakh’hli are an amusing and mildly sinister set of aliens who eventually prove human enough. They use Earth broadcasts to study humanity and train Sandy. Becoming acquainted with the actual quirks of his species puts Sandy in a few funny situations, though readers will sometimes question whether Pohl has accurately inferred what a man would learn--about sex for example--by watching American movies.

HOMEGOING is a light-hearted novel, without complicated characters or themes, but with mystery and twists of plot that make it pleasant entertainment.