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Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes – Encounter with TiberEncounter with Tiber is a collaboration between ex-Astronaut Buzz Aldrin and SF writer John Barnes, re-published in electronic form by Open Road Integrated Media, who seem to be bringing out a good number of excellent books by well-known authors which were so far not available in electronic form; it might be worth keeping an eye on their release catalogue.

 

The book starts with an introduction by one Arthur C. Clarke, who is complaining about Astronauts first showing them up by making it painfully obvious where SF Authors got their predictions wrong, only to do so again by starting to write rather good SF themselves! And, after this rather underhand compliment, he mentions that a certain Neal A. likes the book, too…  full points for name dropping there!

We then are presented with a Dramatis Personae (how very tidy, and how very handy at times!), the actual story, and biographies of the authors – a long one with loads of great pictures for Buzz Aldrin, and the standard capsule one for John Barnes.

I’m not sure how to tell you what the book is about without giving away a lot of the story… then again, given how the book itself does this, it might not be much of an issue, so here we go.

 

 

At the start we join Clio Trigorin, a Historian, born and raised on Mars, as she sets off on the spaceship Tenacity for the Centauri System, to visit the home world of the aliens who 7000 years hence had visited Earth, and created bases on the Moon, on Phobos, and on Mars, and then had died out there. The year is 2069, and humanity has spread to roughly the same spots, following what they call the Tiberians; travel in space is quite normal, Clio has done so repeatedly.

This thread, with Clio and her expedition progressing towards Centauri, provides the framework for the story; inbetween we get other threads showing history from a number of viewpoints:

 

On the one hand we get the history of space flight and space exploration on Earth, from the Challenger Disaster onwards. 

The first flashback story starts with a proper ‘hang onto your seat’ first person account (by Clio’s grandfather) of the Shuttle Endeavour crashing, and the crew evacuating. It’s one hell of a ride, even just to read it.

This is a future which could have been, with loads of space, fiscal, and plain ‘normal’ politics mixed in. Historic facts and extrapolated fiction mix and mingle in a rather fascinating manner here, but it’s a believable alternative present and near future.

And then Earth receives transmissions from Alpha Centauri, which leads to the archaeological finds on Moon, Phobos, and Mars, and the other historical threads in the book.

 

So, on the other hand, we get two accounts from what humanity calls Tiberians (trust me, they have a different name for themselves), the first one of those is by Zahmekoses, who was trained as a child for the long-term trip to a potential new world to be settled, to save their race from a future extinction event by an Asteroid. 

The local history and politics he relays are very reminiscent of parts of Vinge’s Fire Upon the Deep (how’s that for high praise?).

 

There are a lot of explanations of ‘how things work, and why’ – in spaceflight technology, in physics, and in space politics. This is, on the one hand, interesting (yes, I’m a space anorak), but sometimes feels overly long, and then breaks the flow of the story with extended info-dumps. On the plus side – these are informative, very clearly written, and should be understandable for the lay person. Plus, they are real and scientific, which sets this every so far apart from a lot of SF these days (especially the Hollywood variety), and also marks this story clearly as Hard SF.

 

The story is told in a mix of 1st and 3rd person accounts, sometimes with rather inconsistent and jarring switches/mixes between those within the same sub-arc, which can feel disorienting – and yes, sometimes a characters go off on a monologue on history, or physics, or some other theoretical background.

As I indicated above (cough, cough), the story uses rather a lot of foreshadowing, and hinting as future developments (“later I learned that”, “that was before”) within the story.

The overall structure of Future (Clio), Present (Human space exploration from Challenger onwards) and History (Tiberian accounts) of course does not help this – there are no major developments which come as a surprise, and the reader is frequently left wondering not where the story will go, but how they authors will get the story from A to B.

 

And, it has to be said, it’s a shame that the authors could not completely stay out of Von Daeniken territory. It’s thankfully only muted, and I guess it’s hard to avoid doing so if you set an alien visit/contact story on Earth a few thousand years back, but still …

 

Oh, and there’s a nice aside from Buzz: the first words spoken by a human on the moon were “Contact Light”. Spoken by him, or course…

 

Unless you mind that this is by no means a thriller I can strongly recommend the book for a read – all the more so as you don’t have to add it to your reading pile as it’s now available as ebook!

 

More Buzz Aldrin

More John Barnes

 

 

Title: Encounter with Tiber

Author: Buzz Aldrin

Author: John Barnes

Reviewer: Markus

Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net

Publisher:  Open Road Integrated Media

Publisher URL: http://openroadmedia.com

Publication Date: May 2013 (orig. 1996)

Review Date: 130307

ISBN: 9781480421530

Price: UKP 

Pages: 602

Format: ePub

Topic: Hard SF

Topic: Space Exploration

 

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

 

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