In Cambias’s vivid hard SF debut, humans land on the oceanic world of Ilmatar to study its indigenous population of intelligent aquatic creatures. The Terran scientists successfully avoid contact until a “shameless media whore” secretly films the Ilmatarans, resulting in disastrous first interactions. The incident leads to the appearance of a second alien race, the hairless, six-limbed Sholen, who arrive on Ilmatar ostensibly to identify the cause of the unfortunate inter-species encounter and prevent further mishaps. Opinion on the Sholen home world regarding “the Terran problem” is divided—some wish to avoid any involvement while others want to ensure that humanity is confined to Earth—and that debate plays out on Ilmatar in a satisfying blend of political intrigue, military posturing, and shifting alliances. Cambias paints imaginative, convincing portraits of the Ilmatarans, who struggle to impose order on their primitive and violent agrarian society, and the Sholen, whose self-identification as “compassionate” and “nurturing” masks a capacity for savagery. Cambias writes with a light touch and occasional flashes of humor, and the science supporting his novel is sound and unobtrusive. This is an impressive debut by a gifted writer. (Feb.)
"An impressive debut by a gifted writer."
—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"An exceptionally thoughtful, searching and intriguing debut."
—Kirkus, Starred Review
"Like Silverberg, who developed fully realized alien societies in such novels as Downward to the Earth (to which this novel bears some thematic resemblance), Cambias makes the Sholen and Ilmataran people and cultures as real as the more familiar human component. Beautifully written, with a story that captures the imagination the way SF should."
—Booklist, Starred Review
“A stunning debut! Alien races to rival Larry Niven, world-building to rival Hal Clement, and lots of rip-roaring adventure. James Cambias will be one of the century's major names in hard science fiction.”
—Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of Red Planet Blues
“Fast-paced, pure quill hard science fiction.... Cambias delivers adroit plot pivots that keep the suspense coming.”
—Gregory Benford, Nebula Award-winning author of Timescape
“This is great fun—traditional science fiction but with today's science. And I love the aliens.”
—Jo Walton, Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Award-winning author of Among Others
“The best story about an alien race and its environment that I've read in a long time. Cambias is in the same league as Hal Clement.”
—Vernor Vinge, Hugo Award-winning author of A Fire Upon the Deep
“Cambias's exploration of truly alien politics is fast, fun, and packed with characters you'll cheer for. It's exciting to welcome an exuberant new voice to the ranks of hard science fiction!”
—Karl Schroeder, author of Ventus
“A compelling read.”
—Michael Flynn, author of On the Razor’s Edge
“A fascinating exploration of alien lives at the extreme edges of an alien world.”
—Brenda Cooper, award-winning author of The Silver Ship and the Sea
Science-fiction novel from game designer and story writer Cambias, the first of a projected series. Like Jupiter's Europa, Ilmatar is a moon of a giant gas planet. Here, under a roof of ice a kilometer thick and beneath a deep ocean, a team of Earth scientists has established a habitat in order to study the blind, intelligent aliens who resemble giant, lobsterlike, bald otters and whose home is this lightless, frigid, forbidding environment. The explorers have come to an agreement with a six-legged alien race, the Sholen, humanity's first extraterrestrial contact, not to disturb the Ilmatarans or their habitat. But when media blowhard Henri Kerlerec persuades scientist Rob Freeman to venture out in secret so that Henri can use his new stealth diving suit to film the Ilmatarans up close, the Ilmatarans eventually detect him and, being scientists themselves and not recognizing him as intelligent or alien, dissect him. According to the Sholen, this constitutes interference; having repeatedly ruined their own planet, the Sholen's misguided and self-appointed mission is to make sure nobody else ruins their planet either, so they order the humans to withdraw. Wary of the older, more advanced Sholen technology, the humans decide on passive resistance. Inevitably, matters slowly escalate into overt violence. More impressive than the worldbuilding, which is based on logical extrapolation, is Cambias' diligent consideration of the technology required to survive in such an extreme environment. Best of all are the aliens. Ilmataran civilization is based on farming the products of deep-sea hot-water vents, while their perceptions and communications employ sound and pressure waves--although, since oxygen is poisonous to them, it's difficult to envisage what gives them metabolic power enough to support intelligence. The Sholen behave according to consensus reached through political and sexual bonding. An exceptionally thoughtful, searching and intriguing debut.