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Fifty men and women are chosen as the crew of the Wotan, in what is certain to be the greatest voyage of exploration in human history. Their mission is to travel to the furthest reaches of the galaxy in search of inhabitable worlds. The crew is shut off from Earth except for a telepathic link between a crew member and his sister back home. But when that connection is broken, the Wotan is lost in space until it encounters a vast alien presence that forces the crew to question everything they know about ...
Fifty men and women are chosen as the crew of the Wotan, in what is certain to be the greatest voyage of exploration in human history. Their mission is to travel to the furthest reaches of the galaxy in search of inhabitable worlds. The crew is shut off from Earth except for a telepathic link between a crew member and his sister back home. But when that connection is broken, the Wotan is lost in space until it encounters a vast alien presence that forces the crew to question everything they know about life and death.
Another polished and agreeable presentation, constrained by its overly familiar scenario; the present-tense narrative doesn't help—though some sparks of originality would've worked wonders.
Sixteen light-years from Earth today, in the fifth month of the voyage, and the silken force of nospace acceleration continues to drive the starship's velocity ever higher. Three games of Go are in progress in the Wotan's lounge. The year-captain stands at the entrance to the brightly lit room, casually watching the players: Roy and Sylvia, Leon and Chang, Heinz and Elliot.
Go has been a craze aboard ship for weeks. The players—some eighteen or twenty members of the expedition have caught the addiction by this time, more than a third of the entire complement—sit hour after hour, contemplating strategies, devising variations, grasping the smooth black or white stones between forefinger and second finger, putting the stones down against the wooden board with the proper smart sharp clacking sound. The year-captain himself does not play, though the game once interested him to the point of obsession, long ago, in what was almost another life; his shipboard responsibilities require so intense an exercise of his energies that he can find little amusement in simulated territorial conquest. But he comes here sometimes to watch, remaining five or ten minutes, then going on about his duties.
The best of the players is Roy, the mathematician, a large, heavy man with a soft, sleepy face. He sits with his eyes closed, awaiting in tranquillity his turn to play. "I am purging myself of the need to win," he told the year-captain yesterday when asked what occupied his mind while he waited to put down his next piece. Purged or not, Roy continues to win more than half ofhis games, even though he gives most of his opponents a handicap of four or five stones.
He gives Sylvia a handicap of only two. She is a delicate woman, fine-boned and shy. Genetic surgery is her specialty. Sylvia plays the game well, although slowly. She makes her move. At the sound of it Roy opens his eyes. He studies the board the merest fraction of a second, points, and says, "Atari," the conventional way of calling to his opponent's attention the fact that her move will enable him to capture several of her stones. Sylvia laughs lightly and retracts her move. After a moment she moves again. Roy nods and picks up a white stone, which he holds for nearly a minute, hefting it between the two playing fingers as though testing its weight, before he places it. Which is not at all typical of him: ordinarily he makes his moves with intimidating speed. Perhaps he is tired this morning. Or perhaps he is simply being kind.
The year-captain would like to speak to Sylvia about the anaerobic gene-cluster experiment, but evidently the game is barely under way; he supposes that she and Roy will be occupied with it for another hour or more. His questions can wait. No one hurries aboard the Wotan. They have plenty of time for everything: a lifetime, maybe, if no habitable planet can be found. All the universe is theirs to search, yes. But it may well be the case that nothing useful will be found, and this ship's walls will mark the full boundary of their universe, forever and a day. No one knows, yet. They are the first to venture out this far. At this point there are only questions, no answers. The only thing that is reasonably certain is that they are bound on a voyage from which there is no expectation of returning.
All is quiet for a time in the lounge. Then Heinz, at the far side of the room, loudly places a stone. Elliot acknowledges it with a little chuckle. Chang, at the board next to them, glances over to look; Sylvia and Roy pay no attention. The year-captain scans the board of Roy and Sylvia's game, trying to anticipate Sylvia's next move. His eyesight is sharp: even at this distance he can clearly make out the patterns on the board. Indeed, everything about the year-captain is sharp. He is a man of crisp boundaries, of taut edges carefully drawn together.
Soft footsteps sound behind him.
The year-captain turns. Noelle, the mission communicator, is approaching the lounge. She is a slim sightless woman with long gleaming blue-black hair and elegantly chiseled features. Her tapering face is a perfect counterpart of the year-captain's own lean, austere one, though she is dusky, and he is fairhaired and so pale of skin that he seems to have been bleached. She customarily walks the corridors unaided. No sensors for Noelle, not even a cane. Occasionally she will stumble, but usually her balance is excellent and her sense of the location of obstacles is eerily accurate. It is a kind of arrogance for the blind to shun assistance, perhaps. But also it is a kind of desperate poetry.
He watches in silence as she comes up to him. "Good morning, year-captain," she says.
Noelle is infallible in making such identifications. She claims to be able to distinguish each of the members of the expedition by the tiny characteristic sounds they make: their patterns of breathing, the timbre of their coughs, the rustling of their clothing. Among the others there is a certain skepticism about this. Many aboard the starship believe that Noelle is simply reading their minds. She does not deny that she possesses the power of telepathy; but she insists that the only mind to which she has direct access is that of her sister Yvonne, her identical twin, far away on Earth.
He turns to her. His eyes meet hers: an automatic act, a habit. Her eyes, dark and clear and almost always open, stare disconcertingly through his forehead. Plainly they are the eyes of a blind person but they seem weirdly penetrating all the same. The year-captain says, "I'll have a report for you to transmit in about two hours."
"I'm ready whenever you need me." Noelle smiles faintly. She listens a moment, head fumed slightly to the left, to the clacking of the Go stones. "Three games being played?" she asks. Her voice is soft but musical and clear, and perfectly focused, every syllable always audible.
What extraordinary hearing she must have, if she can perceive the sounds of stones being placed so acutely that she knows the number of game-boards that are in use.
"It seems strange that the game hasn't begun to lose its hold on them by now."
"Go can have an extremely powerful grip," the year-captain says.
"It must. How good it is to be able to surrender yourself so completely to a game."
"I wonder. Playing Go consumes an enormous amount of valuable time."
"Time?" Noelle laughs. The silvery sound is like a cascade of little chimes. "What is there to do with time, except to consume it?" Then after a moment she says, "Is it a difficult game?"
"The rules are actually quite simple. The application of the rules is another matter entirely. It's a deeper and more subtle game than chess, I think."
Her glossy blank gaze wanders across his face and suddenly her eyes lock into his. How is she able to do that? "Do you think it would take very long for me to learn how to play?" she asks.
"Why not? I also need amusement, year-captain."
"The board is a grid with hundreds of intersections. Moves may be made at any of them. The patterns that are formed as the players place their stones are complex and constantly changing. Someone who—isn't—able—to see—"
"My memory is excellent," Noelle says. "I can visualize the board and make the necessary corrections as play proceeds. You would only have to tell me where you are putting down your stones. And guide my hand, I suppose, when I make my moves."
"I doubt that it'll work, Noelle."
"Will you teach me anyway?"
Posted June 19, 2001
I thought this book really shows Silverberg's ability to tell a story. The plot is very very simple .. more what one would expect from a novella than a novel. But Silverberg manages to develop the characters and details in such way that it kept me engrossed throughout. The ending was not surprising, but was, nevertheless, beautifully unfolded, I thought.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.