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Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen
Earthlight paperback £10
review by Ceri Jordan
Ex-archeologist Prudence Odingo, robbed of the credit for an extraordinary discovery, takes to space exploration and returns with something even more fantastic: alien artifacts from the surface of Callisto. The ensuing trial by media seems certain to destroy her once and for all - until one artefact comes to life before her accusers' eyes.
They are mankind's first clue to the presence of an alien civilisation existing where life was thought to be impossible - a civilisation which has just diverted the course of a gigantic comet, aiming it directly at Earth. Is this an act of war, or a tragic mistake? And can mankind establish contact and persuade them to divert the comet away before it's too late?
The authors are professional scientists and science writers, and it shows. Clearly in love with the epic scale of their theory of life, the universe and everything, they tend to rather forget little things like characterisation. Their scientists and media bloodhounds are propelled by the most basic of motivations, and chunks of plot are rushed through to make room for long conversations explaining their carefully thought-out theories.
Of course, that's a grand old tradition in epic SF - and you certainly can't accuse the authors of being unambitious. They cover everything from evolution to the Big Bang, taking in wildlife poaching, Zen, and that old SF favourite, dodgy Egyptology, along the way. This is a book worth reading simply for the ideas. It's probably not a classic, but with a little more attention to character, Stewart and Cohen could evolve into an impressive team.
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