First mainstream outing--a family drama with a touch of the supernatural--from the leading fantasist (the Alvin Maker series) and sf writer (The Memory of Earth, p. 81). Devout Mormon Step Fletcher, designer of a successful computer game called Hacker Snack, moves with his family to Steuben, North Carolina, to take up a new job. To Step's dismay, he is urged to accept a contract signing away his rights; he also discovers that his sole function will be to write manuals. Step and his wife DeAnne, now seven months pregnant, are given a warm welcome by their church--but eldest son Stevie (8) experiences difficulties at school and becomes withdrawn. At church, DeAnne fends off the meddlesome, self-proclaimed visionary Sister LeSueur, while Step has problems with Lee, who thinks he's God and wants to baptize Stevie; Step also meets a whiz programmer who calls himself Saladin Gallowglass (despite his talents, Glass turns out to be a child molester); and through it all, the house the Fletchers rent is subject to periodic horrid invasions of insects. Frustrated and exasperated, Step quits his job, intending instead to upgrade Hacker Snack for a new PC range. Meanwhile, Steuben is haunted by the disappearance of a number of young boys; the police suspect a serial killer but have no clues. Then DeAnne gives birth to a boy, Zap (who suffers from cerebral palsy); more boys disappear from Steuben; and, frighteningly, their names coincide with those of Stevie's invisible playmates. Even more confusingly, the computer games that Stevie has become absorbed in seem to run without disks or software. Finally, at Christmas, the matters of Stevie, the lost boys, and the invasions of insects come together in a wrenching conclusion. Once again, Card writes superbly about children, and here he adds a persuasive and heartwarming picture of a loving couple working hard to solve their problems. Affecting, genuine, poignant, uplifting: a limpid, beautifully orchestrated new venture from an author already accomplished in other fields.