An astronomer-cum-exobiologist, searching for life beyond earth, finds himself searching for transcendent meaning. Bradley Reynolds' quest takes him from an inconclusive life-on-Mars project to an old age spent grappling with an interstellar cryptogram. Meanwhile, space research goes in and out of fashion; communication is made and lost with a star-worshipping alien species; genetic engineering brings a terrible backlash on Earth and elsewhere. Seldom can any sf novel have striven harder to say something great--with more labored and sloppy results. But among a welter of unfinished purposes, there is one moment of piercing imagination: Reynolds' encounter with the gentle giraffe-like sun-worshippers who realize with sadness that men cannot yet ""listen to the stars"" and ""see them for what they are."" A disappointing book that nonetheless leaves one shining memory.