A far-future alien-contact yarn from the versatile author of Stinger (1998), etc. When humans expanded into space, they found a network of stargates left by vanished aliens—and also ran into the Fallers, xenophobic aliens who immediately declared war and continue to resist all attempts at communication. Starship Zeus deposits an alien-contact team on planet World, whose human-alien inhabitants have a “shared reality” (if you’re out of synch, you get violent headaches). All this is cover for Zeus’s real mission: to investigate the weapons possibilities of the huge alien artifact orbiting the planet (Worlders think it’s a moon). Military physicist Syree Johnson finds that the artifact projects a field that causes heavy elements to become temporarily radioactive. Then, when the Fallers show up, Johnson decides to attempt to tow the artifact back through the stargate—but it's almost certainly too big. Down on the planet, the investigators—geologist Dieter Gruber, xenobiologist Ann Sikorski, fanatic anthropologist David Campbell Allen, and their leader Ahmed Bazargan—strive to understand the Worlders’ “shared reality”: if the Worlders decide they’re unreal, they’ll be utterly ignored. Worlder criminals, they learn, become “unreal” until their debt is paid; indeed, the criminal Enli has been set to spy on them. But what’s the source of the reality/unreality phenomenon? Is there a link with an artifact they’ve detected buried on the planet, or with the thing in orbit, which seems to generate probability waves?
Twisty and compelling, brimful of ideas, with Kress’s usual life-sized characters: top-notch work from a major talent—and we haven’t heard the last of the Fallers.