- Paperback: 154 pages
- Publisher: BenBella Books (November 10, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1932100652
- ISBN-13: 978-1932100655
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,080,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Gift From The Stars Paperback – November 10, 2005
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""A new take on the theme of first contact with alien civilizations. Full of wonder, elegant writing, and thought." --George Zebrowski, author, Brute Orbits
About the Author
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Sagan was a great admirer of Gunn’s The Listeners, a set of novelletes turned into a novel which depicts the decades long quest for a signal from an alien intelligence and the effects of receiving one on humanity. Gunn took his ideas from SETI researcher Frank Drake as well as Sagan, and Benford says Gunn’s novel, in turn, influenced the paradigms of SETI efforts.
Sagan’s Contact was a response to Gunn’s novel, and Gunn started this novel, another one of his characteristic fix-ups of several shorter works, in response to the movie adaptation of Sagan’s novel. Specifically, Gunn didn’t find the end alien message or its purpose credible.
The result is an upping of scale from section to section. Benford says it puts him in mind of A. E. van Vogt’s famous method of writing 800 word scenes and then introducing a new wrinkle into the narrative. While that led, according to Benford, “gathering incoherence” in van Vogt, it leads to “expanding vistas” in this novel.
I’ve talked about the first, “The Giftie”, before in my review of Human Voices. It introduces our hero and heroine, Adrian Mast and Frances Farmstead.
Adrian’s a would-be astronaut, would-be because his eye-hand coordination is bad. He’s settled into the life of a single man pursuing a career as a consultant in aerospace engineering. He passes the time reading, including ufology books, cynical amusements for his skeptic mind, yet he keeps hoping for “the one text the book gods had intended for him”.
So one day he finds himself in one of his usual haunts, the Book Nook owned and run by Frances. (Now that I think of it, the names are mildly symbolic: “Mast” as in ship as in voyage and travel and “Farmstead” as in farm as in stationary.) On the table, he finds a curious book: Gift from the Stars. It’s full of diagrams and pictures, but, unlike the usual ufo and ancient astronaut dreck, they are not of Mayan inscriptions and Nazca lines or pyramids. They look like modern blueprints like Adrian sees every day.
And, examining the book at home, Adrian is more and more convinced those drawings may not show a “too pat …. science-fiction gadget”. They may really show how to build an interstellar spaceship powered by antimatter – and how to produce that antimatter using solar power. Furthermore, there is the hint that this information is from an alien source.
Adrian goes back to the bookstore to talk to Frances and find more information on the book’s publisher and author.
What then follows is a something of a thriller plot as the two track down the author and publisher while evading pursuit.
It’s conducted with a surprisingly light touch since Gunn is not normally associated with humor. A lot of that comes from Frances, a character Gunn was originally going to dispense with after the novel’s first section, but he grew too fond of her. She’s spent a lot of time reading all kinds of books including spy thrillers and crime novels and constantly mentions how their circumstances resemble plot clichés and comes up with inventive (if not always successful) ways to get out of trouble and to advance their quest. Gunn may have the usual chapter epigraphs he’s fond of, but there are also plenty of references to movies and Damon Knight’s “To Serve Man”.
The first section ends with them discovering the book’s author, Peter Cavendish, now incarcerated in a mental hospital as a schizophrenic, and the government body who has been suppressing Cavendish’s discovery.
The rest of the book will have Frances and Adrian battling Earth’s bureaucracy and go from Earth to orbit around a dead world with alien ruins and discovering the purpose of that message.
Any Gunn fan will want to read this one. Since it’s only 154 pages, it’s not much of a time investment for others, particularly those interested in SETI. To my mind, it could have been shortened even more by cutting or revising “The Rabbit Hole” chapter. I’m not sure that surrealistic section where cause and effect are reversed when a starship goes through a wormhole was strictly necessary though an alien wormhole network is a crucial plot feature.
And, while the novel’s end is in good faith and a serious philosophical statement, it’s an idea I’ve come across before and dismiss as “cheap spirituality” in its attempt to find purpose in a godless universe.
Adrian Mast is a disillusioned aerospace engineer who left his ‘going nowhere’ job and opened his own consulting business. He comes upon a strange book at a local bookstore he likes to browse. The title is “Gift From the Stars” and in the appendix are what Adrian believes to be viable spacecraft designs. He questions the bookstore owner, Frances, about the author and publisher and her research reveals more mystery.
Adrian and Frances set off to find the author whom they locate in a mental institute. Peter is brilliant but paranoid as a result of his view of the alien ‘gift. Adrian and Frances trick a government bureaucrat into pursing the ‘alien’ plans for a remarkable energy source. The result ushers in a worldwide era of peace with free energy. From there, Adrian and Frances, joined by a young woman who was sent as a spy but becomes caught up in their quest, continue the goal of building the spaceship. They pull together a small team who build the ship and head into space. Although they hope to find the aliens they think invited them through the gift, they are a little surprised when they discover that Peter has programmed the computer to take the ship on the alien path. Along the way they are caught in a wormhole time warp which they have to escape. When they arrive to the apparent destination, there are many other ships, but no welcoming committee. Again they must explore to uncover the puzzles of the mysterious planet.
The story is engaging although a bit strange. It has a certain believability and kept my interest. The ending might be considered a bit of a letdown but it seemed an appropriate ‘landing’ for the author’s apparent purpose. The author manages to present differing views of man’s fear and boldness when faced with the possibilities of exploring space. Through the adventure there are different reactions, reluctance and dreams. I felt the ending left me, the reader, contemplating my feelings about the opportunities and experience of space exploration. I would recommend this to readers who enjoy hard science fiction with an appropriate amount of irony and humor.
I received this through NetGalley