First novel from professors Stewart and Cohen (nonfiction: The Collapse of Chaos, 1994). By 2270, a depopulated Earth is recovering from a period of anti-technology repression, while a fabulously rich Tibetan Zen Buddhist sect controls much of outer space. Former archeology student Prudence Odingo discovers ancient wheeled artifacts on the Jovian moon Callisto, but when she brings them to Earth her former professor, Charles Dunsmoore, vengefully attempts to discredit her. Meanwhile, a comet appears to be heading for Jupiter---until that planet’s four largest moons reconfigure their orbits, thus aiming the comet directly at Earth! An expedition to Jupiter, led by Charles Dunsmoore, hurriedly gets underway. Forced to cooperate with Prudence, Charles must acknowledge that the wheelers are artifacts, “symbiauts,” from Jupiter; they can manipulate gravity, and communicate by encoded wavepackets called “squarks.” The symbiauts are created by life forms on Jupiter, huge blimps millions of years old, whose conservative policy is to destroy wandering comets by smacking them into the inner planets (they have reasons for not bombarding the sun). The Jovians were unaware that intelligent life existed on Poisonblue, and they’re not altogether indifferent to the Poisonbluvians’ plight—but they take thousands of years to reach decisions. So Prudence and Charles must try to stir up a revolution on Jupiter before it’s too late to divert the comet.
A splendid story, bulging with ideas and extrapolations, even if the closing chapters tend to drop below the plausibility event horizon.