I’d be all, Intertubes, you have failed me in not bringing it to my awareness sooner, but the Tubes are the reason I was reading it at all, and since it was published back in ’96 while I was busy moaning about my unfair curfew it would have probably slunk under my radar FOR EVAH, and this is a book I need to have read. So, I owe you thanks, but now you will have to lend me a handkerchief.
Ok so. Something verra bad happens (all of my favorite books start this way, with the suggestion of Impending Doom) and you know this because page one is all Blah blah the Jesuits blah exploration of frontiers blah blah glory of God blah, and then page two is all, They meant no harm. There will be harm, obviously.
Aaaaand there is life in Space. Please do not be all, Ugh, sci-fi, because you need to get over that and read this. To recap: life in Space. A rag-tag bag of explorers goes to check it out, but of them only Emilio Sandez comes back alive and he is traumatized and reticent and ‘eventually, something would have to be done about his hands’ and for the next hundred-odd pages while they’re grilling him trying to get to the bottom of things you’re like, Yes, but what happened to his hands?
Because suddenly it’s dozens of years ago, before the space-message was heard, and we watch the group of explorers come slowly but inexorably together, and now we’re approaching the Series of Horrid Events from both sides. And there’s something about watching the aftermath on the one hand (sorry, Emilio), and then seeing the…the math, I guess, unfold on the other, and everything on the first hand is pitiless and bleak and everything on the other is so damned cheery and fun and you know from Moment One that everyone will die but you fall in love with them anyways, damn your eyes, and you are so horribly, horribly sad when it all goes wrong.
Ok and then also, and this is going to sound a bit contradictory, but it is a ripping good read! Like, very exciting shit happens. Yes, Woeful Downer, but also MYSTERIES AND OBSTACLES AND WITTY BANTER AND ROMANCEAND CONFLICT AND ALIENS!!! In my mind, it was going to be hella navel-gazy, Gilead-style, and while it is rife with substance, it is also rife with pizazz, and those two do not often go hand in hand (I…cannot seem to stop with the hands).
I know it’s not Shiny and New, and not Classic and Old, but read it. Do yourself this favor.