A really great and imaginative tale of intrigue, adventure, humanity, and first contact.
I had no idea what this book was about when I started reading. I had heard the title many times in reference to great works of science fiction, but beyond that I knew nothing, and I’m glad. This review won’t be laden with spoilers, but I would still recommend anyone reading to stop here and enjoy the book cold.
That last word is a bit of a joke since the book takes place on a planet going though an ice age. All the inhabitants are adapted to a climate where 40 degrees is considered warm.
The protagonist, Ginly, is the narrator for most of the book. He’s a normal human and his job is to be an Envoy to this planet. He was sent down alone to make contact and invite the inhabitants of this planet to join a consortium of other worlds. He is a patient diplomat, but more often comes across as just a low-level bureaucrat.
The “aliens” on this world are actually humans, or more accurately a form of human, that were seeded there thousands of years before. In appearance, they are almost identical to humans with one major difference: they are all the same sex. Not male or female, but a hybrid that morphs into one or the other for a short time, then reverts back to neuter.
The plot revolves around Ginly’s mission and his developing friendship with one of the “natives,” but the really interesting part of the story is about the differences between his and their cultures. It’s great fodder for sci-fi. How does a society develop without gender roles? What sort of technology develops in an arctic environment? What is the best way to make first contact? All of these ideas are discussed, sometimes directly sometimes not, but never in an intrusive way that hindered the story.
This was a great story full of ideas, yet simple and not flashy or over-the-top. I suppose this style is called “hard sci-fi” today, but even as old as this book is, it never felt dated.