First novel in quite a while (Gift from the Stars, 2005, etc.) from writer/anthologist Gunn.
A galactic civilization, weary of centuries of war—the latest caused by upstart humans intruding on space occupied by other alien races—tries to get on with business despite the stultifying bureaucracy that seems to run things. War veteran Riley, at loose ends following the conflict, accepts a job offer from powerful and mysterious employers—who implant in his head a know-it-all artificial intelligence which he cannot remove and which has the means to force him to obey instructions. He will join beings from many different worlds aboard a ship guided by an unknown prophet who can help them achieve transcendence. Riley’s orders, however, are to kill the prophet rather than permit aliens to transcend. Deadly violence flares among the travelers, however, before the ship even departs. The captain, Hamilton Jones, with whom Riley served during the war, admits he doesn’t know their destination and periodically receives new coordinates from somebody aboard. Among Riley’s fellow travelers are Tordor, a massive, heavy-planet alien; the weasellike Xi; an intelligent plant known as 4107; and Asha, a human female who needs no sleep and has other strange capabilities. As the ship heads for the Great Gulf between the galaxy’s spiral arms, the travelers—like Riley, most, if not all, have hidden agendas—relate tales of themselves and their races. But violence is a constant threat; the tales may be simple truth, calculated disinformation or anything in between. And why are Riley’s employers so intent on stopping the prophet? Impeccably plotted, with absorbing human and alien characters and back stories, Gunn’s narrative expertly cranks up the tension and paranoia as, piece by piece, answers emerge.
Gunn’s best in years—quite possibly his best ever.