Buzz Aldrin/John Barnes
Encounter With Tiber (1996)
You can hardly find a bigger name to headline a SF novel than the second man on the moon. Aldrin teams up with veteran writer John Barnes to give us a vision of humanity expanding into space, along with a first contact story.
Encounter With Tiber consists of several distinct parts, set in different times and places and each featuring their own set of protagonists. A hundred years after man set foot on the moon for the first time, humanity's first expedition to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, provides the framework that links the different episodes. Through the historian on board we learn of the events that led to mankind finally reaching for the stars. The reinvigoration of the American and international space program. The message from the stars. The discovery of the alien base at the lunar south pole. The history of the Tiberian species, its desperate reach into space, the failed attempt to colonize our solar system. Humanity's united effort to recover an alien artifact of immense value from Mars.
I haven't read any of Barnes's solo novels, so I can't readily identify the individual authors' contributions. There are a lot of expository sections about space flight, and some parts are pure space advocacy. I think it is safe to assume that Aldrin had a major share in writing these. The future speculation starts right after the original publishing year of the novel; some details are already dated. Apart from a meticulous program how to set up a permanent human presence first in orbit, then on Luna, and eventually on Mars, there are also more speculative descriptions of somewhat plausible future interstellar travel. The technology will be quite familiar to anybody who has read Robert L. Forward's Indistinguishable From Magic.
Encounter With Tiber is readable enough but nowhere near original. The aliens aren't really alien. In fact, the parts of the novel written from the Tiberian point of view could about just as well tell the story of a human crew meeting primitive aliens. The book contributes one of the most embarrassing factual errors in science fiction: 4097 (17 × 241) is not a prime number.
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