The premise of this novel was innovative and ingenious for the first hundred pages or so. Then it sputtered and fizzled out like a dud firecracker. Why? Ben Bova is a six-time winner of the Hugo Award. What made this promising story turn into a turkey? Umm, I think it's a case of a highly capable author resting on his laurels. I've seen this happen recently with great sci-fi writers like Larry Niven ( recently flopped with 'Bowl of Heaven' ) and I'm wondering when I'll read another sci-fi classic like Arthur C. Clarke's 'Rendezvous with Rama'. Maybe sci-fi writers have so many good ideas in their heads that they rush through a novel just to get to the next. The result is a clunker, not a total loss, but a missed opportunity to deliver a classic story. I believe this novel was one of those missed opportunities.
The story starts off strong with the reader finding out that Earth is being inundated by flood waters from the effects of global warming. The world is in chaos with the ice from Greenland and Antarctica melting, causing worldwide evacuations. Eighty years prior to this, the World Council funded a starship called Gaia on an exploratory trip to a recently discovered planet revolving around the star Sirius. From previous unmanned missions, man has learned that this New Earth seems to be a duplicate of our planet. Now the starship with a crew of twelve is in orbit around New Earth. Robots rouse the crew that have been frozen by liquid nitrogen for the past 80 years. Jordan Kell is the team leader on this important mission to study the planet's biosphere, build housing and study the possibility of man moving here. Messages take eight and a half years to reach Earth. The crew doesn't know that the World Council has reneged on sending backup missions. As the crew orbits to the darkside of the planet, they see a beam of light shining upwards. Can there be intelligent life on the planet? Mitchell Thornberry, a roboticist, sends two of his robots down to investigate the beam.The robots go dormant on the planet. Part of the crew land on the surface and find out that there are human-like sentient beings already there. Where did they come from and who are they? Other than Jordan Kell, who falls in love with a alien beauty ( Aditi ), the other eleven crew members don't trust the seemingly helpful aliens. Or are we the aliens? The leader of New Earth, Adri, seems friendly answering any question asked of him. Or is he? This part of the novel is when I thought it would move forward with extreme gusto. Not.
I haven't mentioned most of the rest of Kell's crew because half of the crew have minor speaking roles in this mediocre novel. Basically the book has four meaningful human characters: Jordan Kell and his brother Brandon, a astronomer; Harmon Meek, a astrobiologist; and Mitchell Thornberry. There are two significant alien characters: Adri and Aditi of the planet with two suns ( one is a pup sun ), no moons, bioengineered animals, and energy domes. It takes New Earth 30 years to fully orbit it's main sun. Doesn't this sound like a interesting plot? It could have been, but at this point the author runs out of zip and ideas. I felt no empathy for any character, not a good sign. If you want to find out what happens on New Earth after the crew's landing, you will have to read your own copy. I must give this novel a indifferent rating since it didn't live up to the teasers on the book's jacket cover. May I interject a mild...blech!