From the back cover: Jan Kulozik is in exile: sentenced to service the machines of Halvmork, the farmworld that grows crops to the the holds of Earth's grain-ships. This Wheelworld, baked by eternal summer, is a world of peasants enslaved by a handful of powerful families. The disaster. One year, the ships do not come; starvation threatens Halvmork. Jan rallies the people for their own survival, and guides them on a perilous trek across half a planet. Battling heat and savage creatures, earthquakes and volcanoes, fighting the violence and treachery of the Families, Jan leads the people of Wheelworld to their new destiny.
The first time I read Harry Harrison's Wheelworld, I was in highschool, about twenty-five years ago, and it was the fond memories of this one that spurred me on to finally read the entire To the Stars trilogy. I remember the image of the great trains making a desperate run from the north pole to the south before the four-year summer cycle began. Having reread it now, I see there's so much more there to appreciate.
The great run constitutes the largest part of the action, but the tension of the book is built around the protagonist's clash with the stagnet, ultra-conservative rulers of the human settlement. When the people's normal cycle of harvesting corn, migrating to the other pole, and delivering the food to ships is disrupted, the ruling class clings to its old ways. Jan, our hero, realizes this is basically suicide. They must change or die - new situations call for new actions. So the power struggle begins. It is interrupted by the many obstacles and hazards they must face on their trek, but it always re-emerges. It's also interesting in this volume to see Jan, who was at the top looking down in Homeworld, on the bottom side of things looking up. If book 1 taught him about the injustice of his world, book 2 is all about preparing him for the battle to come. More than anything, though, this book reveals the dangers of ignorance. The ruling families rule by keeping knowledge away from the population, and as the book ends, Jan's battle for freedom begins with education.
I very much look forward to the final volume, Starworld. As for Wheelworld, I have to give it an extra star, not only for nolstalgia's sake but for also having a more complex and exciting plot than its predecssor. Wheelworld is available as an ebook at Amazon.