Tor, 2002 (2000)
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Reviewed by Wesley Williamson
ancy Kress leaped to the attention of SF readers with her novel
Beggars in Spain
, and concentrated that attention with the follow-up
novels and her 1997
. These were all set in the near future, but
takes a huge leap forward into the distant future and the depths of space, when humanity has burst out into other solar systems using the remnants of the highly sophisticated technology of a long vanished race.
owever, the Stargates, which enable instant travel between systems, are also used by an alien race which has attacked and obliterated human settlements without warning or mercy, and humanity looks like it may lose the resulting war. Meantime, a new planet had been discovered, whose humanoid inhabitants live in total harmony since they all share reality, and, always and invariably, agree on what is the truth of any situation. A team of civilian scientists is sent to study them, but they are not aware that this mission is really only a cover for a military examination of the planet's moon, which is actually another ancient relic of the race which constructed the Stargates, and is protected and defended by their advanced technology.
he impact of the human scientists' arrival is seen through the eyes of Enli Pek Brinnadin, who is ostracised by the other members of her race for her crimes, and as atonement must spy on the aliens, to help discover if they are real people, with souls, since if they are not they must of course be killed. To do this, she applies herself to learn their language, and helps her employer make a bargain with the aliens; a potent antihistamine formula for his exclusive use in return for his permission for them to obtain a scan of his brain.
his uneasy situation is complicated by one of the Earth scientists, who is obsessed with his determination to discover, at any cost, the secret of the natives' sharing of reality, so that it can be applied to the human race to make them live in peace and harmony. Then an alien space vessel arrives through the Stargate, and reality explodes around both Terrans and natives.
he characters, both human and humanoid, are extremely well drawn, and the story is absorbing, culminating in exciting action sequences. Top of the line!
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