This book lands in the Science Fiction section because of the technology involved and the stage on which it is set. There is plenty in the book for any SF fan to enjoy, but it doesn’t break new ground with new and exciting pieces of technology. Instead, like most every Modesitt book I have read, it focuses most of the attention on the characters and what is happening in their interactions with others. This book presents a main character, Dr Paul Verano, that you can immediately relate to on many levels. His family life is falling apart and he is presented with the chance for a, shall we say, extended work trip. He snatches at the trip that doesn’t quite turn out to be what he expected. His professional training is as a freelance ecology consultant, but his skill is in understanding the truth behind the facade that people in his life attempt to present as reality.
The assignment he is given is to write an ecological report on the current impact of those living on Stittara. Stittara is a distant planet. In fact, due to the vagaries of space travel, although his entire trip may only last about a year for him, by the time he returns to his home planet nearly 150 years will have passed. Many things impede his efforts to create a fair and impartial report. Not the least of which is the division in the very government that sent him–whichever way the report falls, he is bound to anger one group or another. The biggest issue is the most important export from Stittara is a longevity drug that has changed human life on the home planet. Because the impact of his ecological report could possibly have on the continued production of the drug, the stakes involved are huge. Like most of us with work assignments, it is all too easy to create enemies when we are merely trying to do a great job. As with nearly every book from Modesitt, a large piece of the story is what isn’t said–what is found between the lines of what the characters are saying versus how they are acting. In the background are the strange and mysterious “skytubes” that no one wants to really discuss.
I always love Modesitt and this book is no exception. The situation is compelling, the issues are real, and the solution is fantastic. This book is a bit slower paced than some of his books, but designed to make you think. If you haven’t read one of his books before–give this one a shot because it is well worth your time.