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Optimistic near-future alien-contact yarn from the Ireland resident author of the gloomy The Broken Land (1992), etc. In 2003, Saturn's moon Hyperion unaccountably vanishes, while large meteorites strike Earth's tropic regions. As a result, Kenya's Mt. Kilimanjaro becomes infested with a weird alien growth, called the ""Chaga,"" that absorbs all organic materials. As the Chaga rapidly expands, SkyNet assigns ambitious Irish TV journalist Gaby McAslan to cover the story. In Nairobi, she makes a deal with local data pirate and gangster Haran--who soon provides her first scoop. Hang-glider pilot Peter Werther died and was absorbed by the Chaga, which then resurrected him. He claims that the Chaga is alive, aware, benevolent, and has contacted Earth before. Soon Werther disappears, captured by the ruthless UN quarantine forces. AS Gaby and her American scientist friend, Shepard, become lovers, they discover that people can survive in the Chaga--indeed, it alters itself to suit human needs, providing food, clothing, shelter, even organic electronic equipment. Gaby's stormy relationships (with Africa, with Shepard) ebb and flow, while Africans build whole new cities within the Chaga and experiment with alternate lifestyles beyond UN censure. Eventually, Hyperion--transformed into the Big Dumb Object, a Chaga-built space habitat--arrives in Earth's orbit, heralding a new phase to the contact process. The obvious exemplar here is Stanislaw Lem's Solaris (1970). Yet McDonald's tale is also inventive and challenging, despite that disappointing non-ending: a dense, complex, rather weighty, often fascinating piece of speculation.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0553374354
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Spectra/Bantam