The first solo effort, and start of an alien-contact series, from Arthur C. Clarke's collaborator on Rama Revealed (1994), etc. On Earth, a mysterious ribbon of white particles appears to Sister Beatrice of the Order of St. Michael, and she interprets it as one of God's angels. A similar phenomenon confronts engineer Johann Eberhart, once on Earth, then again on Mars. Meanwhile, the saintly Beatrice is appointed Bishop -- of Mars. But as an economic meltdown causes Earth to withdraw its resources from Mars, the red planet faces disaster -- until Beatrice and Johann, drawn together, are visited again by the white particles. This time, the particles build a spaceship and invite Beatrice, Johann, and nine others to board. They are whisked rapidly off to a huge vessel deep in space, where Beatrice and Johann are isolated on an island amid a wide lake. The particles make it clear that they desire the pair to become lovers, but Beatrice refuses to renounce her vow of chastity. It will take the violent intervention of electronics-genius and sex-criminal Yasin al-Kharif to force the issue; Yasin, having attempted to kill Johann, will eventually be killed by him, while Beatrice is fated to die giving birth to a daughter, Maria. Or, as the closing paragraphs hint, perhaps not. Yet another so-called novel that is merely episode #1 of some indeterminate work in progress: competently wrought but mediocre and strongly reminiscent of the Rama yarns and Carl Sagan's Contact. The greater failure here is one of imagination.