Account of an ill-fated first interstellar voyage, from the author of The Silk Code (1999). For some reason, old philosopher Aaron Schoenfeld is chosen to captain the first expedition to Alpha Centauri, Earth’s nearest stellar neighbor. A newly developed fuel will enable the ship to travel at more than half the speed of light; it will use gravity maneuvers to slingshot back home. Another septuagenarian crew member, Jack Lumet, a specialist on Native American culture and Aaron’s lifelong friend, insists that an old Indian notion—that space flows both ways like a tidal river—may well be true. The rest of the crew, though including women, remain indistinguishable. Project director Naomi Senzer refuses to send humans at all, preferring robots, until a signal hints that Alpha Centauri may harbor intelligent life. Halfway into the voyage, with observations of Centauri growing increasingly weird, Aaron must quell a mutiny. Crewmember Sarah dies; another, Kathy, gives birth to a son, Noah. Noah may be a superbeing but, then again, maybe not. At Centauri they discover the abandoned hulk of a spaceship but gain no meaningful information. A planet, at first apparently Mars-like, somehow gains an atmosphere, seas, plants, and animals. Temporal riddles come wrapped in spatial mysteries inside psychological enigmas.
None of this, unfortunately, is compelling or intriguing or even very interesting: a creaky idea given a limply inconclusive, ho-hum workout.