The Hefn are a race of hairy, gnomelike aliens who exist in some kind of relationship with an unseen race, the Gafr. Though never made explicit, this relationship has overtones of servitude, worship, symbiosis, sex-uality, and procreation. In the seventeenth century, some of the Hefn rebelled against the Gafr and were punished by being marooned on Earth in England and Sweden. Their furtive nocturnal existence reinforced the legends of the mythical Hobs in England and tomtes in Sweden.
In 2006, the Hefn return for their crewmates but, unable to locate any of them, leave without becoming involved in Earth’s affairs. The aliens change their minds, however, and return four years later to issue an ultimatum to Earth: Clean up the planet by 2020 or face elimination as a species. In 2013, the Gafr, deciding that humans are not acting swiftly enough, use the Hefn’s tremendous powers of suggestion to impose a reproductive ban on humanity: No children will be born until the directive is accomplished.
The interconnected stories in The Ragged World (subtitled A Novel of the Hefn on Earth) trace the fortunes of several groups of people during this era. Sandy Sandford is a college botany teacher who contracts AIDS and must wait until the Hefn can discover a cure. While doing so, she comes to grips with her condition by closely understanding how life operates on Earth. Frank Flinthof and Jenny Shepherd become involved with the last Hefn marooned on Earth, Elphi, who has one more rebellion to perform. Terry O’Hara and Carrie Sharpless become involved with the Hefn through the aliens’ use of a time transceiver. Through a glimpse into the future, Terry is inspired to become a politician and...
(The entire section is 707 words.)