In the distant future, bio-modified human colonists blaze a trail to a new planet, whose inhabitants wonder what that new star in the sky is.
MacLeod (Engine City, 2002, etc.) gives a fresh look at one of the oldest—and often stalest—of sci-fi tropes: the story of first contact. Thousands of years in the future, human beings have moved far from the barely remembered Earth. And while they are actively colonizing planet systems throughout the galaxy, they’ve never come across another intelligent life form. Humans have made innumerable advances (there are now centuries-long life spans and computer uplinks that can be hardwired into brains). Things like war are part of a forgotten past. For hundreds of years now, a massive exploration vessel filled with thousands of human passengers has been trundling toward a new planet, which is occupied by an alien species. Roughly human in form, but winged, the aliens are as technologically advanced as 20th-century humans had been, with war about to break out between two of the bigger nations. MacLeod flips back and forth between stories of the humans and aliens, avoiding the usual pro-human slant and presenting both sides as equally complex. And as humans advance on their planet, the aliens are beginning to wonder why their slave race, the “trudges,” is starting to act uppity.
The conflicts between and within the two races are handled with an uncommonly sharp alacrity, with weighty philosophical issues addressed in a manner that doesn’t hamper narrative flow.