Two hundred or so years in the future, the peoples of Earth have colonized the Moon and a few other planets in the solar system. Faster-than-light travel (in this universe, called Other-Than-Light, or OTL) has been around for approximately a decade. After yet another major conflict with massive loss of life, the nations united to become one Earth government, with a governmental structure much more focused on ethics and honesty than on … corruption, greed, etc.
In addition to this utopian civilization, some people have developed telekinesis, telepathy, and clairvoyance. The emphasis on ethical behavior for these people is much stronger than for others, although it is mandatory for all civil servants.
Within this environment, Jacaranda has been a high-ranking civil servant for years. With a military background, and psi abilities that surpass the vast majority of mentally gifted folks, she is in a unique position to become Ambassador to other races from other solar systems. In fact, she has been chosen by the government based on her presence in a number of prophetic visions, as have the other members of the First Contact team. Some clairvoyants have seen human-like aliens, some spider-influenced, and some even more horrific (sorry, spider people) aliens. All coming into contact at roughly this time, with the selected First Contact team playing the leading roles.
Jackie, as she’s called, and her teammates set out on a test run of their ship, its systems, and their abilities. Space, science, a small group of people obliged to work together in a confined environment for a prolonged period of time… When Jackie discovers some aliens in distress, First Contact is made.
The story began rather slowly, with conscientious world-building and a heavy focus on the utopian aspects of the new Terran societies. However, I was delighted for once to read a utopian futuristic science fiction (enough adjectives?) instead of a dystopian one. Frankly, I’ll never really be a fan of the latter.
Once the First Contact team starts their test run, and establish contact with these aliens, the pace picks up speed. Important cultural differences cause friction between the aliens and the humans. The aliens have a much different, imperial, government and social structure, which clashes with the egalitarian, ethics-based society of our solar system. This conflict operates on different levels, too: I really enjoyed how Jackie’s Hawai’ian background was so important in the story, because it was so important to her.
The two alien societies must also interact on an interpersonal level. A telepathic bond between Jackie and one of the aliens who also has psi abilities, raises even more challenges, both romantic and political. The developing romance between these two politically powerful members of very different societies is the most even-handed look at bonded pairings since Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books, in which I learned that her life-bonded partners often bond because each has some desperate need to be deeply connected to another person.
At the same time, both groups are also preparing for the diplomatic voyage to the rescued aliens’ home world, where they are losing a war with an alien race that delights in eating sentient species alive. Technologies have diverged, and each race is interested in the others’ technological advances, especially when it comes to the ones that might be helpful in war.The science is not neglected either, with periods of quarantine, physiological and biological exploration, and vaccination.
Despite the slightly slow beginning, and the over-emphasis on how ethical humans have become over the next two centuries, I really loved this book. I just had so much fun reading it.
Recommended for fans of stories with psi and romantic elements, fans of futuristic science fiction, first contact and interactions between species, and fans of space opera.
*Advance reader’s copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.
Nalini Singh’s Psy and Changeling series is an excellent mix of romance and science fiction. Each book in the series pairs up two characters from among the three races: Psy, Changeling, and Human. They’re more than just romance, though, with plots that follow the various enmities and conflicts among different factions and races.
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller are among my favorite authors, and I re-read their Liaden series all the time. In this way-far-in-the-future universe, humans have come into uncomfortable contact with the Liadens, whose society emphasizes rules, etiquette, and contracts. The authors call it “space regency” – comedy of manners and space opera.
Mercedes Lackey is one of my favorite authors from childhood, and if you want to read about interesting bonds – lifebonds between couples, and animal-human bonds, you’ll definitely want to try these. Not science fiction, but fantasy, with magic in a historical fantasy universe.
If you’re looking for books that focus on military space travel, I highly recommend Tanya Huff’s Confederation series, which follows Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr as she leads her command into danger on missions throughout the galaxy.