I have come to learn that Edward M. Lerner is reliable in providing with good entertaining stories with plenty of well researched science. This long novella delivered all that with another interesting take on the Fermi paradox.

Set in a close to utopian future where Earth have made contact with other alien races through radio and advancement in technology takes care of everyone’s needs, and people mostly work for fun or in very specialized fields. The story follows Joshua who works as a historian for the International Commerce Union - the organization that handles the tradedeals with the alien races. At a party he disappears only to return a month later without any knowledge of what happened. People around mostly thinks he just went on a drunken spree, his reputation is ruined and he looses his job. One journalist do believe him and they set out to figure out what really happened.

This doesn’t sound much of a science fiction plot, but it is all connected to interstellar network that Earth has become part of. Joshua is one of the few people who have publicly questioned some oddities around the aliens Earth has made contact with. Like why are they all so relatively close together in the galaxy and all at similar levels of technology? Sort of like in Star Trek, and not unlike in that, there appears to be greater forces at work here.

It is a story with lots of talking, speculations and world building - not a whole lot of action or even much that gets resolved or fully explained. When done well here like Lerner does, that is a type of story I enjoy but it might not be for everyone. Apparently it is part of a longer series, but I had no trouble with it despite not having read any previous installments.

Read in Analog November 2023
Rating: 3