While this book is a sequel to Probability Moon, enough information from that book is included that this stands on its own. Humanity is in an interstellar war with the alien Fallers, who shoot first, never talk, and have some advanced tech that is winning the war for them. In desperation, Humans are investigating anything that looks strange enough to maybe provide an edge, and the planet called World qualifies. A previous expedition investigating the system found an artificial moon orbiting World, which blew up spectacularly. After wading through layers of bureaucracy, a scientist from the remains of the expedition convinces the military to send a new expedition.
For the people on World, it's been four years. These people - a humanoid race very like Humans - live in a shared reality. For example, if one of them hits another, both feel the pain. This quickly discourages fighting. The Humans discover that the shared reality is imposed by a buried artifact, left behind by a long-gone alien super-race. The military group includes some civilian specialists: a maverick scientific genius and a gene-altered Sensitive woman, as well as the usual variety of hard-assed militarists. Conflict between these personalities, as well as the sociologists working with the natives of World, is inevitable.
The key character (and my favorite) is Lyle Kaufman, a military man put, against his will, in charge of the expedition. Lyle is that rarity in sf and in real life, a leader overflowing with common sense, a great deal of patience, endless curiosity, and considerable ingenuity. The military have saddled Lyle with multiple objectives for this mission, and inevitably the objectives collide. In a kind of counterpoint, we see a native of World, Enli Brimmidin, as she comes to know and accept the truth that the Humans have a different reality, not shared, that will completely change her society.
The characters and the conflict are well-developed, as is the portrait of the society on World. We even get tantalizing glimpses of the alien Faller society. The intrigue of the bureaucrats develops logically and all too predictably, but satisfyingly in the end. This is true space opera, done very well. Between the action scenes, we also get large doses of scientific extrapolation about the artifact, and how what it does could be possible (it involves all those extra dimensions the physicists love to talk about). The science is very cool and way beyond my depth, but it has that authentic capacity to make my head hurt. I admit that I would have traded some of the science for more detail on World and its natives; matter of fact, my chief complaint is that the book is too short. Kress is fun to read: I'd be perfectly willing to read a Nancy Kress book that was twice the size!
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