I read this in a 2003 reissue; it was originally published in 1977. Despite this, it's an engaging piece of hard science fiction that passes the test of time extremely well. The author was even lucky enough to guess at a Russian collapse, leaving the Chinese as the primary world power (other than the United States, of course). There are only a few references that date the book to its original publication, and none of those are jarring.
So what's the plot? Well, it's a first-contact novel. Like so many others, it begins with the detection of a mysterious interstellar object en route to the solar system at a large fraction of the speed of light, apparantly intending to take up an orbit around Jupiter. Coincidentally, Earth was about to launch a joint US-Chinese mission to the very same gas giant. Delay the mission just long enough for the government to add some mysterious cigar-shaped packages and off we go.
The prose is smooth, and flows well. The characters are convincingly rendered, although as with most science fiction, they are not the driving force for the plot. The author has spent enough time on his alien biology to produce extraterrestrials that are both familiar and alien, and enough time on his science to explain it clearly for the layman without making obvious errors.
What really makes this novel stand out is its clarity relative to many modern hard-science-fiction authors. It's an easy read, without any need to wade through poorly-written prose or incomprehensible character decisions; well suited for younger readers with an interest in space or science, and capable of holding an adult's attention without difficulty.
This entry was published Thu Oct 14 13:48:06 CDT 2004 by Matthew and last updated 2004-10-14 13:48:06.0.